A woman whose two-year-old daughter died of methadone consumption six years ago has been acquitted of willful child neglect.
Idi Douglas died in April 2016, three days after she was admitted to Our Ladies Children’s Hospital in Crumlin. A postmortem report concluded that she had suffered acute brain swelling, “most likely” caused by methadone ingestion, which resulted in her death.
Her mother, Sadie Douglas (39), of Rathsallagh Drive, Shankill, pleaded not guilty to the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for willful neglect of her child, which led to her death between April 13 and 14, 2016.
It took just over an hour for the 10 jurors to deliver their verdict on the fifth day of the trial.
Judge Orla Crowe thanked the jurors for their time in what she said was “an extremely difficult case”. He pardoned jurors from further jury duty for five years.
Judge Crowe confirmed that there was nothing further pending against Ms Douglas before being acquitted and told her that she was free to go.
Ms Douglas’ partner of the same address, Christopher O’Reilly, pleaded guilty to the same charge last July and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
The trial heard that O’Reilly was a recoverable heroin addict and was taking daily doses of methadone, a heroin substitute obtained on a weekly prescription from a local chemist. A cup with traces of methadone was found in the house that day.
The couple’s eldest daughter, four-year-old Sophie, tragically died in February 2016 of a brain haemorrhage resulting from a birth condition known as AVM, short for aneurysm malformation.
The court heard that the night before Heidi’s death, her parents stayed awake all night looking at pictures of their dead daughter. Ms Douglas said Heidi slept until 10.30 a.m. before going downstairs with her six-year-old brother.
Her brother spread her chocolates and breadsticks, and the kids were “up and down the stairs” and watching TV.
Ms Douglas told Gardai Heidi that she was “grand, a little wheezing” and fell asleep in her cot about 3 p.m. before being found unresponsive and not breathing.
The family called emergency services which arrived quickly. Paramedics noticed Heidi’s pupil was pinpoint-sized, one of the signs of an overdose, and administered naloxone which is an antidote to methadone.
The child was intubated and ventilated, but developed seizures and tested positive for methadone in the toxicology report.
Ms Douglas told paramedics she didn’t understand how Heidi could get her hands on methadone, as her partner had normally “drained” the last of her weekly prescriptions on Wednesday, then continued through the following week. Went to the chemist on Thursday to get the prescription. ,
Defending, Connor Deolly SC told the jury in his concluding remarks that in his view there was something ruthless in the act of prosecuting Douglas for neglect.
He said Ms Douglas voluntarily told paramedics in the ambulance that her partner was on methadone. He said that when Ms. Douglas said that there was no methadone in the house that Thursday morning, she was saying it because O’Reilly ended it every Wednesday.
The court heard that Christopher O’Reilly went to the chemist every Thursday, took his daily dose at the chemist and then brought home the rest of the weekly dose.
The jury heard that a post-mortem examination found Heidi was a healthy and well-nourished child, with good dental hygiene. “This is not a neglected child,” Mr Deoli said, adding that prosecutors do not say it was a pattern of ongoing behaviour.
They said that Ms. Douglas was unaware of the presence of a methadone cup in the bedroom and as a result did not place her child in front of that cup.
O’Reilly knew about the cup and “fell on his sword” as a result, because he knows he did something wrong, Mr. Deolly said. “Ms. Douglas didn’t know.”
Fionnaula O’Sullivan BL, prosecutor, told the jury that this was a case in which Heidi had effectively died of methadone ingestion at her home while Ms. Douglas was caring for her daughter.
“The question is whether we have proved that Sadie Douglas deliberately neglected Heidi in those days,” she said in her closing speech.
“This is a case where a young child is living in a home where methadone is kept and eaten and bottles are dribbled around,” Ms O’Sullivan said. Ms. Douglas was aware of this, the lawyer said.
Prosecutors said that “Ms. Douglas made a complete failure to monitor Heidi that morning when she slept through the night and into the morning and, crucially, a failure to provide vital information to the ambulance.”
After Heidi is found unconscious and an ambulance is called, it is the case for prosecutors that Ms. Douglas misled the paramedics about having methadone in the home.
In the ambulance, Ms Douglas “protects herself, protects Christopher, but sadly does not protect Heidi”, Ms O’Sullivan said.
“Sadly, all evidence leads to the inescapable conclusion that Sadie Douglas intentionally neglected Heidi Douglas in a manner likely to hurt Heidi’s health,” Ms O’Sullivan presented to the jury.
Chief state pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan said a scan showed baby Heidi Douglas had a “catastrophic brain injury” who was admitted to Our Ladies Children’s Hospital in Crumlin on April 14, 2016.
Mulligan told the court that Heidi’s brain was so swollen that he was pushing down on the spinal column. His condition continued to deteriorate and on April 19 he was assessed to be medically dead. Life support was withdrawn and death was confirmed on that day at 18.34.
Dr Mulligan said that as a result of the postmortem tests he conducted, he concluded that the child had acute cerebellitis, an inflammation of the brain that “most likely” caused him to consume methadone, which resulted in his death. .
He added that since the child was in a coma for several days, he also developed bronchial pneumonia which would have been terminal as well.
She said Heidi was otherwise a “normally healthy two-year-old”.
Richard Geoghegan, a pharmacist who worked at Lloyd’s Pharmacy in Shankill at the time, gave Ms Douglas’s partner proof of having received a weekly supply of methadone every Thursday.
The first 70ml dose of their weekly 490ml supply was always taken in a special room at the pharmacy, the rest of the medicine was taken by the patient in a bottle that had a child proof top.
Pharmacies supplied a measuring cup for patients, each of whom signed service agreements, governing the relationship between patient and chemist, behavior in the pharmacy and the use of methadone, Mr Geoghegan said.
The agreement, which the patients signed, contained three warnings, one of which was: “Keep in mind that 5 ml of methadone may kill a child”, the court heard.
Forensic scientist Kristen O’Connor told the court that Christopher O’Reilly’s DNA was found on a measuring cup containing the sticky residue of methadone, found above a chest of drawers in the master bedroom.
The court heard that two other DNA profiles were also present on the cup, but at a level too low for adequate testing.
Christopher O’Reilly also found a large plastic bottle containing prescribed methadone at home, along with a smaller glass bottle containing methadone prescribed to another person.