Grieving mother issues plea to parents

A grieving mother is pleading with parents to never leave their young children alone in water after her son drowned when he was left by himself in a bath.

The 13-month-old infant was found face down in the water by his mother when she returned after spending nearly eight minutes away from the bathroom.

The 29-year-old, who cannot be named, was charged with her son's manslaughter but today was acquitted after only two hours of deliberation by a jury in the High Court at Wellington.

Commenting on the case, Auckland barrister and criminal defence specialist Steve Bonnar said the Crown could have pursued a lesser charge of "criminal nuisance".

"That is an offence where someone fails to comply with a legal duty, and their failure to comply is one that they know could endanger the life of a person."

Mr Bonnar said had the Crown had pursued this charge - which has a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment - they would have been required to prove the mother knew she was endangering her child.

During the trial safety experts told the court babies and toddlers relaxed when they slipped under water, going into an in utero state, rather than fighting for breath.

Today, the woman said her son lost his life due to her lack of knowledge surrounding infant drownings and how they occur.

Infants have a valve that shuts off once water is inhaled into the lungs which prevents more water entering, but also means they go unconscious quickly and die silently, the woman said.

"Parents, please never leave your child alone near any body of water for any amount of time.

"You may think the chance of drowning is remote but if you hear my story and still choose to tempt fate and risk leaving your child unsupervised you are playing dice with death and the very real possibility your child could lose their life and you will regret it for the rest of your life."

After today's verdict was read, a group of about a dozen supporters cried and hugged each other in the public gallery with relief.

Outside court, the mother said her faith in the justice system had been restored.

"I feel that it's so good that it's over and we can focus on his life now rather than the circumstances surrounding his death."

In her closing today, prosecutor Sally Carter said in leaving her son alone in 18cm to 19cm of bath water was a "major departure...of the standard of care that was expected".

The little boy drowned because of his mother's decision to leave the room for 7 minutes and 56 seconds, she said.

"It's not a short period of time."

But the woman's lawyer said this was a case about whether the community marked a mistake with a conviction for manslaughter.

"We all make mistakes, we are not machines," he said.

"We do not criminalise every mistake and it would be a travesty to criminalise this one."

 

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