A loving mother who made a fatal mistake in not realising how sick her newborn baby was should not be stigmatised by the community, a High Court judge says.
Cherie Denese Nagle, had earlier admitted a charge of manslaughter after her premature baby boy, Reef Rippa Stone, died at Taranaki Base Hospital on August 4 last year when 11 days old.
Doctors said his life could have been saved if she had got medical attention earlier for the six-week home-birthed premature baby.
A consultant paediatrician, Robert Primhak, who reported the death to police, described the baby as having the most severe hypernatraemic dehydration he had seen.
The post mortem found Reef had Down syndrome, congenital heart complaint and died of dehydration and meningitis.
Justice Joe Williams described Nagle as a loving mum who made a terrible mistake in not realising how serious her baby’s condition was and failing to get medical attention for ‘‘wee Reef’’.
In discharging Nagle without conviction, Justice Joe Williams assessed the offending as low level.
A conviction would undoubtedly have a very powerful impact which would be out of all proportion to the offence, Justice Williams said.
Nagel had already had a taste of community aprobium, he said.
In discharging her it would send a message to the community that she should not be judged so harshly.
The most significant effect of the baby’s death for his mother was not the court process but ‘‘the loss of little Reef’’, Justice Williams said.
As her children told the court through their victim impact statements, the mother they loved had already had her sentence in suffering the loss of her baby.
She now feared going into town and cried whenever she saw babies, they said.
Her husband, Selwyn Chapman Stone, described how people were shunning him because they did not understand what had happened because they had not heard their side of the story.
Mr Stone, who acted as midwife during the birth of all the children, was initially jointly charged but this was dismissed.
Earlier, Cherie Clarke called for a conviction — but no penalty — for what the Crown assessed as gross negligence.
The conviction would serve the effect of bringing home to the community the importance of getting medical attention for children, Ms Clarke said.
It was a very difficult case surrounding the sanctity of human life in very difficult and sad circumstances, Ms Clarke said.
The baby was paricularly vulnerable because of his young age and poor feeding.
Mitigating circumstances included Nagle being given full credit for her guilty plea once the medical evidence was clarified, her remorse and previous good character.
‘‘But it is clear from the summary that this is still a serious case of gross negligence and the length of time before the baby was seen by a paediatrician at the hospital.’’
For Nagle, Kylie Pascoe said the death of Reef caused intense emotional hurt to his mother.
Reef was a very much wanted and adored baby boy and there was no deliberate offending on her part.
‘‘There is absolutely no dispute that the last thing she wanted was to harm her precious son.’’
There was no penalty that could be worse than the guilt and burden suffered from the death of a child, the impact of which would last an entire lifetime and was far in excess of anything a court could impose.
A discharge without conviction was therefore warranted given all the circumstance of the case, Ms Pascoe said.
Justice Williams said a life had been lost.
‘‘That loss reminds us that as parents and members of families we must be ever watchful for any signs of stress in babies.’’
Medical care when sought in time could prevent a tragedy.
The judge’s final comment in telling Nagle she was free to go was met with delight and claps from family and friends gathered in the public gallery.
Outside court smiling family members praised the sensitive nature in which the judge handled their case.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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