'Special moment' as Beale arrives for treatment

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The solicitor who helped win freedom for Caroline Beale, the British woman caught carrying the corpse of her dead baby in New York, described the "special moment" yesterday when she arrived back in Britain.

As Miss Beale, 32, began in-patient treatment at the Maudsley psychiatric hospital in south London, Michael Dowd, her solicitor, told of her relief that the ordeal through the American justice system was over.

She flew into Gatwick airport yesterday, after being freed by a court in New York where she had admitted a manslaughter charge. Mr Dowd, who travelled with her, said: "The best thing I've seen in 18 months was the look on her face when the wheels touched the ground in London, knowing that she was home."

She will now undergo psychotherapy and medical treatment for mental illness under the care of Professor Channi Kumar, an expert on women who kill their babies, and Professor John Gunn.

Professor Kumar said given time, Miss Beale should be able to start her life again, although "it will be difficult". He said: "The chance of such events as are alleged to have occurred recurring is virtually nil."

Miss Beale was arrested at Kennedy International Airport in September 1994 and charged with murder after the body of her baby girl - called Olivia Ann - was found hidden in a plastic bag under her coat.

Although she had said the baby was stillborn, she admitted manslaughter of the infant in a plea bargain on Monday. She was given an eight-month sentence and five years' probation, which meant she was freed immediately because of the time already spent in jail.

Both Professors Gunn and Kumar agreed Miss Beale's treatment would be made more difficult because of the eight months she had spent in New York's notorious Riker's Island prison. Under British infanticide laws, she would have been unlikely to have spent so long in custody before sentencing for psychiatric treatment.

The experience in jail had left her with scars seen as a form of post- traumatic stress disorder, according to Professor Kumar who said his visit to the prison had left him with nightmares.

But, responding to the debate which has broken out contrasting the American and English legal systems, Professor Gunn said it was "ludicrous" to praise the British way of handling such matters. "We in this country have nothing to be crowing about," he said, and pointed to the recent controversy over women prisoners forced to give birth in chains as evidence of English inadequacies. The length of time before hearings was a problem in both countries, he said.

Medical reports showed Miss Beale suffered from a psychiatric illness before and after the birth and several pathologists challenged the prosecution pathologist's diagnosis that the baby died by suffocation.