Edinburgh mother sentenced for killing baby daughter

Erin Sutherland. Picture: PA
Erin Sutherland. Picture: PA
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A MOTHER who admitted killing her baby girl while suffering from postnatal depression has been sentenced to three years in jail pending successful psychiatric treatment.

Erin Sutherland will continue to receive treatment in hospital and if that is successful, will serve the remainder of her sentence in prison.

Sutherland, 36, smothered her daughter Chloe, who was almost ten months old at their home in Sighthill, Edinburgh, in February. She was found unconscious after having taken an overdose of prescription medication.

Sutherland was originally charged with murder but pleaded guilty to culpable homicide on the grounds of diminished responsibility at the High Court in Edinburgh in June.

Defence counsel Gordon Jackson QC told the court yesterday the circumstances were “extremely tragic” and Sutherland had intended to take her own life.

The court heard Sutherland attempted to seek help last December but when her GP contacted a perinatal mental health team for her to see a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) support could not be offered due to Chloe’s age.

Sutherland had previously been diagnosed with postnatal depression following the birth of another baby when that child was eight months old which led to her becoming an inpatient in 2006.

Advocate depute Iain McSporran earlier told the High Court in Edinburgh: “That team and the CPN were unable to offer support now that the baby was older than six months.”

The Scotsman can reveal the future of the specialist psychiatry service which failed Sutherland is in jeopardy because of a “fragile” staffing situation.

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian medical director, told a board meeting last week that it was struggling to recruit specialist staff within psychiatry, particularly in the perinatal service which is run out of the six-bed mother and baby unit at St John’s Hospital, Livingston.

A long-serving consultant left the unit at the end of July, and another staff post also became vacant at around the same time.

Staff have been brought in from the hospital’s psychiatry service, the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and from further afield.

Tim Davison, NHS Lothian chief executive, said: “I wouldn’t want to give the impression that this isn’t a fragile service – it is.

“There are only 12 beds for the whole of Scotland and six of them are at St John’s. We have advertised three or four times for this post and we haven’t received any applications at all.”

Concerns had previously been raised about the service by Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

Donna Swift, from the Pandas Foundation, which offers pre- and postnatal depression advice and support, last night, called on mothers to receive support for as long as it was needed.

“Six months is a very, very low cut-off point for support. Some mothers at that stage are still adjusting to having a baby in the house. Research has shown that women can suffer from postnatal depression for up to two years or longer. This is a tragic case and regardless of the age of the child if someone is struggling with a mental health problem they should receive the right support.”

Craig Steedman, Chloe’s father and other relatives were in court for the sentencing.

After yesterday’s hearing, Tracey Curran of Victim Support Scotland read out a statement saying the entire family had been “failed by the system”.

The Scottish Government has asked the Mental Health Welfare Commission to carry out an ­inquiry.