Pensioner cleared of causing five-month-old baby's death by careless driving due to undiagnosed dementia

·2-min read

A pensioner has been found not guilty by reason of insanity of causing a baby boy's death through careless driving.

Jurors at Cambridge Crown Court concluded that Shelagh Robertson's undiagnosed dementia affected her when she turned into the path of a van on the A10 at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire on 22 January last year after a shopping trip to Tesco.

The van collided with the 75-year-old's car, forcing the van on to the pavement where it hit Rachael Thorold and her five-month-old son Louis Thorold, killing Louis and throwing Mrs Thorold into the air, causing her serious injuries.

Judge Mark Bishop told jurors that to return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity they must be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, Robertson had dementia at the time and either did not know what she was doing or did not know that what she was doing was wrong.

He said that this "doesn't include a momentary failure to concentrate".

Jurors found Robertson not guilty by reason of insanity following seven hours and three minutes of deliberations.

The defendant, who sat beside her solicitor and a family member in the well of the court, used a hearing loop to listen to the jury foreperson read out the verdict.

Robertson, of Stables Yard, Waterbeach, appeared expressionless as the verdict was returned.

Louis's parents Chris and Rachael Thorold, who sat in the public gallery, looked down at the floor, with Mr Thorold shaking his head.

James Leonard, defending, told the trial it was "obvious" Robertson's driving "fell below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver".

But he said that Robertson was "ill-equipped to negotiate" the junction due to her dementia, and she was unaware of this as she was undiagnosed at the time.

"She's trying to be safe but she just doesn't have the presence of mind to be safe," Mr Leonard said.

Prosecutor David Matthew said in his closing speech: "There's no doubt here that Shelagh Robertson is suffering from a form of dementia and was suffering from it in January 2021."

On Tuesday the court heard her undiagnosed dementia was worsening during the pandemic when there were fewer opportunities for face-to-face contact with medical professionals.

In a statement read by Mr Thorold outside court, Louis's parents vowed that his legacy will live on.

"Louis Thorold was the sweetest, happiest, joyful, and most beautiful baby," he said.

"He was perfectly ours. He was our lives, he still is. We love, adore, and cherish him.

"Every moment we had with Louis was so special. We loved every single second. Louis knew only love and cuddles before he was killed by Shelagh Robertson.

"Louis' future and all his potential stolen, a life sentence for us, his family, our community, and everyone who hears this story."

He said a road safety foundation has been set up in Louis's name.