Pensioner on trial over death of baby in pram ‘had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s’

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A pensioner accused of causing the death by careless driving of a baby boy, who was in a pram being pushed along the pavement by his mother, will say she had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease at the time and is to mount a defence of insanity, a court heard.

Shelagh Robertson, 75, was driving home from a shopping trip to Tesco when she turned into the path of an oncoming van on the A10 at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, forcing it on to the pavement on January 22 last year, Cambridge Crown Court heard.

The van hit Rachael Thorold and her five-month-old son Louis Thorold, killing baby Louis and throwing Mrs Thorold into the air, causing her serious injuries.

Another driver who witnessed the crash, Kaye Lewis, said in a statement read to the court that the van driver was “fighting the steering wheel but the van just kept going towards the pavement”.

She said she remembered seeing Mrs Thorold’s face and the “absolute terror of it when she saw the van” before she was “thrown 15ft in the air then landed”.

“I saw the pram just disintegrate into pieces and go under the van,” she said.

Robertson, of Stables Yard, Waterbeach, denies causing the infant’s death by careless driving and is on trial.

Shelagh Robertson court case
Five-month-old Louis Thorold with his mother Rachael Thorold (Cambridgeshire Police/ PA)

James Leonard, for Robertson, told jurors it was “agreed by any reasonable objective test the way Mrs Robertson drove on the day of the accident fell below the standard to be expected from a reasonable, competent driver”.

“The issue in this case is whether or not Mrs Robertson was suffering from insanity as it’s recognised by law,” he said.

“The defence case is that Mrs Robertson had undiagnosed atypical Alzheimer’s disease both before the accident and on the day, and that’s what will lead to the conclusion that the defence of insanity is made out.”

Robertson sat beside her solicitor and family members in the well of the court on Monday, listening to proceedings through a hearing loop.

The parents of baby Louis, Chris and Rachael Thorold, sat in the public gallery, and had placed a white soft toy elephant on a wooden ledge looking out over the courtroom beside Mrs Thorold.

The judge, Mark Bishop, told the jury of nine women and three men that for a defence of insanity to succeed they must be persuaded that Robertson was suffering from atypical Alzheimer’s disease at the time of the crash and that “as a result of that disease she experienced disrupted thinking”.

Shelagh Robertson court case
Shelagh Robertson arrives at Cambridge Crown Court where she is charged with causing the death of five-month-old Louis Thorold by careless driving (Joe Giddens/ PA)

He said this disrupted thinking could either be that as she drove the car she “didn’t know what she was doing” or that she “didn’t know that what she was doing was wrong by the standards of reasonable people”.

David Matthew, prosecuting, said Robertson had turned right, driving her Mazda 2 car into the path of an oncoming Renault van that was travelling south along the A10 at the junction with Car Dyke Road.

“The impact forced the van on to the pavement,” he said.

“Walking along the pavement towards the van were Rachael Thorold and pushing in front of her her five-month-old son Louis in a pushchair.

“The van went over them.”

He said it happened at about 3.50pm and it was light, with sunset not until 4.30pm.

Shelagh Robertson court case
Chris and Rachael Thorold (right), parents of baby Louis, pictured arriving at a previous hearing at Cambridge Crown Court. (Joe Giddens/ PA)

The van was driven by delivery driver Andrew Freestone, Mr Matthew said, describing him as a “careful and professional driver”.

He said the incident was captured by dashcam footage and that Mr Freestone was driving “properly, sensibly and within the speed limit” which at the time was 50mph.

Mr Matthew said that Mr Freestone “tried to steer to his right” to avoid a collision.

“He saw the pushchair, heard thumps, saw the woman with the pushchair go up in the air,” he said.

He said of Robertson: “Obviously a competent and careful driver doesn’t drive into the path of oncoming traffic which has the right of way without looking.”

The prosecution counsel said that a witness said they spoke to Robertson after the crash as she sat in the back of another car, and said Robertson told them: “I just didn’t see him coming.”

He said that another witness described Robertson as “alert, agile” and “able to scoot across the Mazda and leave by the passenger door” after the crash.

Louis was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital, Mr Matthew said.

Mr and Mrs Thorold left the courtroom as around 15 seconds of footage from the van’s dashcam, showing the vehicle’s approach to the junction and the Mazda pulling into its path, was played to jurors.

The clip stopped before the moment of impact.

PC Matthew Bill, of Cambridgeshire Police, said van driver Mr Freestone had “less than half a second” to react to the Mazda car pulling out of a filter lane and across his path.

He said that the speed limit of the road has since been reduced from 50mph to 40mph.

The trial, due to last less than a week, continues.