By David Young, PA
A Co Antrim woman has been sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison for the murder of her young son and the attempted murder of his baby brother.
The 42-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced at Belfast Crown Court after being convicted of the murder of her son, who was aged two years and 10 months, and the attempted murder of his 11-month-old brother.
She stabbed the children at a house on the outskirts of Larne, Co Antrim in March 2020.
The woman originally pleaded not guilty to the offences and put forward a defence of diminished responsibility at a trial earlier this year.
When that medical defence proved unsustainable after examination by medical experts, she changed her pleas to guilty on both counts.
The woman received an automatic life sentence for the murder charge.
Noting that the youngest child would also have died if it had not been for the intervention of the emergency services, on Tuesday Judge Patricia Smyth also imposed a life sentence for the attempted murder.
Setting the tariff for the concurrent sentences, Judge Smyth told the woman she would spend a minimum of 20 years in prison before she could be considered for release on licence.
Judge Smyth acknowledged that the woman had a recognised personality disorder but noted the assessment of medical experts that the condition was a “possible but not likely” explanation for her actions.
The judge also highlighted a medical assessment that the woman had feigned symptoms of serious psychological illness in an attempt to sustain the defence of diminished responsibility.
“I do not accept that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that your culpability is lowered to any significant extent as a consequence of your mental abnormality,” said the judge.
The judge said the case involved two young and vulnerable victims and the defendant’s breach of trust was “exceptionally high”.
The court previously heard that the woman placed pain relief patches on her children before the attacks.
The judge said: “These were savage attacks with a knife. No doubt these children would have suffered severe pain and distress, notwithstanding the application of the pain relief patches.”
The judge also rejected the woman’s claim that she had been previously subjected to emotional abuse by the children’s father.
“I am satisfied that there is no substance to your allegations of emotional abuse,” she said.
“On the contrary, there is an abundance of evidence that it was you who exercised coercion and control within the relationship.”
Outside court, Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Inspector Michelle Griffin said it was a case that “would never be forgotten”.
“A young and innocent life was taken, leaving a loving family, a father, distraught and truly heartbroken,” she said.
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing, no words that can undo this loss or ease their pain.”
The officer added: “Distressingly the little ones had been stabbed by their mother, a person who should of course have been caring and protective towards them.
“This deeply distressing case has left a lasting impact on all concerned, especially on the witnesses involved, as well as for the emergency services and other agencies involved who will never be able to forget the events of that day.
“This tragic case also brought to light an underlying element of domestic abuse. Throughout the case, the father of the children, along with a previous husband of the defendant, spoke of the controlling behaviour and emotional abuse that both had suffered at the hands of the defendant.
“Their distress was added to by allegations by the defendant herself that she had been the subject of domestic abuse, which were unsubstantiated.
“Domestic abuse is not just physical. It can happen to anyone and there shouldn’t be any stigma surrounding their victims.
“I want to encourage anyone who is being threatened, abused, controlled or intimidated by someone they live with, or are in a relationship with, to come forward.
“We will help you. We’ll listen to you and we will treat you with total respect and sensitivity.”