Woman who admitted killing her baby spared jail after living with secret for 52 'tormented' years

Melody Casson said: 'I said it was an accident but it wasn't; I said I'd fallen asleep with him. I killed him'

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The Independent Online

A 67-year-old woman who admitted killing a newborn baby more than 50 years ago has avoided jail after the judge said she had lived with the guilt of her actions all that time.

Melody Casson, 67, pleaded guilty at Leicester Crown Court to smothering her baby Wayne Harper with a cushion in 1963.

When the death was reported, Casson said she had killed him accidentally by falling asleep on him.

But she had struggled with "self-loathing" over the incident for years and finally told details of the event to a policeman who went to her house on an unrelated matter in February.

She admitted manslaughter in court and was given a two-year jail term, suspended for two years.

Casson had been living in Braunstone, Leicester, at the time of Wayne's death.

She told the court that she had not intended to kill her son, but had placed a cushion over his face to stop him crying and waking up the household.

The pathologist's report from 1963 recorded the baby's death as "misadventure", and noted that he had died of asphyxia.

Judge Mrs Justice Thirwall told Casson: "It's important it's understood by everyone that you didn't intend to kill your baby. No one suggests you intended to do him any serious harm.

"I accept you've felt guilt every day of your life for the last 52 years and I accept in your case there is real life-long guilt. You wanted to bring yourself to justice and that is what you have done.

"Were it not for that it would never have been known and it's right and proper you brought it before the court and accept public responsibility for what you did.

"You took your baby's life and deceived the coroner. This is a highly unusual case and may well be unique.

According to prosecutor Adrienne Lucking, when Casson admitted to the police that she had killed her baby, she told the officer:

"I want to tell you something - to tell you everything. When I was 15 I had a baby, and he cried and he cried and cried and cried incessantly. I put a cushion over his face and smothered him and killed him.

"I said it was an accident but it wasn't; I said I'd fallen asleep with him. I killed him."

Another son, Darren, died in a car accident at the age of 18. The court heard that Casson believed Darren's death, which occurred close to the 20 year anniversary of the death of her baby, had been some type of "punishment".

Rachel Brand QC, Casson's barrister, said that Casson had endured "52 years of self-torment and 52 years of self-loathing".

"She was young and immature when this tragedy happened. Her father was ill and her mother was in hospital. She was with a fretful baby when she was no more than a child herself," Ms Brand said, appealing the court to refrain from sentencing her client.