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HMA v Sharon Goldie

 

Oct 29, 2020

At the High Court in Edinburgh today Lord Beckett sentenced Sharon Goldie to 3 years and 6 months imprisonment after the accused pleaded guilty to wilfully neglecting and ill-treating her daughter and preventing her from obtaining appropriate, timely and adequate medical assistance when she developed peritonitis and consequently died on 26 July 2018; contrary to the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, Section 12(1) as amended.


On sentencing, Lord Beckett made the following statement in court:

“The Crown accepted your plea of not guilty to culpable homicide and I must sentence you on the charge to which you have pled guilty. In doing so, I have taken account of all of the information before me which includes the words of the charge to which you pled guilty, an agreed narrative of the facts of the case and a number of reports. I have considered carefully the content of the two reports from a psychologist, a report from a psychiatrist and the social work report. I also have some information from your GP records.

I have taken account of everything said in mitigation on your behalf and there are some mitigating circumstances in this case. There is no doubt that you suffered a brain injury in an accident when you were 9 and that it has enduring consequences for you. Your consequential emotional immaturity, as found by Dr Raja who is a consultant forensic psychiatrist, is something the court can take account of in assessing the level of your culpability. A particularly important feature in sentencing in this case is that you do not present a risk of serious harm to the public at large. You have a very limited criminal record and no significant previous convictions. You have pled guilty in this case and have at times have expressed remorse. I recognise that you and your mother have suffered the tragic loss of your adult daughter this month in very distressing circumstances.

It is a very regrettable situation that in 2017 you found yourself with responsibility to care for a daughter aged 12 whom you had ceased to care for because of child protection concerns over physical neglect when she was 4. I note that you declined the offer by social workers of parenting classes when Robyn was returned to you in 2017.

It is troubling to learn from the narrative that warning signs were picked up at school, by neighbours and social workers and yet this situation was allowed to continue for more than a year, culminating in considerable pain, anxiety and suffering and the death of a child of 13. Even as the situation deteriorated in the last week of Robyn’s life, no effective intervention was made although your actions have a lot to do with that situation.

In light of what has been reported and said in mitigation, I have to assess very carefully your level of responsibility for this crime. I have understood from Dr Raja’s report that cognitive difficulties consequent on your brain injury are considered to have had some part to play in your committing the crime charged, but the extent of that is not and cannot be known in a situation where you were also drinking and smoking cannabis regularly. I must make a judgement in the light of all of the information available.

I will first examine some of the detail of what you did to determine to what extent I should reduce my assessment of your culpability. 

Even if your daughter could sometimes be challenging and difficult, she was subjected to a terrible ordeal of neglect and ill treatment by you over a long period. You had enough money to provide sufficient food for your daughter but you chose not to do so, and it seems that you preferred to spend significant sums on cannabis and alcohol. You gave these substances to your daughter instead of providing her with adequate nutrition. Your daughter was left to ask for money for food from neighbours and in the pub you frequented. You hit her on the head and body, pulled her hair, bit her on the body and spat at her. Your versions of events to the reporting social worker and to Dr Raja contain extensive denial which is inconsistent with your plea of guilty, substantial minimisation, attempts to shift the blame onto others and much victim-blaming.

From 19 July, your daughter was complaining of pain in her legs and stomach. On 21 July you locked her in the house while you went to the pub. By 22 July she had been sick and had not eaten for days.

On 24 July she was seen to be looking drained, pale, shivering and speaking weakly and you knew she was unwell. She told you that she needed an ambulance and you refused to call for it. She summoned a taxi herself to take her to hospital confirming both the gravity of her condition and her awareness of it. Your friend offered to accompany her to hospital but you prevented your daughter from taking the taxi when it arrived. I reject your contrived explanation to Dr Raja, that you could not know this because she covered it up with fake suntan cream, as simply untrue given the terms of the agreed narrative.

On 25 July, your daughter was in the garden asking a neighbour for help and to get an ambulance, saying she could not breathe when you intervened and took her back into the house. Your 13 year old daughter was so unwell in the early hours of 26 July that she wet and soiled her bed and remained there, indicating quite how ill she was.  You knew this and still you did nothing to seek medical assistance for her. You sent a social worker away without allowing her in the house. Your daughter was still in pain that afternoon and rather than getting her medical help, you gave her a painkiller and went to the pub. When you returned home, by which time your daughter was slumped on the sofa and unresponsive, you and your friend went outside to the garden to have a drink because the weather was nice. She was certainly dead less than an hour later.

You have pled guilty to wilfully ill-treating and neglecting your daughter and exposing her in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health. Accordingly I cannot accept the suggestion in the psychologist’s supplementary report provided by your lawyer that what you did was not wilful neglect.

In light of the opinion of Dr Raja, whose diagnosis I prefer to that proposed by a psychologist, I reject the suggestion that paranoid mental illness accounts for what you did to, and failed to do for, your daughter.  Dr Raja found no indication that you have a major mood disorder.

Whilst you suffered a serious brain-injury aged 9, you went on to pass standard grades in your teen years and your verbal IQ has recently been assessed probably to lie between 87 and 100 in the low-average to average range of functioning which is significantly more advanced than someone who would be considered to have a learning disability or significant impairment of social functioning.  Dr Raja found that whilst you may lack emotional intelligence, your “attention, concentration [and] short term memory was reasonable and [your] use of language suggested reasonable verbal intelligence.”

Despite your brain injury and its consequences, other than having the unwanted responsibility of caring for your daughter which you found inconvenient and difficult, you were able to function in the community, choosing to prioritise smoking cannabis and drinking and socialising in the pub and at home over her care. I conclude from the known facts that, when your daughter became ill and was repeatedly trying to get to hospital, you were substantially motivated by protecting yourself from the potential for closer scrutiny by the authorities which would inevitably have followed hospital admission.

I note that Dr Raja considers that you would be vulnerable in prison and may struggle to cope, but she would liaise with the prison mental health team to ensure your needs are met as she would if you were at liberty. Given that protection of the public is not a material consideration in your case, I have considered very carefully whether I can deal with you in some other way than imprisonment.

However, yours was a crime involving considerable cruelty over a prolonged period. Taking account of all of the information before me including what I have learned of your limitations and difficulties, I conclude that this is a crime so serious, and your responsibility for it is such, that there is no suitable alternative to a sentence of imprisonment in order to punish you, to seek to deter those who would wilfully ill-treat their children, to mark the gravity of such a concerning crime and to express society’s disapproval of such conduct.

I take account of your having pled guilty and that your plea was, in effect, first offered to the Crown on 28 February 2020. However, you had first appeared on petition in September 2018 and you had been indicted to a preliminary hearing on 23 August 2019.  By 28 February 2020 a trial had already been fixed.

On the charge to which you have guilty, and bearing in mind all of the mitigating features of the case, but particularly the absence of the need to protect the public and the consequences of your brain injury and its implications, a suitable sentence would be imprisonment for 4 years. Since you pled guilty, it is reduced to imprisonment for 3 years and 6 months.”