Four years for mother who smothered son to death

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A woman who smothered her three-year-old son to death with a pillow was sentenced to four years jail for his manslaughter today after successfully appealing against her conviction for his murder.

Tara Haigh was originally convicted of Billy's murder at the Old Bailey in November 2008.

But she recently won an appeal against that conviction and three Court of Appeal judges in London substituted a verdict of manslaughter.

Haigh, now 25, was found guilty by a 10-2 majority of murdering her son at their home in Guildford, Surrey, in November 2005 and was jailed for life with a minimum term of 10 years.

Lord Justice Dyson, sitting with Mrs Justice Swift and Mr Justice Sweeney, who ruled that her murder conviction was "unsafe", announced today that they were imposing an "extended" sentence of nine years - comprising a custodial element of four years and a five-year period on licence after her release.

The 473 days that she has already served will count towards her sentence.

Haigh was present in the dock for the ruling.

Lord Justice Dyson ruled that an extended sentence was necessary in her case.

Referring to the contents of a pre-sentence report, the judge said the court was "particularly concerned by the fact that it is evident from the report that the appellant will need very considerable help and support when she is released into the community".

The judges decided that what was needed in her case was a "significant extended period to enable that support to take place".

Lord Justice Dyson said the report "does give rise to real concerns that Miss Haigh might well have children in future relationships".

He added: "We are not satisfied that she would not have the possibility of causing harm to those children.

"In saying that, we do not for one moment suggest that she would deliberately intend to cause harm to such children.

"The facts of the present case show that that is not so. The concern is, as demonstrated by the present case, that her inability to cope when subjected to any form of stress might lead to disastrous consequences."

When giving the ruling in Haigh's recent successful appeal, Lord Justice Dyson said the prosecution had acknowledged that "there was evidence from which the jury could conclude that the appellant snapped and smothered Billy".

He added: "The difficulty for the prosecution was that there was no evidence at all on the basis of which the jury could reasonably decide whether the appellant had the intent to kill or to cause really serious harm on the one hand, or the lesser mental intent which was sufficient for manslaughter on the other hand.

"Without that evidence they could only speculate. We are driven to conclude that the murder conviction is unsafe."

The Old Bailey was told Haigh was trying to find a boyfriend online within hours of suffocating the boy.

During her trial, Sally Howes QC, prosecuting, said: "An examination of the computer showed that, within a few hours of her son's death, she was accessing messages sent to her by men on the website Girls Date Free."

The court heard she even arranged a date with one man, posting a message on the website saying her son had died from a tumour behind the ear.

Haigh was described as having borderline learning difficulties with an IQ of 74.