Mother's torture appeal rejected

Last updated 13:39 01/06/2012

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A woman jailed for horrific abuse against two of her children argued her punishment should be reduced because of her previous good character.

The woman, who has permanent name suppression, was sentenced in Auckland District Court in December to seven and a half years in jail after she admitted to a list of offences, including frequently beating her nine-year-old daughter and pulling off her toenail.

She pleaded guilty to two counts of injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, three counts of cruelty to a child, seven counts of assault on a child, eight counts of assault with a weapon and five counts of injuring with intent to injure.

She was jailed for a minimum of five years.

The Court of Appeal on Friday said the nature of the woman's offending was so bad that no account could be taken of her personal circumstances.

The woman had appealed both the length of her sentence and the minimum amount of time she must serve, with her lawyer Lorraine Smith claiming the "overall effect" of the sentence was excessive.

The appeal judges said the sentence was "fully justified".

Smith said the sentence should be reduced to take account the woman's previous good behaviour and the fact that her criminal behaviour arose because she was ill-equipped to deal with a difficult parenting challenge.  

She also said the minimum period her client must serve should be reduced to acknowledge her previous good character, her own history as an abused child and the daughter's severe behavioural difficulties.

The District Court trial heard the woman and her partner had five children, two of whom were subject to the attacks. The main victim was the woman's nine-year-old daughter.

The court heard the daughter was frequently punched, kicked and assaulted with various objects, including punches to the head and kicks to the genital area while the woman was wearing steel-capped boots.

The woman threw a hammer at the girl's foot, fracturing her toes, and pulled off her toenail.

Other actions included holding her head under water in a very hot bath, and dragging her along the floor by her hair, causing her scalp to separate from her skull, which resulted in extensive bleeding under the scalp.

The woman also wrote insulting phrases on the girl's skin with a black felt-tip pen.

In its ruling the Court of Appeal said that as an infant the girl had been removed from her mother's care by Child Youth and Family because of concerns about neglect, lack of bonding and physical abuse.

She was put into various placements, including one where she was sexually and physically abused by her caregiver. As a consequence, the court said, she developed significant behavioural difficulties.

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In 2008, the girl returned to live with her mother.

The abuse occurred during 2009 and 2010, although the charges, and guilty pleas, related to offending in 2010.

The abuse only stopped when the woman's mother and sister saw the girl's injuries while visiting. They asked the woman and her partner to allow them to take the child before she was killed.

The woman refused and police were called. When they arrived, the woman pushed the girl into a wardrobe to prevent police from seeing her injuries.

The child was taken to Starship Children's Hospital. The doctor who treated her said her injuries covered almost the whole of her body and were in various stages of healing, which suggested the abuse had occurred over a lengthy period of time.

She was also starved, dehydrated and suffering from several adverse psychological effects.

In rejecting her appeal, the court said it accepted the girl presented a difficult parenting challenge.

"But that provides no explanation (much less justification) for the appellant's actions. The appellant subjected (the child) to psychological and physical abuse of a most severe type over a sustained period of time.

"We do not accept that this was a case of an otherwise loving parent 'snapping' under the burden of caring for a difficult child. The sustained nature of the abuse is inconsistent with that.

"Plainly she had difficulties. But... she was entitled to expect comfort and support from her mother rather than the constant abuse she received. Her victim impact statement shows how badly scarred she has been by her experiences at the appellant's hands."

The court said it was "artificial" to talk of a person's previous good character in cases such as this, where there had been a sustained period of abuse directed at young children.

And it said that while it may be that the woman's "violent disposition" was in some way explained or influenced by the abuse that she said she suffered as a child, "we consider that the nature of the appellant's offending is so bad that no account can be taken of this personal circumstance".    

- Auckland Now

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