Prison for baby-death mum

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2014
Ngapoura Jannessa Tuheke
FAIRFAX NZ
JAILED: Ngapoura Jannessa Tuheke, 28, walks into the Hamilton District Court before being jailed for causing the death of her nine-week-old baby, Octahffi.

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A former Hamilton woman has begun a one-year jail term, after being found guilty of causing the death of her nine-week-old baby girl by getting drunk and sleeping alongside her.

Ngapoura Jannessa Tuheke, 28, lost her bid for permanent name suppression when she was sentenced in the Hamilton District Court yesterday.

Judge Barney Thomas blamed alcohol and the sleeping arrangements for the death of Octahffin Te Manaaki Hopa.

Tuheke's baby girl died on February 19, 2012 - just six days after she had been released from Waikato Hospital after suffering injuries in a similar situation.

Tuheke, who now lives in Tauranga, had earlier admitted a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life for her daughter by omitting to provide the child with a safe sleeping environment, therefore causing her death.

In the first incident on February 9, Tuheke arrived home drunk about 2.45am after leaving Octahffin in the care of her partner, Chase Hopa.

Walking into the bedroom, she noticed a small mound under the blankets of her bed, shaking.

Tuheke, who has three other children, pulled back the blanket to find her daughter hot, shaking and distressed. She was taken to Waikato Hospital, where she stayed until February 13.

On being discharged, Tuheke was given a pepi-pod and information about keeping baby in a safe place to sleep.

However, on February 18, Octahffin, Tuheke's partner and family went to a friend's housewarming party where she got drunk. By the time Tuheke and Hopa realised they had forgotten their pepi-pod they were too drunk to drive home to get it.

The baby was put to sleep in a bed in the house, but during the early hours of the morning, Tuheke - intoxicated - grabbed her and put her into bed with her and Hopa and their then-two-year-old child.

The woman then began breastfeeding her daughter, but fell asleep. They slept for a few more hours.

Later, on two separate occasions, a family member and a friend noticed the baby appeared hungry and was crying. They tried unsuccessfully to wake Tuheke. At one stage the blanket had completely covered the baby.

As they couldn't wake Tuheke, and with Octahffin still crying, they put the baby back on her breast to continue to feed as she slept. However, at about 4.55am a friend walked past and noticed something was wrong.

The couple were woken and CPR was carried out on the baby, but she was unresponsive. St John Ambulance staff were also unable to resuscitate Octahffin.

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A post-mortem reported the death as being sudden unexpected death infancy [SUDI], associated with an unsafe sleep environment, causing accidental asphyxia.

Judge Thomas told Tuheke that she should have learned lessons from the earlier close call.

"In other words, she was in a bed that she shouldn't have been in and was effectively smothered. That was the very risk that you had been educated about.

"That accident . . . almost cost her life a few days prior. That was the one thing that she should never have had to fear again after February 13 . . . that you should have made sure would never happen, that she would never be at risk ever again."

Judge Thomas said either she or her partner should have stayed sober.

"Instead you put her on a bed so you could party on with everybody else . . .

"You greatly contributed to what happened to Octahffin by deciding to spend the night getting intoxicated rather than staying in a fit state to look after all your children, let alone a nine-and-a-half week old."

Judge Thomas said it wasn't just the sleeping arrangement that caused the death of the baby.

"Alcohol, as much as bed sharing, killed Octahffin."

Judge Thomas said "perhaps the greatest tragedy is that this was preventable" and one that no parent, especially a mother, should have to endure.

Tuheke's counsel James Gurnick said neither his client nor her partner drank alcohol around their children or in the family home anymore.

As for bed sharing, Mr Gurnick said it was a common practice and one she had no problem with in the raising of her 10-year-old and four-year-old children.

"Tuheke has had experience with bed sharing, it has been normal for their family.

"I suppose the risks associated with bed sharing were something that she, as a parent, had worked through with her two younger children."

Mr Gurnick said Tuheke didn't excuse her actions and took full responsibility, however they never intended to leave the pepi-pod at home that night.

"This is something that she is going to have live with for the rest of her life, is the death of her child and in my submission is a punishment that will linger with her forever."

Crown prosecutor Rebecca Mann told Judge Thomas that pepi-pods over the last few years had resulted in a decline of unsafe bed sleeping.

"But the issue remains important for education and cases such as this which demonstrates the fact that babies are still dying even in the face of these provisions of pepi-pods."

- Waikato Times

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