Mother who left toddler alone at home is freed

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CHILD-CARE charities yesterday welcomed the Court of Appeal's decision to free a mother jailed for leaving her two-year-old child at home while she went to work, writes Adam Sage.

The court said that while the trial judge had been right to jail Heidi Colwell, the six-month sentence had been excessively harsh. Lord Justice Steyn added: 'A purely non-custodial sentence would have risked sending the wrong signals to parents tempted to leave very young children alone for long periods of time.'

Pointing out Colwell had already served two and a half weeks inside, and placing her on probation for two years, the appeal judges said the child would suffer if she was prevented from seeing her mother any longer.

In a case that prompted a national outcry, Colwell, 23, was jailed after Warwick Crown Court heard she had left the girl, Jessica, at home during the daytime for almost a year.

Yesterday, the Appeal Court was told she had taken a job at a travel agency in 1991, at first hiring a child- minder for pounds 50 a week. On a pounds 100-a- week salary, that proved too expensive and she approached the local council for subsidised child-care facilities. Told none existed, she decided to leave Jessica alone with a drink, toys and the television switched on.

Interviewed by police, Colwell said: 'It was a choice between food and clothes and a child-minder . . . Perhaps I got my priorities wrong, but I know I did it in the best way I could. I thought that kid's toys and heating was more important.'

Lord Justice Steyn, sitting with Mr Justice Ognall and Mr Justice Blofeld, said Colwell had devoted herself to her daughter outside work hours and that Jessica 'loved her mother dearly'.

Colwell looked taut and drawn as Lord Justice Steyn said she had displayed 'crass irresponsibility' but had acted in what she thought were the child's best interests.

The trial judge, Michael Harrison, had failed to take that into account when jailing her, Lord Justice Steyn said. Similarly, he had not considered the harm Jessica would suffer by being separated from her mother.

Welcoming yesterday's decision, the Daycare Trust called on the Government to provide better child-care facilities to help other parents faced with Colwell's


Sue Finch, of Working for Childcare, said: 'The worst thing for a child deprived of her mother for a year is to be deprived for another six months.'