Mother who suffocated disabled son, 10, given indefinite hospital order

11 February 2021, 13:53

Olga Freeman suffocated her disabled son during lockdown
Olga Freeman suffocated her disabled son during lockdown. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A mother who suffocated her disabled 10-year-old son after reaching her "wits' end" during lockdown has been given an indefinite hospital order.

Olga Freeman, 40, admitted the manslaughter of Dylan Freeman, at their home in Acton, west London, on 15 August last year.

On Thursday, Freeman appeared in court via video link and was told she would be detained in hospital indefinitely.

Ms Justice Cheema-Grubb called the case "rare and desperately sad".

The senior judge said that looking after Dylan took its toll on Freeman and by the summer of 2020 she had reached her "wits' end" and was "exhausted".

She added: "I have no doubt at all that you were a remarkably loving and dedicated mother to a vulnerable child until multiple pressures overwhelmed you and your mind was swamped by a destructive illness with florid psychotic elements.

"To some unknowable extent, it should be recognised that Dylan was an indirect victim of interruption to normal life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic."

Last August, Freeman walked into a police station to report she had killed her child.

Officers found Dylan in a bedroom of his home, lying on his back covered by a duvet and toys placed beside him.

A post-mortem examination found he died from restriction of the airways due to pieces of sponge that had been stuffed in his mouth.

The young boy had been diagnosed with autism, global neurodevelopmental delay, progressive myopia and significant difficulties with language and communication, self-help and independence.

He needed 24/7 care and had attended a special school five days a week but had not been able to go during the lockdown.

The Russian-born defendant had a history of depression but had been an "attentive and loving mother".

Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC said: "However, last year during the first lockdown and through the summer she struggled more and more with her son.

"Eventually she suffered a mental health breakdown."

Psychiatrist Dr Martin Lock found Freeman, who had a law degree, "developed psychotic symptoms when under very heavy stress because of the Covid-19 lockdown".

It was made "considerably worse by struggling to look after Dylan" and "several times worse because of the Covid-19 lockdown and the closure of Dylan's school", he said in his report.

Requests were made to increase support for Dylan's care but Ealing Council appeared to be "slow" in responding.

Mr Patterson said: "What is clear from the police investigation, is that the council does seem to have been slow in determining her requests for increased financial assistance and she felt let down by the council.

"The role of the council does seem to have been a further source of stress for the defendant at what was a very difficult time."

Even her request to the council to pay back the cost of toys for Dylan was declined, the court heard.

At the time of Dylan's death, his father, celebrity photographer Dean Freeman, was in Spain.

The defendant's ex-husband, who appeared in court by video link, criticised successive governments for "inadequate support and funding" of services with some people "left without a voice".

Summarising Mr Freeman's victim impact statement, the prosecutor said the loss of Dylan caused distress "because in his opinion there were difficulties with the support provided".

The lawyer told the court: "I make it plain the prosecution are very conscious these proceedings are not for determining any failings or criticisms the defendant or Mr Freeman had about the treatment Dylan had."

Paying tribute to his son, Mr Freeman said: "The impact of losing a child is devastating and horrific.

"My son was sweet, artistic, gentle and very loving.

"Dylan was the delight of my life and always will be.

"I miss my son and I would have had many more holidays with him, I would have taken him to many more art galleries, gone swimming in the sea.

"He was the most gentle, happy and sweet boy. He loved travel and all he saw. I miss him more than words can say."

Quoting the actor Keanu Reeves, Mr Freeman said: "Grief changes shape but it never ends."

The court was told that Ealing Council had set out the defendant's many requests for support and the assistance given.

From March 2020, direct payments had been increased to fund a carer for 16 hours a week.

The court heard a serious case review was under way and was expected to conclude shortly.