Childminder who killed baby has her sentence cut

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The Independent Online

A childminder convicted of murdering a baby by shaking him to death has had her life sentence reduced to seven years after the Court of Appeal ruled she had not deliberately set out to kill the infant.

Helen Stacey, 44, had the murder conviction substituted with one of manslaughter and will now serve approximately one more year in jail.

The ruling came after medical research questioned how the injuries sustained by the six-month-old may have been caused and the amount of violence needed to inflict them.

Stacey, who denied murder, was convicted by a jury at Norwich Crown Court in 1998 which was told that the baby, Joseph Mackin, was shaken by Stacey in a fit of temper and died from a serious brain injury.

Joseph's parents, Anthony and Corinne Mackin, of North Walsham, Norfolk, had dropped off their son at Stacey's home at 7am. He was found "floppy like a rag doll" at 5.15pm and died the same day in 1997.

Lord Justice Kennedy, giving his ruling yesterday after the appeal hearing last week, said a conviction for killing was "quite safe" on the evidence but queried whether the jury was entitled to find Stacey had intended to do really serious harm to the child. He said the only safe verdict was manslaughter.

"If the jury had had the advantage of hearing additional medical evidence that we have heard, they might have come to the same conclusion," he argued.

Earlier, Dr Waney Squier, a consultant neuropathologist, told the appeal judges that, since the trial, new research had changed the concept of how these injuries could occur and the amount of violence needed.

She said she was also concerned that the length of time between the injury occurring and the onset of serious symptoms could be as long as 24 hours.

Stacey, a former prostitute who had been registered as a childminder by social services, even though three of her four children had been taken into care or adopted, was convicted on evidence that she had violently shaken Joseph.

Sentencing her for manslaughter, Lord Justice Kennedy said: "We recognise that, on that day, her violence was not in any view prolonged, but the fact is it caused the gravest injuries to the child.

"On any possible view of the medical evidence, that child was gravely ill while in her sole charge and she did nothing about it. The fact is that, thereafter, she denied that the injuries to the child were in any way the result of her actions and continued to this day in that denial."

Stacey had claimed that she did not abuse the child and the injuries must have occurred some time before the baby was dropped off at her home.