A mother who pretended that her son was terminally ill for six years in order to gain access to celebrities, a prime minister, the royal family and charitable donations has been jailed for three years.
Lisa Hayden-Johnson forced her son to live the life of an invalid, confining him to a wheelchair and browbeating doctors into conducting numerous sessions of unnecessary exploratory surgery, even though she knew there was nothing wrong with him.
The mother of two from Brixham in Devon frequently described her son as “the most ill child in Britain” and spun an entirely false web of medical conditions in order to receive money from charities and meet famous people who took pity on her.
By pretending her son was suffering from a number of life-threatening diseases – including cystic fibrosis, diabetes and cerebral palsy – she was able to claim a whole raft of benefits including disability allowances and free holidays to Tenerife from a charity.
She also used the illness to win tickets to special events reserve for parents with ill children such as the Children of Courage Awards, where she met former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the X-Factor, whose organisers gave her free tickets when she wrote to them detailing her son’s false diseases.
Determined to avoid detection, Hayden-Johnson went to extreme lengths to forge her son’s illnesses, adding glucose to his urine to trick doctors into believing he had diabetes. Any medical professionals who questioned her son’s illnesses were threatened with being sued.
The 35-year-old mother was eventually caught out when she made a false rape claim to cover up why her son had missed his latest diabetes test. Doctors became suspicious and alerted the police who quickly discovered that, despite the raft of specialist equipment in her home, the son was completely healthy.
In court she admitted child cruelty and perverting the cause of justice. Sentencing her yesterday to 39 months in jail Judge Stephen Wildblood said there were five adjectives to sum up Hayden-Johnson's behaviour: “cruel, manipulative, perverse, disordered and pitiful”.
“Your son will have to realise the fact that the one person who is supposed to care for and nourish him throughout his childhood was in fact causing him harm,” he said. “You now find yourself in a position where you have lost your family and place in society. You will now lose your liberty as well.”
The court had heard how Hayden-Johnson, who claimed to be a registered nurse, “revelled” in the status her son’s “illness” brought her. Her defence claimed she was suffering from a personality disorder similar to “Munchausen’s by proxy”, a psychological condition where a relative or carer fabricates a person’s illness usually to win emotional sympathy. But Hayden-Johnson’s motivations were primarily financial.
Defending counsel Sarah Munro said: “It’s often said that the question is whether the defendant is sad, mad or bad. Perhaps the reality in a case of this kind is that it’s a little bit of all of it.”
But prosecutor Andrew Macfarlane said the cruelty her child was subjected to was “lengthy and enduring” and amounted to “24-hour torture.”
“The defendant organised, orchestrated and ensured a regime of medical, physiological and psychological mistreatment amounting to 24 hour-a-day torture that touched on every aspect of his young vulnerable life,” he said. “As a result of her sadistic fabrication of non-existent symptoms, the defendant achieved much publicity and national attention, including an encounter with royalty and the then prime minister.”
Her son has since been taken into care.