Drunken mother jailed over baby's death

By Lucy Collins
Friday 11 December 2009 14:42

A drunken mother whose baby daughter died after she took her to bed with her was jailed for 12 weeks today.

Rebecca Mary Ireland went on a 14-hour drink and drug-fuelled bender before falling asleep with six-week-old Katie in her bed, Preston Crown Court heard.

Ireland, of Kensington Road, Morecambe, Lancashire, but formerly of Preston, admitted neglect.

The 24-year-old was "tired and wanted some respite" from her new baby, Julie Taylor, prosecuting, told the court.

She said that on April 10 last year, Ireland's friend agreed to babysit for Katie.

That evening Ireland took two ecstasy tablets, and at 8am the next day, April 11, asked the babysitter to look after Katie that night.

Ireland embarked on a drink and drug-fuelled binge and by 10am she had downed a can of lager at her friend Wendy Smith's home.

She drank another three cans of lager before they went to Asda in the afternoon and bought two crates of Carlsberg.

The pair drank steadily and Ireland took cocaine, before texting the babysitter at 8pm to say she wanted Katie back because she was missing her.

Despite the fact the babysitter told her she had no petrol in her car and her own children were in bed she received the curt text message reply from Ireland: "Bring her back now."

Ms Taylor said Katie was taken to Wendy Smith's home at around 9pm and remained there until Ireland got a lift home after midnight.

She said: "A friend described helping her put the key in the door because it was dark and she was drunk."

She said Ireland recalled feeding her daughter at around 3.30am and then fell asleep. When she woke up at 8am on April 12 her daughter was face down in the bed and was not breathing.

She was taken to the Royal Preston Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Ms Taylor said: "The defendant, through her drinking and negligence, created a risk to Katie."

She said the child could easily have been placed in the cot next to her mother's bed, which had an alarm attached in case she suffered breathing difficulties.

The alarm was installed after a relative's baby died of cot death, the court heard.

Tests on Ireland revealed traces of ecstasy and cocaine and a blood alcohol level of 220 micrograms - just under three times the legal drink drive limit, the court heard.

Wendy Smith later revealed the pair drank 27 cans of the Carlsberg lager they purchased, Ms Taylor said.

Beverley Hackett, for the defence, said her client was "scarred" by her daughter's death. She said: "Can I say on behalf of Miss Ireland that she is utterly, utterly ashamed and broken by what has happened."

Ms Hackett said Ireland was raised by foster parents and "difficulties arose" when she sought to contact her birth family and suffered a disappointment as a result.

Medical experts were unable to agree on Katie's cause of death - the prosecution expert said she suffocated, whereas the defence expert suggested she may have been a cot death victim, the court heard.

Judge Stuart Baker jailed Ireland for 12 weeks, telling her she was guilty of "silly selfishness".

He said her failure to put Katie into her cot could not be proved to have caused her death but did indicate the level of her culpability in neglecting her daughter.

He said: "You decided to go on what I can only regard as a drinking binge with a friend.

"Having heard about the quantity of alcohol you consumed... it was made, in my view, more likely to render you incapable of properly looking after a child because you chose also to take a combination of ecstasy and cocaine.

"Quite why you insisted upon your daughter being brought back to your care on the evening of April 11 is not clear."

Judge Baker said Ireland's troubled background did not explain or excuse the night her daughter died.

He told her: "Society takes a very serious view of people who neglect very young children or who cause them harm."

Ireland wept and shouted "mum" to her foster parent as she was led away.

Detective Sergeant Paul Hickey, from Lancashire Police's public protection unit, said: "This has been an incredibly tragic case and I hope today's conclusion will bring some closure to those involved.

"This case highlights the significant dangers and consequences of falling asleep with your baby in bed with you, especially if you are under the influence of alcohol or recreational/prescribed drugs."

Local health agencies warn parents that falling asleep with a baby if you are very tired, a smoker or under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication significantly increases the risk of your baby dying.