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Sometimes, there are no better days.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

We all moan that we are having a bad day, that we need something ranging from coffee to a punch-bag, make hopeful statements that the universe (or whatever) will make tomorrow a better day.

Sometimes we tell ourselves, or each other, to pull our socks up and get on with making something good happen, even though we know, in our heart of hearts that we are deluding ourselves and that, in truth, there are times when we have no control over the present and no influence over the future.

Sometimes, there are no better days.

Against that background, the Judge's comments in R v Olga Freeman is one of the most sympathetic judgments you will ever see.

The defendant is a highly intelligent, highly educated professional for whom life became too much.

It speaks to the pressures that the young face: the defendant was born in 1989 and, as so many do, set out to have a career and a family. There is isolation as pressures mount.

It's the kind of story that publishers fight over for "gritty" novels. It has the feel of a 1960s, gritty, grainy, English black and white film but which has taken place against the background of a world shaped by, amongst other things, lockdown and pandemic pressures on health and support services, a highly intelligent, educated professional went slowly " completely out of [her] right mind," according to the Judge.

But it's a real life tragedy.

Olga Freeman was born in Russia in 1989. That makes her younger than the children of many reading this. During the intervening years, she qualified as a lawyer, met an Englishman, moved to England and married him in 2006 and had a son in 2010.

There are those that take exception to the term "retarded." There is no other term to adequately describe the development of the child. Physically, emotionally and intellectually, he either did not develop adequately or developed in ways that were highly abnormal. When the child was two, his father left and, although he did provide some financial support, he later moved to Spain. The child became increasingly difficult to deal with. Freeman left work and became his full time carer with considerable support from friends and various authorities but it was not, and could not, be enough. The child spent the summers of 2018 and 2019 with his father in Spain which provided some respite for Freeman.

As a full-time carer with the costs of looking after a severely disabled child, Freeman was often short of money.

And yet, no matter what her difficulties, witnesses all told the Court that at no time did she lose patience with the child, never became angry and never showed, to him, any indication of frustration.

She did, however, often become cross with "the system." She battled, constantly, for the child's interests: special schooling, medical care and other needs. She sued when a decision was, in her view, not right. In every possible way, she looked after him and his interests even as her own mental health deteriorated to the point where her doctor tried to intervene with the authorities on her behalf.
Freeman had a pre-disposition to anxiety and depression. It was first diagnosed in 2006, the year she married. By the beginning of 2020, she was already under considerable strain.

Then came CoVid-19.

The judge said "When the Covid pandemic arrived, you were advised initially by the GP that Dylan’s compromised immune system and resulting susceptibility to infection meant that he should shield at home. The school provided some equipment but no one to see him one to one and there is no doubt that without the breaks that your son going to school gave you during the week, you struggled to cope with the burden of providing him the level of dedicated attention you wanted to give. You displayed great fortitude and patience during the first lockdown in 2020 but eventually you asked for Dylan to return to school and were advised it would be safe for him to do so if the school could provide special protective measures. But they could not, so he stayed at home with you throughout the spring and summer of 2020 when movement away from home was constrained and visitors limited."

In a world where medical professionals were in turmoil, trying to deal with more work with less resources (which was not simply a matter of money but principally of restrictions on their ability to work normally) Olga Freeman suddenly lost her connection to reality: her case, albeit urgent, was in a queue. A helper who had become a friend became concerned that Freeman was talking in a way that suggested, almost, a God complex. Freeman "made outlandish religious claims, including for yourself as the “next Jesus”, a coming apocalypse and your commission to save the world."

In the grip of delusion, she killed her child.

No one knows how and why the mind and will are taken over by, or surrender to, mental illness. Sometimes identifiable chemical changes are involved, but there is much that remains a mystery. You had a longstanding tendency to depressive illness. The psychiatrists cannot tell us what led to your descent to homicide, they simply do not know. In their reports they describe many of the circumstances of your life in 2020 as I have summarised and which are the context for what you did but the brain is indescribably complex and its relationship to our will, the engine that pulls and pushes our actions, has been debated for centuries...

Having lived a blameless, indeed creditable life, with no previous episodes of violence of any kind, your intentional killing of Dylan on 15 August was an aberration. To some, unknowable, extent it should be recognised that Dylan was an indirect victim of the interruption to normal life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. I conclude that the retained responsibility you bear is low because what you did to Dylan was a manifestation of your illness rather than extraneous to it. In other words, your mental disorder at the time largely and perhaps completely explains the killing.

Freeman has been committed to a hospital with a restriction without limit of time under ss.37 and 41 Mental Health Act 1983. She remains "gravely ill."


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