Strangled boy's mother had been taken to hospital

The family of a mother questioned over the murder of her two-year-old son were so concerned about her behaviour they took her to hospital the day before she carried his lifeless body into a police station, it emerged today.

Melanie Ruddell, 39, was taken to Hartlepool General Hospital on Sunday by relatives and was later allowed to leave.

The following morning Mrs Ruddell, who is believed to have split from her husband several months ago, walked into a County Durham police station, carrying her son Christy.

Police quickly realised something was wrong and as the little boy was rushed to hospital, Mrs Ruddell was arrested.

Detectives believe Christy had been dead for some time before his mother took him to the police station.

A post-mortem examination at Sunderland Royal Hospital revealed the toddler had been strangled.

Police said the mother had injuries to her arms which are thought to have been self-inflicted and late last night she was taken to hospital for medical treatment.

She remains in hospital and detectives hope to speak to her once they are given permission to do so by medical staff.

Superintendent Rob Coulson, of Durham Police, said: "While I am not in a position to comment on any medical issues, what I can say is she is described by family and friends as a doting mother.

"She had difficulty leaving Christy with baby-sitters to go out.

"She's described as playing football in the back garden with him the Sunday before his death.

"What we really need to understand and establish is how can she go from (being) a doting mother to these tragic circumstances.

"What could cause that?"

A spokeswoman for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust confirmed Mrs Ruddell attended Hartlepool General Hospital on Sunday.

"I cannot give out any more details due to clinical confidentiality," she said.

Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, who is leading the investigation, added: "This is a tragic incident which obviously has left both families concerned extremely shocked and distressed.

"While we are not looking for anyone else in connection with the murder, we would like to hear from anyone who has information which might be useful."

Neighbours of Mrs Ruddell, who is estranged from her husband Alan, in Castle Eden, near Peterlee, spoke of a loving mother.

Yesterday a former neighbour, who lives in the centre of the village, said Mrs Ruddell and her husband moved to the other end of Castle Eden about two years ago.

He said: "After she moved I really didn't see much of her other than when I saw her walking Christy around.

"She was vivacious. She enjoyed life."

The man, who did not want to be named, said he understood Mr and Mrs Ruddell split up some months ago.

"They left here and moved up to the other end of the village and as far as we were aware they were getting on well," he said.

"Something must have changed."

He added: "It is quite distressing to hear, especially to have heard it as a news item, with her being so doting and the child being so important to her.

"It is a big shock."

His wife said: "It is really shocking, horrible. We lost touch. We knew them well when they lived here.

"She had a very bubbly personality.

"Melanie wanted children. Having a child was so important to her.

"They were overjoyed when they had a baby."

Mrs Ruddell is understood to have worked as a welder for a local firm but after being made redundant began selling office stationery for a firm based on Teesside.

Another neighbour said: "She was a lovely, lovely person.

"Something very unfortunate must have happened.

"I am sure we'll find out in the fullness of time."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas