Thursday, 12 May 2016

Toddington Mother Accused of Starving Baby

High Street, Toddington c. 1900 [Z1300/126/47b]

Friday 12th May 1916:  Adelaide Sutton, aged 32, of Toddington, has been sent for trial at the Bedford Assizes on a charge of unlawfully killing her three month old son Frank on 28th April.

Emma Bennett, a widow, told the preliminary hearing that her late husband was Mrs. Sutton’s brother. She had visited Mrs. Suttton on 11th January and found her in an upstairs room standing with the baby in her arms. Neither the mother nor the child had been attended to and Mrs. Sutton had asked Mrs. Bennett to perform “a certain duty” but she refused, saying it need a doctor or nurse. She had previously noticed her sister-in-law’s condition and had asked if she expected to have another child. She replied that she did. Mrs. Bennett had said “But it won’t be your husband’s child, will it?”  Mrs Sutton had replied, “No, it won’t be Bill’s, for he has been away about 14 months”.  Mrs Sutton had six other children aged between 14 and 3.

Elsie Maud Holmes, the District Nurse had attended Mrs. Sutton on January 11th and found that the baby was well nourished and of average size. She visited for ten days and the child thrived. On April 21st she was asked to visit by Dr. Walsh and see that the child was being fed. She saw the mother feed it with a mixture of milk and water. Dr. J. Waugh of Toddington had helped Dr. Walsh to make a post-mortem examination on April 29th. The baby’s body was emaciated, there was a complete absence of fat all over the body, and the stomach was empty. Otherwise the baby appeared perfectly healthy. He considered the cause was more likely to be lack of food rather than inability to assimiliate it. At its death the baby weighed only 5lb 12oz, about half the expected weight. Dr. Walsh had also visited on January 11th and found that the child had been born but neither mother nor child had received any attention. The child was quite healthy. When he called on April 19th the baby was smaller than when it was born, and told the mother it was dying from lack of food. He asked the District Nurse to see that it was fed according to his instructions, but on 28th April the child had died.

Mrs. Sutton said that she had asked the doctor what she should give the baby, and told him she had been giving it the breast, sop and milk. He had said the sop was not the proper food to feed it on and she had then given it milk and water as he instructed. The doctor said that by that time the baby was too far gone. A neighbour told how she had looked after Mrs. Sutton’s children while she was in Luton, and that the baby had taken milk that the mother had provided. Mrs. Sutton had sent a telegram to say she could not get back that night so she had kept the baby overnight. It slept well and was very good. She had noticed more recently that the baby seemed to be wasting away. A former inspector for the NSPCC described how the family had been practically destitute when Mr. Sutton joined the Army in September 1914, and had received help from various societies. He had on occasions had to warn her about leaving the children, and had received a complaint in February. He had visited and child was thriving, as it was when he saw it again on March 7th. On April 19th the child seemed to be ill, and the mother thought it had a bad cold. He agreed and suggested she call a doctor. He had seen the mother feeding the child.

Following an inquest held on May 1st a warrant was issued for Mrs. Sutton’s arrest. She pleaded not guilty and said “I fed baby up to the day the doctor came; I fed him on sop and milk and also the breast. I gave him every attention I possibly could, as I did my other children. I brought the other six up on sop. This baby seemed very hungry. It did not matter what I gave him, he was no more satisfied at the end of the feed than he was when he started. I had kept a fire all night on purpose to prepare food for him. As to warmth, that seemed no comfort to him whatever. I gave the baby as much at one feed as would satisfy a child nine or twelve months old. There was no rest with him night or day. His crying night and day was wearing me out”.[1]

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 16th May 1916

[1] The case was dismissed at the Bedford Assizes in June.

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