Mother said her baby ‘banged head on cot’

Updated in News by , Court reporter

A woman accused of killing her very young baby told a friend after his death he had banged his head against his cot, a jury heard.

Gemma O’Donnell, 27, told Francesca Barley in a phone call that she could not stop her son Leighton crying. Mrs Barley said O’Donnell herself sounded close to tears but rejected all her advice, causing her to wonder why O’Donnell had called her.

After Leighton died Mrs Barley, a mother of three, received a text message from O’Donnell, she said. “She said he had turned over and banged his head on his cot,” alleged Mrs Barley.

At the time, she thought it was O’Donnell’s explanation for the baby’s death.

Another mother, Gemma Russell, who said she was O’Donnell’s best friend and who was asked to be Leighton’s godmother, said: “She appeared to be like any other mother, loving, caring, attentive, caring to his needs. I have no fault with Gemma as a mother.”

She saw Leighton several times, starting when he was in the special care baby unit at York Hospital. She twice babysat Leighton, who was born 13 weeks premature on July 14, 2010, with serious health problems, and said he was a happy baby.

The prosecution at Leeds Crown Court alleges Leighton died from injuries sustained when his mother shook him. O’Donnell, of Bright Street, off Leeman Road in York, denies manslaughter.

Bernadette Wood, a neo-natal outreach nurse based at York Hospital’s special care baby unit, where Leighton lived until October 12, 2010, said she regularly visited baby and mother at home until his final hospital admission shortly before his death on December 4, 2010.

When asked, O’Donnell always said that she was feeding Leighton.

Mrs Wood alleged the baby, who was on constant oxygen at home, initially put on weight and on November 2 his oxygen was reduced because of his good progress.

But between November 5 and November 19 he had a “dramatic” loss of weight that left him weighing less than he had when he left hospital. He vomited what appeared to be blood and was taken to hospital with a suspected respiratory infection.

Mrs Wood said she arranged for him to be kept in for a few days after a paediatrician gave him the all-clear regarding the infection because she was concerned about the loss of weight.

In four days, during which he was fed every three hours, his weight increased by 13 ounces and he was allowed home.

She told O’Donnell that Leighton needed feeding every three hours at home including at night. But by Friday, November 26, he had not gained weight and she and doctors decided to admit him again on the following Monday when he was due to have a hernia operation. But on November 29 Leighton collapsed and was rushed to hospital by ambulance.

The trial continues.

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