Mother drowned toddler while in the grip of mental illness, court hears

·3-min read

A “devoted” mother drowned her two-year-old son in the bath while suffering paranoid delusions that her family were possessed by demons, a court has heard.

Natalie Steele, 31, was arrested after her son Reid was found unresponsive at the home she shared with her family in Parkwood Heights in Bridgend on the evening of August 11 last year.

The little boy was pronounced dead in hospital the following day.

Steele denied murder, but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after two forensic psychiatrists found she had been mentally ill when she killed her son.

She told police she needed to protect her son by sending him to heaven.

At her sentencing hearing on Tuesday, prosecutor Michael Jones QC said Steele had been behaving oddly in the days leading up to her son’s death.

Mr Jones said Steele’s family described her as a “devoted mother” who was inseparable from her son “from day one” but that they had been concerned when she reported hearing and seeing things.

She 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 shared with her mother, step-father and brother, she received a text from her saying: “I’ve done something terrible, I had to protect Reid from my family.”

When she arrived at the property, she found the emergency services were already there.

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.

A forensic psychiatrist’s report later found Steele had been suffering from “as unrecognised, undiagnosed and untreated mental illness”.

It continued: “[Steele] was so deluded that she drowned her son to protect him from demons and send him to heaven.”

The report said that her culpability for the killing was low.

The prosecutor, Mr Jones, said that as a result of the findings of the psychiatric reports, the Crown
Prosecution Service had decided to accept Steele’s guilty plea to manslaughter, and not seek a trial on murder.

Judge Michael Fitton QC is due to pass sentence later this afternoon.

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