Mother who suffocated her disabled child detained in hospital indefinitely

Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent
·4-min read

A mother who suffocated her disabled 10-year-old boy after reaching her “wits’ end” during lockdown has been detained in hospital indefinitely.

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

On Thursday, Freeman appeared in court by video link and was handed a hospital order without limit of time.

Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb said it was a “rare and desperately sad” case.

The burden of looking after Dylan had taken its toll and by the summer of 2020, Freeman reached her “wits’ end” and was “exhausted”, the senior judge said.

She said: “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.”

Court artist sketch of Olga Freeman
The court heard Olga Freeman suffered a mental health breakdown (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

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

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 from pieces of sponge that he been stuffed in his mouth.

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

He required round-the-clock care and had attended a special school five days a week but had been unable to go during the lockdown.

The Russian-born defendant had a history 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.

Olga Freeman
Freeman ‘developed psychotic symptoms’

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.

Ealing Council said in a statement that Dylan was receiving 30 hours of care a week, 16 of which were funded through direct payments from the council.

The independent adviser and chair to the Ealing Safeguarding Children Partnership said: “It is clear from the evidence from the review so far, that this death could not have been foreseen.

“This tragic incident reflects the most extreme and traumatic aspect of the challenges experienced by many parents in trying to do their best to care for their children during a global pandemic.”