No prison for abusive mother

By The Northland Age

The grandmother of the victim told the court that the child was now happy and thriving. Photo / Thinkstock
The grandmother of the victim told the court that the child was now happy and thriving. Photo / Thinkstock

A mother has escaped a prison sentence for an "orchestrated campaign of abuse and neglect" against her preschool-age child.

The 24-year-old Far North woman appeared for sentencing in Kaitaia District Court last week on two representative charges of assaulting a child.

The court heard that the charges related to two specific periods of offending, when the victim was two. During the first, of five months, his mother would strike him on the head with an open hand on a daily basis, the blows being accompanied by verbal abuse. At least two or three times a week she would push him with enough force to make him fall over.

He never received three proper meals a day, his diet consisting of "food such as chips and biscuits," and on a daily basis would get himself out of bed in the morning and entertain himself while his mother remained in bed. It was often left to the defendant's flatmate to feed and dress the child.

A second series of assaults over a six-week period included the defendant striking the child around the head and arms with a clenched fist, and pushing him with sufficient force to knock him to the ground. Again the child was addressed in highly derogatory terms.

The bruises that resulted from those assaults were noticed "over time" at the day care centre the child attended. Bruising on one arm, and a series of smaller bruises from his left shoulder to his wrist, were noted one day; bruising was seen on his face and behind his left ear seven days later, along with what appeared to be historic bruises on his back; and bruising was seen on the side of his face seven days after that, along with a bloodshot eye and grazing on his penis.

The defendant subsequently made an unsolicited comment to staff that the penis injury had been self-inflicted.

The defendant told police she was not responsible for the boy's injuries but offered no other reasonable explanation.

Defence lawyer Cathy Murray argued that the charges arose from a one-off incident that would not be repeated and that her client had done everything possible to make amends.

However, prosecutor Duncan Coleman said this was the type of behaviour that led to the death of young children.

The defendant, whose name was suppressed to protect the victim, was sentenced to six months' community detention and 18 months' intensive supervision.

Ms Murray told the court that her client was not trying to minimise her offending, but there was nothing she could have done to make amends that she had not done.

In reply, Judge Davis said the woman had offended against one of society's most vulnerable members over a "reasonably prolonged" period of time.

The child was now in his grandmother's care, Ms Murray added. The defendant now had supervised contact with the child, and had not breached that arrangement.

The grandmother told the court that the child was now happy and thriving.

Judge Davis finally accepted that the required punitive element of sentencing could be achieved without imprisonment, but told the defendant that those who chose to abuse children would not receive sympathy from his court.

"This was significant abuse and a breach of trust against someone who relied on you for their day to day needs," he said.

"This child suffered an orchestrated campaign of abuse and neglect."

The pre-sentence report had cited the defendant's lifestyle, associates, drug use and propensity for violence as factors behind her offending, but Judge Davis noted that she had made some progress in her life, including the recent gaining of employment.

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