Five years for mother who killed son, nine, 'to get attention'

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The Independent Online

A mother who killed her nine-year-old son because she wanted attention was sentenced to five years in jail today after she was yesterday convicted of manslaughter.

Petrina Stocker spiked her son David's hospital drip with 13 teaspoonfuls of salt. He had been in hospital for months with her at his bedside, thwarting attempts by doctors to find out what was wrong with him.

But she was worried that staff, who suspected her of tampering with his symptoms, would soon move him away. Stocker poured 18 spoons of salt into two milk feed bottles hoping a downturn in his condition would stop him being moved. But it went tragically wrong when David, who was very weak, collapsed and died after being given one with 13 spoonfuls.

Stocker, 42, of Romford, east London, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of David's manslaughter at Great Ormond Street Hospital in August 2001. Judge Gerald Gordon said it was "behaviour which most people would find incomprehensible".

Judge Gerald Gordon told Stocker today: "After nine years with no suggestion of harm to David there has to be some force, incomprehensible to me and most people, driving a mother to behave towards their own child as you did to David."

During the trial, she was said to have factitious illness by proxy, a disorder previously referred to as Munchausen's syndrome by proxy.

It was revealed after the verdict that she had previously pretended to be ill and poured acid on herself to get attention.

Detective Chief Inspector Geoff Baker said: "It is hard to comprehend why a mother would want to harm her own child, the one person she should love and protect above all others. Balancing the needs of a criminal investigation with those of a distressed family with a seriously ill child is always going to be difficult. The reality is that there are no winners in this case: we have a nine-year-old child dead, his mother convicted of manslaughter and a family torn apart."

Stocker showed no emotion as she was found guilty after a three-month trial during which the prosecution called 150 witnesses. Judge Gordon excused the panel from further jury service for 10 years because he said it had been a "very difficult and sad case".

Jonathan Rees, for the prosecution, revealed that in 1983, Stocker had complained of an unexplained rash and was admitted to hospital. Mr Rees said: "In fact, staff found phials containing acid in her bedside locker. She had applied it to her face, arms and legs, saying she had a skin infection." Mr Rees said Stocker had told a doctor "she did it because she was lonely and it had brought her attention from her family and friends".

The court was told Stocker had put blood into David's urine samples and manufactured vomit samples. The boy was in and out of hospital for five months and had turned into "little more than skin and bones".