US releases British woman found with baby's corpse

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New York

Caroline Beale, the British civil servant charged in the United States with infanticide after trying to leave New York with the corpse of her baby beneath her coat, was freed yesterday after admitting a charge of manslaughter.

She was sentenced to the eight months she had already served plus five years probation. Miss Beale, 32, whose nightmarish ordeal in the American justice system began after the discovery of her baby's body 18 months ago, will fly to London on Thursday evening.

Under a plea bargain negotiated over the weekend between defence lawyers and the office of the New York District Attorney, Miss Beale pleaded guilty in a New York criminal court to a lesser offence of second degree manslaughter. Previously, she had pleaded not guilty to a murder charge. According to the terms of the deal, Miss Beale, from Chingford in Essex, will be escorted back to England by her parents, Peter and Daphne Beale, both of whom were with her in court.

On arrival in England she will be admitted to the Maudsley psychiatric hospital in south London for a period of in-patient appraisal. She will also be bound to submit to at least one year's psychiatric treatment.

Miss Beale, who spent eight months in New York's infamous Rikers Island penitentiary before being released on bail last summer, remained too traumatised yesterday to speak to reporters beyond nodding when asked if she was relieved.

The ruling brings to a close a wrenching episode that has put the spotlight on the American justice system and its treatment of defendants in situations where severe mental distress may be a factor.

It began on 22 September 1994 when Miss Beale was stopped by security at JFK airport as she attempted to board an aircraft for London. Officers found her dead baby hidden beneath her coat in a duffle bag.

Miss Beale who had been in New York on holiday with her boyfriend, Paul Faraway, and her two brothers, had given birth to the child the night before, alone in her hotel room. According to medical examiners, the baby had been born alive and had been subsequently suffocated.

Among many experts who had spoken up for Miss Beale was Professor Channi Kumar, of the Maudsley hospital who will take charge of her care from now on. He told the court in a report that Miss Beale had been suffering from a mental condition "characterised by the delusion that the foetus she was carrying was dead".

A similar view was expressed by the New York psychiatrist, Miss Spinelli. After yesterday's ruling she declared: "The American justice system has to become educated on how it should treat mental illness. In almost every other country in the world this would never have happened."

Both Miss Beale's parents also expressed anger at the treatment in New York of their daughter. "I think this has been a cruel and medieval prosecution," Peter Beale told journalists. His wife, Daphne, agreed, adding that the American laws should be changed.