A mother who drowned her two-year-old son in the bath “to send him to heaven” after becoming paranoid her family were possessed by spirits has been detained under the Mental Health Act.
Natalie Steele, 31, admitted the manslaughter of her son Reid, who was found unresponsive at her family home on Parkwood Heights, Bridgend, on the evening of August 11 2021.
He was pronounced dead in hospital the following day.
Steele, who had recently converted to Christianity, had reported delusions in the months before the killing including seeing floating orbs and a belief in demons.
After her arrest, she told police she needed to protect her son by sending him to heaven.
She had to be admitted to hospital from prison because she was refusing to eat or drink, telling staff she had to fast for 40 days so she could join Reid in heaven.
Two forensic psychiatrists agreed Steele was suffering from an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness at the time of the killing, and the Crown Prosecution Service did not seek a trial for murder.
Detaining Steele under Section 37 and 41 of the Mental Health Act at Cardiff Crown Court on Tuesday, Judge Michael Fitton QC described the case as “a profound human tragedy”.
Judge Fitton remarked that many people who knew Steele had described her as a “devoted” and a “wonderful mother”.
“It is a profound human tragedy that it was you who loved (Reid) so dearly that caused this loss of life,” he said.
“You did so when you were suffering a period of serious and severe mental illness – that is the clear opinion of the professionals.”
He continued: “You were subject to visual and auditory hallucinations and you had paranoid beliefs and you were operating under the terrible mistake that your own family that loved Reid as dearly as you did wanted to harm him.”
The nature of the judge’s order means Steele will not be sent to prison when she is deemed fit to be released from hospital.
During the sentencing hearing, the court heard Steele had told her mother Amanda Prescott, that she had been “seeing lights” and told her “demons are dark and real”.
Steele also told Mrs Prescott “the rooms feel different”.
The night before Reid’s death, the defendant had been on a camping trip with her church in New Quay, west Wales, but friends became concerned when she demanded to be immediately baptised.
A friend within the congregation, Heidi Ackland, who was not on the trip, drove to New Quay early on the morning of August 11 to speak to Steele and persuade her to come home with her.
Ms Ackland described Steele as “speaking gibberish” and telling her that she had to be a sacrifice.
On the journey home, Ms Ackland noticed that Steele was compulsively checking on her son in his car seat in the back, saying things like “I love you Reid” and also kept taking her own seatbelt off.
The witness said she feared the defendant might try and leave the moving vehicle.
Later that evening, after dropping Steele at the home, she received a text from her saying: “I’ve done something terrible, I had to protect Reid from my family.”
Steele’s mother Amanda Prescott told police her daughter had taken her grandson for his bath at around 6pm on August 11, but had come downstairs at around 7.30pm saying: “I think I done.”
Her mother said Steele was not speaking in full sentence, just words like: “I done it.”
Mrs Prescott said she had “gone into panic mode” and rushed upstairs to find Reid unconscious and wrapped in a towel on the bathroom floor.
Steele later told police officers she had been playing “cups of tea” with Reid in the bath and had breast fed him before holding him underwater.
The defendant said she was “really worried” about her family, saying they had “creepy eyes” and adding that she had “problems with spirits” and “spirits had been touching her”.
She told her mother: “I felt I had to protect him from you”.
In her police interviews, she said her mother, step-father and siblings had “big eyes” and “contorted” faces, and she believed they were possessed by demons.
After passing sentence, Judge Fitton offered his condolences to the family, telling them they “carry no blame or responsibility what so ever” for not recognising the risk Steele posed to her son.
In a statement after the hearing, the family said: “Reid was the most loved, beautiful, funny, intelligent and loving little boy, who touched the hearts of everyone he met.”
They added: “As a family, we unanimously agree that the Judge’s decision today was the right one. Natalie will continue to receive the treatment she needs, to hopefully, in time, get better.
“Mental health conditions can sometimes be frightening, complicated and most importantly, not always visible until it is too late. But there is help out there. Please don’t be afraid to reach out.”