Questions that must be answered to prevent another Sally Clark-style tragedy

Family Law|Stowe Family Law|September 29th 2008

I wonder if anyone else shares my unease at the conviction for murder last week of 32-year old Joanne Hill. Ms Hill was found guilty of murdering her four-year old daughter Naomi, who suffered from cerebral palsy, by drowning her in a bath.

It took the jury just one hour twenty minutes to return a guilty verdict.

“There can be no excuse for what you did” said the Recorder of Chester, Judge Elgan Edwards, as he sentenced Mrs Hill to 15 years in prison. He also ordered her to be moved to a psychiatric hospital because it was agreed in court that she was currently suffering from a mental illness, accompanied in the dock by two nurses.

Really? Only currently mentally ill?

Mrs Hill had a history of depression, attempting suicide twice in 2000. Following the birth of Naomi, she was diagnosed with a severe form of postnatal depression. Could she not have been profoundly depressed when the deed was done?

Having seen the police video, I cannot believe I am the only person who thought this woman – who seemed, to me, to be clearly disturbed – was prosecuted for murder of her daughter. CCTV pictures showed Mrs Hill before and after the murder. One clip shows the mother laughing and joking in a petrol station as her dead child – who Mrs Hill had dried and dressed in dungarees – is strapped into a seat in the car.

These almost unbelievable images pose several pertinent questions. Would any sane person have behaved in that way? Would any sane person be driving her dead daughter around for 8 hours as Mrs Hill did? Would any mentally balanced parent have done any of it?

I understood much better however when I heard the plaintive comments of Mrs Hill’s husband Simon, he who had flatly refused to consider adoption or care for their daughter. This was despite, as the court recognised, Mrs Hill being under considerable pressure. The Times even reports that the murder was planned as a response to Mr Hill’s refusal to allow Naomi to be adopted.

The police have a tough job in balancing the right to life of a child and the actions of her mother. They leave it to a jury. Naomi’s father however wished to address the press, telling them how he was mourning ‘his Princess’ and in a diatribe against his wife said he would never forgive her, branding her “evil”.

The published evidence of her evil seems to be her drinking and worse still, her infidelity. But as someone used to family breakdown, my experience is that drink is often (very wrongly) thought to be a way to stop depression when in fact it makes it worse, and furthermore, women who have affairs usually do so, because something is very wrong in their marriage.

Thus, I have my own far more sympathetic thoughts about the so called “evil wife” who was considered mentally fit to take part in her trial for murder despite her current mental illness which was known to the court and agreed by the prosecution.

I ask myself “how did she get through the trial in that condition?” and sadly, have no answer.

As Mrs Hill was led away in handcuffs I realised with a shock, I was viewing exactly the same chilling TV pictures that I had watched several years ago – of the solicitor Sally Clark being led from the very same court, wrongly convicted of murdering of her two children.

I played a part in establishing Sally Clark’s innocence, despite the comments as to her guilt made by the trial Judge and the Appeal Court. Sally Clark served three years in prison until the medical evidence I unearthed – which had never been presented at the trial – secured her release. A broken woman, treated despicably by some of her fellow inmates, following her release she never recovered from her ordeal and sadly died last year.

And now, is Mrs Hill in for the same horrific treatment? A woman who couldn’t cope with her daughter and had no way out? A husband who didn’t appear to have any understanding whatsoever of what his wife was going through? What is about to happen to Mrs Hill, indeed what is happening as you read this blog, to Mrs Hill?

Was Mrs Hill convicted justly of murder? Or was her decision to kill her daughter, caused by her unbalanced state of mind as a result of a combination of depression and alcohol?

I don’t seek to excuse her actions, but I am profoundly disturbed by her conviction and the circumstances that surrounded it.

While in this case the debate is not surrounding the guilt of Mrs Hill, but her mental state at the time of the murder, the importance of putting right any miscarriage of justice which may have occurred is as serious as in Sally Clark’s case.

I sincerely hope that there is an appeal and that it is fast-tracked so the court can answers the questions I, and I am sure many others, cannot.

Author: Stowe Family Law

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Comments(2)

  1. The legal year is under way… « Insitelaw magazine says:

    […] Marilyn Stowe Blog: I wonder if anyone else shares my unease at the conviction for murder last week of 32-year old Joanne Hill. Ms Hill was found guilty of murdering her four-year old daughter Naomi, who suffered from cerebral palsy, by drowning her in a bath.It took the jury just one hour twenty minutes to return a guilty verdict. […]

  2. Frank Lockyer, Camilla Cavendish and Professor Sir Roy Meadow. says:

    […] Yet incredibly and bravely, he soldiers on. He recently e-mailed me after reading about the case of Joanne Hill, highlighted in one of my recent posts. […]

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