A woman whose two-year-old daughter died six years ago after ingesting methadone has been acquitted of wilfully neglecting the child.
Heidi Douglas died in April 2016, three days after she had been admitted to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin. A post-mortem report concluded she had suffered acute brain inflammation, “most likely” caused by having ingested methadone, resulting in her death.
Her mother, Sadie Douglas (39) of Rathsallagh Drive, Shankill, Co Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to wilful neglect of her child leading to her death on dates between April 13th and 14th, 2016.
The 10 jurors took just over an hour to reach their verdict on day-five of the trial. Judge Orla Crowe thanked the jurors for their time in what she said was “an extremely difficult case”. She excused the jurors from further jury duty for five years.
Judge Crowe confirmed that there was nothing else pending against Ms Douglas before she discharged her from the indictment and told her she was free to go.
Ms Douglas’ partner, Christopher O’Reilly, of the same address, pleaded guilty last July to the same charge and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
The trial heard that O’Reilly was a recovering heroin addict and was taking daily doses of methadone, a heroin substitute, obtained on weekly prescription from a local chemist. A cup with traces of methadone in it was found in the house on the day in question.
The couple’s older daughter, four-year-old Sophie, had died tragically in February 2016 from a brain haemorrhage arising out of a birth condition known as AVM, short for arteriovenous malformation.
The night before Heidi's death, her parents stayed up much of the night looking at photographs of their deceased daughter, the court heard. Ms Douglas said Heidi slept in until 10.30 that morning before going downstairs with her six-year-old brother.
Her brother got her chocolate spread and breadsticks, and the children were “up and down the stairs” and watching television.
Ms Douglas told gardaí Heidi was “grand, a bit wheezy” and went to sleep in her cot before she was found unresponsive and not breathing at about 3pm.
The family called emergency services who arrived quickly. Paramedics noticed that Heidi’s pupil were pinpoint-size, which is one of the signs of an overdose, and administered Naloxone which is an antidote to methadone.
The child was intubated and ventilated but began to have seizures and toxicology reports tested positive for methadone.
Ms Douglas told paramedics she didn’t understand how Heidi could have got her hands on the methadone, as her partner normally “drained” the last bit of his weekly prescription on Wednesday, then went to the chemist on Thursday to collect the following week’s prescription.
Conor Devally SC, defending, told the jury in his closing address that in his view there was something merciless in the act of prosecuting Douglas for neglect.
He said that Ms Douglas voluntarily told paramedics in the ambulance that her partner was on methadone. He said that when Ms Douglas said there wasn't any methadone in the house that Thursday morning, she was saying this because O'Reilly finished it every Wednesday.
The court has heard that Christopher O'Reilly went to the chemist every Thursday, took his daily dose in the chemist and then brought the rest of the weekly dose home.
The jury heard that the post-mortem examination found Heidi was a healthy and well-nourished child, with good dental hygiene. “This is not a neglected child,” Mr Devally said, adding that the prosecution does not say this was a pattern of ongoing behaviour.
He said Ms Douglas was unaware of the presence of the methadone cup in the bedroom and as a result she did not expose her child to that cup.
O'Reilly did know about the cup and he has “fallen on his sword” as a result, because he knows he did something wrong, Mr Devally said. “Ms Douglas did not know.”