Drunk mothers who abandoned their children aged 18months receive suspended sentences

Drunk mothers who abandoned their children aged 18months receive suspended sentences

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On 30 October 2014, the Daily Mail covered the story of two mothers who had pleaded to child neglect.

Jessica Ward, aged 22, and Molly Couch, aged 21, pleaded guilty to (presumably) cruelty to a child (in the form of neglect). They had been caring for their young children – aged 17 and 18 months old – having planned a “girlie night in” at Ward’s house watching the tv and drinking some wine. Having put the children in their cots, they decided to have a drink (it’s tough looking after kids). Well, you know how it is, one drink leads to two, which leads to three….bottles.

Having – as the Mail described it – “binged” on three bottles of wine, the pair managed to lock themselves out of Ward’s house at 11pm, having decided to get some shoes from Couch’s address. They called their parents who called the police – which in the end may have been an error. Ward and Couch were seen in the street, drunkenly blaming each other, shouting, swearing and waving their arms around.

The fire brigade were called and they managed to gain access to the property through a first floor window. This was at about 11.40pm, the children having been left unattended for some 40 minutes. The Mail reported that the women were approximately three times the drink-drive limit and “reeked” of alcohol.

The prosecuting advocate said:

‘These defendants were fighting with one another in the street. Both parties said they had been drinking and were locked out and two young children were alone inside. Both defendants were verbally abusive to one another.

‘One child could be heard crying. The defendants were in no fit state to be caring for the children.’

Caution

Ward had previously been cautioned by police when her child was three months, over a drunken argument with her then boyfriend.

It was said on her behalf that she doesnt know when to stop drinking and had sought counselling.

Judge’s remarks

‘This is one of the worst cases of letting a child down … The obligations, duties and responsibilities of caring for a child are huge, not to be put to one side because you fancied a drink.’

He said to Couch:

‘You were not in a fit state to look after the baby … You got it very badly wrong, you put your child at risk.’

Sentence

Ward received 26 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months with an 18-month supervision requirement and 16-week electronic monitoring requirement.

Couch received 12 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months, with a 12-month supervision requirement and a six-month alcohol treatment requirement.

Comment

Couch must have expressed her willingness to comply with the alcohol treatment for it to be imposed –  that is a requirement of the order and an indication that she intends to address her behaviour which led to the offence.

There is no explanation as a) why the sentences were suspended or b) why the judge felt it appropriate to give Ward more than twice the sentence imposed upon Couch, however their disparate ages may have something to do with it, in addition to other mitigation of which we are  unaware.

Taking account of the fact that (seemingly) no harm came to the children, the incident was isolated, and that both women are young and dealing with very young children (which of course could cut both ways, and be treated as an aggravating factor) this sentence appears to be a sensible one. There is no point in sending them to custody and a look at the guidelines reveals that this falls squarely into the bottom category: “single incident of short term abandonment” with a sentencing range of a low community order to 26 weeks custody. Adding the “brawling” and alcohol to the equation and one can see how the judge came to the conclusion that 12 and 26 weeks were appropriate. We therefore would not expect an appeal against sentence.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Time and time again I’ve noticed how females tend to be given lighter sentences than males,even when committing a similar offence. We do have ‘gendered justice’ which to me goes against equal justice. Being drunk and disorderly in charge of children is serious as they would be unable to react to an emergency situation. We see in sex allegation cases where invariably it’s the male who receives stricter sentencing

    • I think yours is a good *general* point. Sentencing does seem to be unfairly gendered. However, I agree with Polruan’s scepticism as to whether the present individual case provides a good example. We don’t know what sentence two fathers would have received, in otherwise identical circumstances. However, I would have hoped the hypothetical fathers’ sentences would have been suspended too.

  2. Ward had a previous relevant caution, which is likely to have increased the length of her sentence, and a three month curfew is not insignificant, especially as it covers the coming Christmas and New Year holiday period. It is positive that Crouch had agreed to an ATR, which is likely to help her address her offending behaviour.

    I see no evidence that these mothers were treated more leniently than a lone male with parental responsibility would have been; in neither instance would an immediate custodial sentence have seemed in the child’s best interests on the evidence to hand.

    It is easy to bandy around insinuations such as those made by A. Wigley; much harder to substantiate them. Indeed, compared to many other sentences in the adult courts, I would argue that these are pretty hefty terms, even when suspended – and any recurrence could lead to the custodial sentence being activated in full or in part. Ward was a care assistant, and this conviction will undoubtedly affect her ability to find future employment in this field. Both mothers know that their parenting will be under close scrutiny by social services (and rightly so).

    The issue of absent fathers is a different and more intractable one. I don’t pretend to have any meaningful suggestions, other than to observe that not all young men would provide the sort of rôle model we might wish to see!

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