A quiet morning in a plain suburban street and a baby is shaken to death

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THE SPRING day had begun like any other in the quiet, neat suburban home of two high- flying City workers and their baby daughter. As usual, the parents left for work before 7am, while the nanny settled down to a morning of feeding, playing and the constant chores associated with looking after a six-month- old child.

It was a scene being played out at the same time in countless affluent homes in London and beyond, where ambitious couples thought they had found a solution to the twin demands of career and raising a family. As is often the case, the balance here was achieved with the help of a foreign nanny - keen to care for somebody else's child so that she could satisfy her desire to travel.

But on this particular day, 17 April last year, at about the time that the nanny was thinking of a mid-morning coffee break, the balance tipped violently. An ambulance was called at 11.15 and the baby was taken to hospital suffering from brain damage. Five days later, the child was dead and the nanny was facing a murder charge. The cosy, middle-class existence had been irrevocably shattered.

Caroline Jongen was first taken to the Royal Free Hospital, north London, and then transferred to the Great Ormond Street children's hospital where she was put on a life-support machine. After two separate scans, doctors found that she was brain dead and, with her parents' permission, the machine was turned off the following Tuesday.

The immediate issues arising from the few minutes before that 999 call was made were resolved yesterday.

Louise Sullivan, the 27-year-old Australian nanny, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. She admitted shaking the baby, causing the brain haemorrhage that led to death. Medical tests showed that the shaking had lasted between five and 10 seconds.

Whether anything could have been done to prevent the tragedy is likely to be a point of debate for some time. From the information that has emerged about Sullivan and her background, it seems unlikely.

She arrived in London just a year before her arrest armed with impressive- looking qualifications and a sheaf of glowing references. At the age of 26, she was unlike many of the callow hopefuls looking to make a living this way, and people who interviewed her said she seemed serious and mature.

Sullivan initially lived with a cousin in Islington, north London, and registered with two agencies that specialised in employing Australian nannies. Kidz Unlimited placed Sullivan as a live-in nanny with the Jongens, who lived in Cricklewood, north-west London, in December 1997. Caroline was just over two months old.

The parents were typical of the clientele seeking this kind of domestic help. Dutch-born Marcel Jongen, 41, was a director of an offshore investment company in the City, while his French wife, Muriel, 36, was a financial analyst. Both routinely worked 12-hour days, not returning until after 7pm.

Mrs Jongen was said to be thinking of cutting down her hours, but at the time of Caroline's death she was still working the same punishing schedule - leaving Sullivan on her own most of the time.

That Sullivan ultimately failed to cope, and that her patience snapped with such tragic results, is perhaps less surprising with the benefit of a detailed look at her background. At the time she was employed in London, however, there was nothing from her known previous record to suggest anything untoward. A quiet and shy young woman with an unsettled family background, she did not shine in life, either at school or afterwards.

Her parents split up when she was small and she and her mother, Robyn, moved several times, from Melbourne toQueensland and then to Sydney. She had to repeat a year in secondary school and attended remedial classes in English and mathematics.

After leaving school she took courses in catering, bartending and hospitality. It is now known that she had an unusually low IQ - possibly resulting from slight brain damage suffered in a childhood car crash.

Sullivan started caring for small children as a career after placing an advertisement offering her services as a nanny in the window of a children's shop in Sydney.

She worked for a string of families and several gave her excellent references. She also studied successfully for a two-year Certificate in Child Studies at a further education college in Sydney, and obtained Red Cross first- aid qualifications. A typical reference, from Catherine Morrison, of Sydney, was glowing. "I found Louise to be prompt, attentive, enthusiastic and honest," it read. "I have no hesitation in recommending Louise for similar positions." Sullivan worked for her for six months in 1993, looking after her two sons.

But Scotland Yard detectives interviewed one Australian family who said they had sacked Sullivan as a nanny following two incidents in which a child had been mistreated, one of which involved shaking.

A few days after she was charged last April, Sullivan's parents hired a press agent, Harry M Miller, whose clients include the family of the late rock star Michael Hutchence.

Whether more of the Sullivan story is now about to emerge is probably in his professional hands.