Mum drowned son thinking he was a witch three days after release from hospital

A schizophrenic mum drowned her seven-year-old son ‘for being a witch’ three days after she was allowed out of hospital.

Christina Acres, 39, from Rochford, Essex, killed her son George in his grandparents’ bath, believing she was saving him ‘from a fate worse than death’. She was said to be was ‘so psychotic she was completely out of touch with reality’ on the day and believed ‘in her mind she was killing a witch’, a trial heard. After the horrific killing on July 23, 2018 Acres was tried for murder but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to an indefinite hospital order.

Now a case review by the Essex Safeguarding Children Board reveals a litany of failures by mental health practitioners and found that there were ‘missed opportunities to intervene’. Three days before George was strangled and then drowned, Acres was rushed to hospital for urgent help. But despite her deteriorating condition, a student mental health practitioner and an assessor decided there were ‘no overt symptoms that required immediate referral for a Mental Health Act assessment or to stay in overnight for consultant review in the morning’.

They instead referred her to a GP who saw her hours later but had been provided with ‘no information from the hospital to confirm what medication should be prescribed’. However, the doctor was able to consult the records and prescribe her ‘usual anti-psychotic medication plus medication for sleep’ and told the review they thought she ‘did not appear unwell’. It was not until George’s death on July 23, 2018 that Acres was diagnosed with schizophrenia, despite a history of being seen by NHS mental health services. Two weeks before the killing, Acres’ family became concerned, as she feared her neighbours were conspiring against her. She believed the brakes on her car had been tampered with and was described as pacing up and down at night, declaring ‘they are going to kill us all’.

The review also found that her son was part of her ‘delusional belief system’, including that her family were being ‘spiked’. But there was little evidence of practitioners at the The Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust stopped to consider how her remarks impacted George. Acres’ mother phoned the mental health team and told them her concerns, but the usual care co-ordinator was not in and said she was told ‘no one else was available’, although health services dispute this. The review has urged the trust to raise its standards in cases concerning children – calling for risk assessments on how parent’s mental health impacts them.

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Credit James Hockaday.

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