Mother jailed for killing son with bleach
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Friday 01 April 2011
A mother was today jailed for killing her autistic 12-year-old with bleach - after social services allegedly failed to address her mental health problems.
Satpal Kaur Singh, 45, struggled to cope looking after son Ajit and feared he would be taken away, the Old Bailey heard.
Her "obvious" mental health problems were recognised yet she was "allowed to resist help", the court was told.
David Hislop QC, defending, said: "Neighbours knew, school teachers knew, social services knew, but the tragedy for Ajit was that nothing was done."
Singh made her son drink a cup of Domestos in February last year, just hours after she refused to co-operate with council staff at a meeting over his care.
She also drank some herself and in a suicide note said she had done it after being "scrutinised and hounded by social services".
Singh, of Lambourne Road, Barking, east London, was jailed for seven years today after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility at an earlier hearing.
Judge Peter Beaumont, the Recorder of London, told her: "I recognise how difficult Ajit was to care for.
"Your deteriorating mental health robbed you of proper insight into what was going wrong and erected real obstacles between you and people and the agencies that were trying so hard to help you."
Barking and Dagenham council said a serious case review was expected to be completed in the next few weeks.
The court heard that, during a meeting with social services on the day she killed her son, Singh had appeared "calm" and no-one who attended had any concerns about her behaviour.
But hours later she rang 999 to say: "I've just murdered my son and I've tried to kill myself."
Police arrived to find the boy lying on his back on the living room sofa, not breathing, and an "almost overpowering" smell of bleach in the air.
Singh later told detectives that voices in her head had been telling her: "You have to do it. Go for it, it's come to an end now."
The judge told her: "You faced the prospect of Ajit being taken away from you, but you killed him. You were, in my judgment, making a statement, without any consideration of his interests."
Psychiatrists agreed that the defendant, who is originally from Manchester, had been suffering from a mental disorder.
Mr Hislop said: "This was a woman who loved her son too much. The belief she held, because of her mental disorder, was that hers was an act of mercy."
He said the boy's life, plagued by health problems, had been made bearable by the "love and devotion" she had shown him.
Mr Hislop added: "One of the tragedies of this case is that the deterioration of her mental health was recognised by so many, yet she was allowed to resist the help of those who should have known better - ignoring the fact that her very resistance was symptomatic of her obvious decline in mental health and her not having any insight into that deterioration.
"Social services and other agencies were aware of her mental health difficulties and the deterioration of them and they were also aware that she was under considerable stress and clearly not coping."
Mr Hislop quoted a social services note from April 2009 which described a "possible mental health breakdown" and said: "She does not seek counselling to help her deal with her stress levels."
In October 2009, Singh complained to a social worker that a disability manager had previously referred to her as "another Victoria Climbie".
Richard Whittam QC, prosecuting, said: "This is a case of great tragedy."
He said Singh feared social services were going to make an interim care order which would result in Ajit being taken away.
The court heard that the boy could not speak and was dependent on his mother for all his needs.
He had trouble getting around outdoors and would cover his ears and scream in crowded or noisy environments.
Mr Whittam said: "Social services had concerns about a number of things, including Satpal's parenting skills and her lack of co-operation."
During a meeting with social services on February 9 last year, she was told that, if she did not follow a care plan that had been devised for her, steps would be taken to remove the child from her care.
She replied by saying there was nothing wrong with her parenting and only she understood her child, adding that she was "not mad" and she did not want herself or her son to be "labelled".
Singh said she got "stressed by the social services 'stressing' her".
Mr Whittam said she "appeared to be calm throughout and did not leave anyone at the meeting with concerns about her immediate behaviour".
But she was upset and crying when she rang her sister at about 11am after the meeting finished, saying there was "bad news" and that social services were going to take her son away.
She made Ajit drink a cup of Domestos at around 8pm and drank some herself an hour later.
After she called 999, police arrived to discover her son lying on the sofa with his eyes closed and his right arm hanging by his side.
The boy had no pulse and was not breathing, and had corrosive burn marks around his mouth, chin and neck.
Singh, who was lying on the floor holding a mobile phone to her ear, was treated with charcoal and milk for the effects of drinking bleach.
She told a paramedic she had been thinking about "doing this" for four years, said Mr Whittam.
Singh told a doctor she killed her son after being told at the meeting that he would be taken away, adding: "Today I just couldn't take any more. This shouldn't have happened to him."
Barking and Dagenham Council said in a statement: "Barking and Dagenham Council's thoughts, first and foremost, continue to be with the Singh family.
"The council contributed to an independent serious case review to look into all details of this case and to address lessons arising.
"Barking and Dagenham Safeguarding Children Board will publish the findings of that independent review in due course."
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