Northern Ireland

Judge rules that time spent in a psychiatric unit by a child killer should be considered when calculating release date

Laganside courthouse in Belfast
Laganside courthouse in Belfast Laganside courthouse in Belfast

A Crown Court Judge has ruled that time spent in a psychiatric unit by a child killer should be taken into consideration when calculating her release date.

Last December the Co Antrim woman, who can't be named due to a reporting restriction, was handed a life sentence and was told she will serve a minimum of 20 years in prison before she is considered eligible for release.

The tariff was imposed on the former nurse who murdered one son and tried to kill another in March 2020.

The double stabbing occurred at the family home on the outskirts of Larne and claimed the life of the defendant's young son who was aged two years and eight months and who was stabbed in the neck and chest.

His 11-month also brother was also stabbed but survived thanks to the medical attention of the emergency services.

The attack was branded as "savage" by Judge Patricia Smyth, who imposed the 20-year tariff.

Following her arrest, the defendant was detained in the Shannon Clinic - a secure psychiatric unit on the outskirts of Belfast.

She spent 25 months there before being diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. She was then discharged in April 2022 and remanded into custody.

During her time in Shannon, the defendant questioned other patients about symptoms of mental illness then proceeded to fabricate psychotic symptoms.

She also displayed an unwillingness to engage and made multiple complaints about staff.

This behaviour, the Crown said, indicated she was "malingering" and "feigning symptoms" whilst detained.

Her legal team launched a application to try and get her sentence adjusted to take into account her time spent being treated in Shannon.

This, the defence argued, was in the interests of justice.

Both the Crown and defence made submissions on the application, and in her ruling on Friday Judge Smyth said had considered both these and the "complex medical evidence."

The Belfast Recorder branded the offences committed by the defendant as "two terrible crimes" and said her behaviour in the Shannon Clinic "is not to her credit."

Judge Smyth also said there was "no question that the defendant's detention represented a significant deprivation of liberty for a very considerable period of time."

The Judge pointed out that whilst the defendant is entitled to ask about being released after she has served her 20-year sentence "there is no guarantee she will be released at that stage - or indeed at all."

Giving her ruling, Judge Smyth said: "I have determined that I should exercise my discretion and direct that in calculating the defendant's earliest release date, the prison authorities should give such credit to the period spent in the Shannon Clinic."