Justice for Teesside Mum accused of murdering new-born baby, as she walks free, avoiding a 20 year sentence
On the 4th October 2020, Shauna Donnelly walked into James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough with her dead, day old baby. The investigation into the death, resulted in her being charged with Murder by Cleveland Police.
Todays hearing at 10am at Teesside Crown Court saw Justice for Shauna Donnelly 24, from Middlesbrough who escaped a potential 20 year sentence, due to a lack of conclusive medical evidence to suggest harm or assault had occurred.
In her first appearance in October last year at Teesside Crown Court, HHJ Watson QC had been persuaded to grant Ms Donnelly bail due to the extremely sensitive and delicate nature of the allegation. Donnelly’s legal team had highlighted she had no previous convictions and was vulnerable due to the circumstances of the birth.
Donnelly was represented by a legal team from Watson Woodhouse Solicitors in Middlesbrough, from her first police station appearance. As the case progressed they had commissioned medical reports from five expert witnesses in order that every aspect of the defence case be properly explored.
All doctors agreed child was likely born in an extremely compromised state as a result of a hypoxic injury which was the likely outcome of a significant placental abruption. Medical opinion was that this was a child, if born alive, was extremely poorly and so unwell that the mother may well believe the child was stillborn, with no evidence of assault or trauma of any kind. Due to the condition of the child at birth it was a distinct and realistic possibility that the mother may have believed the child to have been still born. It was not possible to say whether prompt medical attention would have enabled the child to survive.
The Crown also considered the expert opinion of Dr Gary Hartnoll, consultant Neonatologist. His report supports the conclusion that a hypoxic baby may have appeared to the mother to be still born. Richard Wright QC summed up “There is a broad body of circumstantial evidence which raises suspicion as to the circumstances in which this child died, however it remains essential (in order to deliver a verdict of Murder) that the crown is able to establish that the
child died as a result of an unlawful act by the defendant (that caused the death of the child.) Absence of an ability to prove the unlawful act, (would mean) no conviction for Murder can follow.
Judge Ashurst, having reviewed the available evidence concluded “ I am quite satisfied that very close attention has been given to establish how it was the baby in this case died, there has been a full investigation about the circumstances of the child’s birth, those highly qualified have been consulted and the Crown have taken a responsible and appropriate course of action in light of the evidence.”
Eric Watson, defendants Solicitor & Director at Watson Woodhouse Law Firm, gave a statement to press following the judgement “Shauna Donnely was the victim of the worst tragedy that could befall a new mother. Not only did she have to cope with the death of her child she also had to deal with appalling online abuse from members of the public who knew nothing of her case. This case is relevant to every parent, to expectant couples, and potential new mums, this could have happened to any member of the public. Instead of celebrating a significant life moment in her adult life, she has spent the past year dealing with cruel allegations that she murdered her baby. It is hoped that today’s decision will draw a line under this, to permit Shauna the space to finally grieve and to allow her to move on with her life.”
Shauna Donnelly and her family privately responded to the judgement with a statement via her solicitor “I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but nobody seemed to believe me. I honestly thought I was going to prison for the rest of my life. I couldn’t think about anything else and even now I know the judge and the barristers know I didn’t do anything, people still shout things at me and people still talk about me. The total strangers, who made comments on the newspaper articles threatening to do all sorts of awful things to me should listen to what the judge has said today about me being innocent of this and not say such nasty things about people in the future. It’s as if I won’t ever be able to get rid of the photo of me as “that one who killed her baby”. It felt awful but now I’m finally able to move forward with my life”.
Eric Watson of Watson Woodhouse concluded “This is a monumental judgement for Shauna and her family. The consequences were potentially devastating, and the experience hugely traumatic, they have been victims themselves through this process. Watson Woodhouse has for 30 years positioned ourselves as the “champion of the people” and will continue to do so. We are incredibly proud of our close connections with the community through our legal aid work. We cannot take back what has happened but we are determined to ensure that everyone no matter your financial standing, should have access to high quality legal advice”
If you or your family are experiencing legal difficulties due to The Pandemic, around domestic abuse, homelessness, employment law or crime, Watson Woodhouse offer FREE legal advice at their weekly Law Clinics in Stockton, please do get in touch with us for a free confidential informal discussion at or on 01642 247656 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.