The Times

Wednesday, February 3, 1999

Judge lets Australian go home to seek help for mental problems,
report Richard Duce and Christine Middap

Sullivan leaving the Old Bailey yesterday

Nanny spared jail term for killing baby

THE nanny who shook a six-month-old baby to death was freed yesterday to return to Australia after a judge ruled that she needed help rather than punishment.

Louise Sullivan, 27, will fly back to Sydney for treatment for the mental deficiencies that contributed to the death of Caroline Jongen last April.

The baby's parents refused to comment on Sullivan's sentence of 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, but police said that they had not wanted to see another life destroyed.

Muriel and Marcel Jongen were at the Old Bailey to hear Mr Justice Mitchell say: "Nothing can restore that baby to her mother and father. No sentence can mend the pain of the parents or their anguish. I can but hope that having braved the ordeal of these proceedings they can understand why I have, with some reluctance, allowed Louise Sullivan to return to Australia."

Sullivan, who has an IQ of only 81 because of a thyroid deficiency, was embraced by her mother, Robyn, and by her barrister, Nadine Radford, QC, who had argued that imprisonment would probably cause a mental breakdown.

The Sullivan family left the court without comment. Karen Todner, Sullivan's solicitor, said: "We are pleased that the judge was able to show compassion to a girl who has never deliberately sought to harm a child which she cared for and loved. Louise Sullivan bitterly regrets that her actions led to Caroline's death."

Miss Todner, giving Sullivan's version of events leading up to the baby's death at home in Cricklewood, northwest London, said: "Louise believed that Caroline suffered a fit or convulsion. Louise had never experienced such a situation before.

"During her training in Australia Louise was taught the 'shake and shout' method. Most regrettably, it was this course of action that ultimately resulted in Caroline's death. This is not a case that is about temper or loss of patience . . . This is the case of a girl who panicked and made a mistake with tragic consequences."

Sullivan, who had admitted manslaughter, is expected to return to Australia with her mother and father, Barry, as soon as her passport is returned by police.

Passing sentence on Sullivan, who had been a nanny for five years, the judge told her: "The sad truth can be stated simply: with that deficit in your mental capability, you were wholly unsuitable for the career you chose and the work you were employed to do.

"There was, in truth, a concealed but massive question mark of your ability to cope with the ups and downs and occasional crises that can arise in the early months of a young baby's life."

The judge said manslaughter would normally demand a prison sentence but Sullivan "had not the slightest insight" into her mental problems, which had not previously been diagnosed. The court was told that she was born without a thyroid gland, which left her of below average intellect and prone to anxiety and depression.

"Terrible though the consequences of what you did were, your action was not intended or, by any stretch of the imagination, an act committed in temper or gratuitous violence," the judge told her.

Sullivan had completed a childcare course in New South Wales and two Australian Red Cross courses during which she learnt the "shake and shout" method. The prosecution said that she had shaken Caroline for five to ten seconds, making her brain wobble "like a jelly inside a mould". The child died in hospital four days later from brain damage.

Mr Justice Mitchell said that even if Sullivan had thought the "shake and shout" method of testing if someone was conscious was appropriate, and it was clearly not, "nothing could have justified your action, which was wholly inappropriate".

After the case, Detective Chief Inspector David Brown, who led the police investigation, said there could be no criticism of Mr Jongen, a Dutch-born banker, or Mrs Jongen, a French-born financial analyst. They had interviewed Sullivan twice, checked her references and spoken to former employees, who said that they had been happy with her work.

He asked that the couple be left alone to grieve and said that it was not for police to comment on the sentence. "I will never forget Mr Jongen saying that they did not want to destroy Louise Sullivan's life," Mr Brown said.

Valerie Howarth, chief executive of the charity ChildLine, said: "We urge that systems be put in place thoroughly to screen and register anyone working or seeking work with children so that tragedies such as this can be prevented."

Copyright 1999, Times Newspapers Ltd.