Mother gets suspended seven-year sentence for manslaughter of her son

Monday 07 July 2014 23.58
Diane Ward pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her son at their home in 2012
Diane Ward pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her son at their home in 2012

A Co Cork woman who killed her eight-year-old son while depressed and suicidal has been given a seven-year suspended sentence.

Mr Justice Barry White ordered that Diane Ward be released from the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum to a mental health facility in Cork.

She will stay there as a voluntary patient as part of the conditions of her suspended sentence.

Ward of Harrison Place, Charleville, Co Cork, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her eight-year-old son Anthony at their home on 3 September 2012.

The sentence had been adjourned from April last after Judge White said it would be highly inappropriate to release the woman into the community without a proper plan for psychiatric treatment and support.

This morning, the court was told there was a place for her at a mental health facility in Cork, where she could reside as a voluntary patient for a time before suitable accommodation can be found.

Judge White said it was "a particularly tragic case" and said Ward was "quite clearly troubled mentally" at the time she took her son's life.

As a condition of the suspended sentence, he said she must reside at the unit until doctors there consider it appropriate that she return to the community.

Thereafter, she must remain in contact with probation and welfare service and accept any regime considered appropriate.

At her sentence hearing in April, the court heard the 44-year-old had a long history of a depressive disorder and had been hospitalised in the past when she tried to take her own life.

She had responded well to treatment, but had relapsed a number of times.

She was described by the boy's father as "a good person who made a mistake".

The court heard she tried to take her own life in the early hours of the morning and decided to smother her son as she feared there would be no one to look after him.

Ward had previously asked a family member to take her son to relieve the pressure on her, but it was not possible for them to do so.

She had left a note requesting they be buried together.

A psychiatrist told the court her son was "the centre of her world, she had invested everything in him and for him".

The court heard she had a difficult relationship with her family as they disagreed about the medical treatment of her son, who had ADHD and was on a prescribed medication.

Her mother had been appointed a guardian of her son.

A statement from the boy's father, Mark Ryan, said he was getting on with his life, though his loss had been traumatic.

He said: "I'm living with a memory of Anthony and all the good times, I miss him dearly, I will never forget him.

"Myself and Diane were friends for ten years and never had any big trauma in our relationship.

"She was a good person that made a mistake. I have no grievance with her and I wish her well in her future ahead."

A psychiatric report prepared for the prosecution said while she did not meet the criteria for insanity required under legislation, her mental capacity to reason the situation and choices open to her were substantially diminished and it followed that any intention formed in deciding to kill herself and her son were the products of a diminished mental capacity.

A psychiatrist from the Central Mental Hospital, where she has been since the incident, said she was still at risk of suicide and still had very serious issues to address.

Dr Helen O'Neill said she had still not been able to begin the grieving process for her son.

She said she would require intensive grief therapy work in the Central Mental Hospital, along with other intensive therapies, before she could be released into the community.

Dr O'Neill said Ward had not yet visited her son's grave.

Mr Justice White said he was clearly minded to impose a non-custodial sentence or suspended sentence, but it would not be in her interest to let her leave custody immediately and return to the community.

He said it would be highly inappropriate for her to be released into the community without support.