A pensioner who was charged with causing the death of a baby boy by careless driving has been found not guilty by reasons of insanity.
Rachael Thorold's family was torn apart when Shelagh Robertson, 75, turned into the path of an oncoming van on the A10 at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire on January 22 last year, causing the two vehicles to collide.
The impact forced the van onto the pavement, where it hit Mrs Thorold and her five-month-old son Louis Thorold, killing him and causing Mrs Thorold serious injuries, a trial at Cambridge Crown Court heard.
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Jurors found that Robertson's undiagnosed dementia had affected her driving.
Judging the case, Mark Bishop told jurors they could return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity if they were satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Robertson had dementia at the time, and either didn't understand what she was doing, or did not understand that what she was doing was wrong, WalesOnline reports.
James Leonard, defending, said it was "obvious" the pensioner's driving "fell below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver" but said Robertson was "ill-equipped to negotiate" the junction due to her dementia, which she wasn't aware of as she had not yet received a diagnosis at the time.
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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", but queried "where on the slope of dementia Shelagh Robertson was" when the incident took place.
The judge made clear that in order to return the special verdict, Robertson's mental lapse "doesn’t include a momentary failure to concentrate".
Professor of cognitive behavioural neurology at the University of Exeter Adam Zeman was asked by defence lawyers to compile a report on the defendant.
He told jurors that the defendant had “dementia caused most probably by Alzheimer’s disease in a slightly atypical presentation”.
Zeman said Robertson would have been at "high risk of becoming confused at that junction and one possible outcome of the confusion would be to look the wrong way".
"It’s a difficult junction for the average healthy driver," he said.
Jurors saw an MRI scan of the defendant’s brain, and Zeman remarked that it showed "shrinkage" of a part of the brain associated with memory and language, a common problem linked to dementia.
He said that if he saw someone at his dementia clinic with the "difficulties" he saw in Robertson he would "advise them immediately not to drive".
The defence also called upon Angela Brown, a friend of the defendant who had driven in a car with her in the winter of 2018.
She said Robertson had approached a junction and seemed "uncertain of how to proceed".
"I began to feel unsafe and wondered if something was the matter," she admitted.
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