By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
It seems an unthinkable crime to be poisoned by your own parent.
However, it turns out that there are parents out there, who, rather than nurturing their children, are slowly administering poison to them instead.
This week, a sickening case of a mother and her partner who allegedly poisoned their four-year-old son with a sleeping pill and anti-depressants made media headlines after the Wollongong couple were granted bail.
On 12 December 2018, the pair, who are in a de facto relationship, appeared in Port Kembla court with their faces concealed. They were charged with giving their son the sleeping tablet Temazepam and anti-depressant Amitriptyline over two days in October.
According to police, detectives from the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad commenced an investigation into the incident on 11 October after the 30-year-old’s son presented to hospital slurring his words. It was reported that on about 2-months ago he was falling in and out of consciousness.
It is reported that Doctors had found the boy harshly underweight for his age, displaying signs of previous upper limb fractures. Further to this, doctors advised the child had former admissions to the hospital showing similar symptoms.
They then discovered the child had a restricted prescribed drug in his system.
On 12 October, detectives executed a search warrant and raided the pair’s Illawarra home, from which prescription drugs were seized along with other items relevant to the investigation.
Women Arrested and Charged with Using Poison to Endanger Life
Following further inquiries, on 20 November, the pair were eventually arrested at Lake Illawarra Police Station.
The boy’s mother was charged with using poison to endanger life, and failure of parent to provide for a child causing danger or serious injury.
Her 29-year-old partner, who helps care for the child, was charged with failing to provide for the child causing danger or serious injury.
The boy is now in the care of the Department of Family and Community Services, while police have taken an apprehended violence order against the women.
The women cannot be identified in order to prevent identification of the child.
Mother Indicates She Will Fight the Charges Against Her
While the pair did not enter pleas during their court appearance, the mother accused of drugging her four-year-old son with prescription medication indicated that she will fight the charges against her.
Her lawyer, Mr Paine, brought to attention that his client had received inadequate information from authorities regarding the police claims against her until the morning she appeared in court. He asserted that a seven-page document detailing the allegations had not been received before that date.
“She only gets that when she turns up to court,” Mr Paine said.
“In the meantime, her child has been taken out of her care.”
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the woman’s partner, Mr Holt, declared that his client would enter pleas of not guilty to both charges of using poison to endanger life and failure to provide for a child in case of danger or serious injury.
Police will allege the child was drugged with prescription medication not prescribed to him on frequent occasions.
The matters will be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and will recommence at Wollongong Local Court on 20 February next year.
Australian Institute of Criminology: Poisoning a Form of Physical Child Abuse
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, in contemporary Australia, the intentional poisoning of a child is manifested as a form of physical child abuse.
Like most acts of violence against children, it is inflicted with the object of punishing and is seen by clinicians and researchers as a problem of very serious proportions.
Generally speaking, evidence suggests that the motive for poisoning varies from parents who are vindictive and seeking to teach their child a lesson to parents who are themselves addicted to drugs, have difficulty controlling their impulses, and have low self-esteem. Other factors include having poor capacity for empathy and being socially isolated.
One of the most common poisons given by parents is table salt, sodium chloride. Under normal circumstances, a child will excrete excess salt speedily in the urine, however if deprived of water will be unable to do so. This in turn triggers hypernatraemia, causing initial thirst and irritation, followed by drowsiness and seizures. In some cases, it can even cause death.
The Law on Using Poison to Endanger Life or Inflict Grievous Bodily Harm in NSW
In NSW, using poison to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm attracts harsh penalties, including a maximum penalty of 10 years jail.
The offence is outlined in section 39 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NW).
Here, “grievous bodily harm” is defined as really serious harm, such as a permanent and serious disfigurement and includes internal organ damage.
You can only be guilty of this offence if the prosecution can prove each of the following elements of the crime beyond reasonable doubt:
- You administered or caused another person to take poison (or intoxicating substance or other destructive or noxious thing); and
- It endangered the other person’s life or caused ‘grievous bodily harm’ on that person; and
- You either intended to injure that person, or you at least realised the possibility of causing injury by doing this but did it anyway.
If a court isn’t satisfied as to the above elements, a court can still find you guilty for the offence of using poison to injure or cause distress or pain under section 42 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) if:
- You administered or caused another person to take poison; and
- You intended to either injure or cause distress or pain to the other person at the time of doing this.
A person guilty of this offence will face a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years.