Mother admits killing

A young mother who claimed her baby was killed when masked men tied her up and set fire to her home yesterday admitted deliberately starting the blaze herself.

Danielle Wails

A young mother who claimed her baby was killed when masked men tied her up and set fire to her home yesterday admitted deliberately starting the blaze herself.

Danielle Wails, 22, pleaded guilty to intentionally killing four-month-old Alexander Gallon, who perished when the devastating blaze ripped through the house in Newcastle.

Newcastle Crown Court heard she had intended to kill her baby when she set fire to a settee, close to where he was lying on the living room floor.

She had earlier been charged with murder, but yesterday admitted the lesser charge of infanticide on account of suffering severe depression after giving birth.

And yesterday it emerged that despite health workers knowing of her mental problems, critical health support was lacking, while she had no formal mental health care.

She had also been "formally discharged" by a mental health trust after failing to keep her appointments.

Following the fire, in Link Road, Cowgate, on August 28 last year, Wails claimed two masked men had walked into her kitchen, punching and kicking her unconscious.

She told police when she eventually regained consciousness in the kitchen, smoke was filling the room and her hands had been bound with a length of telephone cord.

She said she screamed for help before desperately dialling 999 with her tongue.

But last night, officers revealed her version of events was quickly found to be "crumbling away".

She claimed the intruders locked her inside the house and firefighters had been forced to break in, but the only set of keys was found later hidden in a laundry basket upstairs.

A search of the home also found she had taken batteries out of recently-installed smoke alarms, placing them in a bedroom drawer, rendering them useless.

Northumbria Police Detective Superintendent Barbara Franklin said: "Although she maintained her story, evidence was mounting which soon disproved it.

"All the evidence pointed to the fact that Danielle was the only one who could have done this."

At the start of yesterday's hour-long court hearing, Wails - dressed in a pale shirt and with her red hair tied in a pony tail - mouthed "hello" to her family in the gallery.

She said only "Not guilty" when formally charged with murder, adding "Guilty on infanticide".

Paul Sloan, QC, prosecuting, said: "By her plea the defendant admitted that she deliberately set fire to a settee at her home address.

"She also admitted, as I understand it, that her child was in close proximity to the seat of the fire, and that when she lit the fire she intended to kill the child, and in addition she intended to kill herself. She admits all the elements of murder. She pleaded guilty to the offence of infanticide on the basis that at the time of setting the fire the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effects of giving birth to the child."

Wails has been in custody ever since the killing, and has seen a number of psychiatrists. They agree she was disturbed at the time, but do not accept she wished to kill herself.

But the court heard her desperate struggle against post-natal depression was clear, with medical notes revealing she had broken down and been driven to self-harm.

Psychiatrist Dr Adrian East said: "There was a feeling of low mood. In the case of Miss Wails she described feeling that she was helpless, and worthless as a mother."

Judge David Hodson, Recorder of Newcastle, ordered Wails to re-appear on October 20 for sentencing, following the drafting of psychiatric-based pre-sentence reports.

He told her: "All sentencing options will be open to the court on that day."

Page 2: Piece by piece, Danielle's awful story fell apart

Piece by piece, Danielle's awful story fell apart

Young mother Danielle Wails appeared to be the victim of the most awful of crimes when a story emerged that shocked the North-East last summer.

In August 2005, she told police she had been beaten and bound by two men who barged into her house, knocked her unconscious, then started a fire that killed her baby son.

Wails was moved to a police safe house as officers appealed for information on the mystery men responsible for young Alexander Gallon's tragic death.

But just a few days later, the shocked community of Cowgate in Newcastle found that Wails, then 21, had been arrested by police investigating the matter.

She was charged with murder and 12 months on admitted infanticide - killing her four-month-old son.

Detective Superintendent Barbara Franklin, who led the murder hunt, said: "From the outset we had reservations about Danielle's claims.

"But we were determined to find out the truth and this meant keeping an open mind.

"We urgently needed information from the public to help us establish whether these men had been to her house and committed these crimes.

"Despite a massive police investigation we were unable to discover any evidence that these men existed."

After the fire, a search of Wails's home revealed batteries from recently installed smoke alarms had been removed.

Police also found Wails's house keys hidden in the laundry basket, further undermining the version of events in which she claimed the intruders had locked her inside her house after they set fire to it.

Wails's injuries were found by medical experts to be superficial and the telephone cable around her hands was only lightly placed.

Det Supt Franklin said: "Danielle's whole version of events was gradually crumbling away. All the evidence pointed to the fact that Danielle was the only one who could have done this dreadful act.

"This case greatly affected the professionals working on it. Fire officers and medical staff dealing with Alexander's body were deeply distressed by the extent of his injuries and were visibly moved by the ordeal he must have suffered.

"Police were also shocked and saddened by the suffering this baby must have endured."

Page 3: Review launched into tragic family's care

Review launched into tragic family's care

Despite suffering severe post-natal depression, and feeling "worthless as a mother", Danielle Wails was barred by a mental health trust for "failing to keep appointments", it emerged last night.

Newcastle Crown Court heard investigators found she had no formal mental health support, despite complaining of post-natal depression soon after her child was born.

Last night, it was confirmed an urgent investigation into her care has now been launched.

The court heard Wails' post-natal depression was the factor behind her setting fire to a settee in her home, just yards from where her four-month old baby, Alexander, lay.

Giving evidence in court, psychiatrist Dr Adrian East confirmed records in notes held by her GP showed she had first described suffering from depression in 2003.

He also confirmed she was diagnosed with post-natal depression before she killed her child.

It was these mental problems that became a "major depressive illness" and led to the infanticide.

Brian Forster, defending, asked Dr East: "For whatever reason, from what you can see in terms of the examination of the records, the defendant was not receiving any treatment or support at the time?"

Dr East replied: "That is correct, yes. At least in formal mental health."

The psychiatrist added that she showed clear signs of depression. "In the case of Miss Wails, she described feeling that she is helpless and worthless as a mother," he added.

Under cross examination he added she had been "formally discharged" by the appropriate mental health trust because she had failed to make a series of appointments.

A second psychiatrist, Dr Christopher Green, added: "It's is clear she didn't feel she was coping with the child. It's clear she felt very unsupported, clear that she did not know what to do.

"It is clear she was feeling desperate."

Last night a number of public authorities revealed they were under scrutiny from a Serious Case Review staged by the multi-agency Local Safeguarding Children's Board.

It will look at the mental services for the Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, Newcastle Primary Care Trust and Newcastle City Council's social services.

The review will be led by Catherine Weightman, who headed up a previous investigation into how under-care baby Aaron O'Neil was killed at the hands of his father.

Last night, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust refused to confirm whether Wails was discharged for failing to make appointments, and declined to comment.

LSCB chief superintendent Chris Machell said: "This is a tragic case, and all our thoughts are with baby Alexander's family.

"All the agencies involved with the family prior to Alexander's death have looked long and hard at their involvement with Alexander, and with other relevant family members."

He promised part of the review will be published "in coming weeks".

A Newcastle Primary Care Trust spokeswoman said: "We have co-operated fully with all investigations into these tragic circumstances and are unable to comment further at this time."

Page 4: Killer wants to explain

Killer wants to explain

Child-killer Danielle Wails wants to speak out, and explain how she came to set fire to a settee yards from her four-month-old baby, her family said yesterday.

Speaking from the court, her mother Carol, 40, said: "Danielle will want to talk herself."

Attending the court with husband David, 54, and some of Wails' six brothers and sisters, she added that the family will continue to do all they can to support her.

A family member added that Wails will be more able to speak following her sentence in October.

However, they revealed that Wail's former partner, and father of baby Alexander, Robert Gallon, was no longer supporting the 22-year-old.

Prisoner released for funeral of child who died at her hands

During her time on remand, Danielle Wails was released from prison to attend the funeral of the boy she deliberately killed.

Handcuffed to a prison officer, she sobbed throughout the service at West Road Crematorium in Fenham, Newcastle, on September 19 last year.

Another two officers followed nearby, while two more stood guard at the cemetery gates.

After a hearse arrived, with a wreath saying "Son", family and friends gathered round Wails to comfort her throughout the emotional service.

As other mourners arrived, I'll Stand By You, by Girls Aloud, was played in the chapel. The young mother, who was just 20 when she became pregnant, read a poem from the pulpit, flanked by the prison officer and Alexander's father Robert Gallon.

At one point he squeezed her hand, and later, at the graveside of their boy, was seen giving her a kiss.

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