Pensioner, 75, accused of causing car crash that killed a five-month-old baby boy in his pram is found NOT GUILTY by reason of insanity after jurors find her ‘undiagnosed dementia’, which went undetected because of the pandemic, had affected her driving
- Shelagh Robertson, 75, was charged over death of baby Louis Thorold in 2021
- Jurors at Cambridge Crown Court found her not guilty by reason of insanity
- Expert witness said pandemic caused her illness to go unnoticed before crash
- Louis was being pushed in his pram by his mother when he was hit by a van
A pensioner charged with causing the death of a five-month-old has been found not guilty by reason of insanity because of her undiagnosed dementia.
Shelagh Robertson, 75, was on trial accused of causing death by careless driving of Louis Thorold, who was killed when an oncoming van went on to the pavement and hit his pushchair.
The jurors found that Ms Robertson’s dementia, which had gone undetected and untreated during the Covid pandemic, had affected her driving.
In a statement outside court today, Louis’s devastated parents, who had tried for a baby for five years before they eventually conceived him through IVF, said they ‘must now look forward’ and make sure his legacy lives on through their campaign to make roads safer for children.
Cambridge Crown Court heard that Ms Robertson was driving home after shopping in Tesco in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire on January 22, 2021 when she drove into the path of an oncoming van.
The collision with the van forced it on to the pavement where it hit and killed five month-old Louis Thorold and sent his mother, Rachael Thorold, flying into the air.
Shelagh Robertson (pictured outside Cambridge Crown Court today), 75, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of causing the death of five-month-old Louis Thorold
The jury was shown dashcam footage from the van, which showed the driver swerving to avoid hitting Robertson’s Mazda after it suddenly made a turn at a junction.
The van, which had been travelling below the speed limit, then hit Mrs Thorold and the pram Louis was in, seriously hurting her and killing the baby.
Louis was pronounced dead at Addenbrooke’s Hospital shortly after the crash on January 22, 2021, while Racheal fractured her skull and broke nearly every bone on the right side of her body including her cheek bone, several vertebrae, her pelvis, hip, arm and leg.
She was in a coma for ten days and drifted in and out of consciousness for the next 40.
Five month-old baby Louis Thorold pictured with his mother Rachael hours before he was killed when a van went on to the pavement and collided with his pushchair
Judge Mark Bishop told jurors that to return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity they must be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, Robertson had dementia at the time and either did not know what she was doing or did not know that what she was doing was wrong.
He said that this ‘doesn’t include a momentary failure to concentrate’.
The defendant, who sat beside her solicitor and a family member in the well of the court, used a hearing loop to listen to the jury foreperson and appeared expressionless as the verdict was returned after the jury deliberated for just over seven hours.
Louis’s parents Chris and Rachael Thorold, who sat in the public gallery, looked down at the floor, with Mr Thorold shaking his head.
Mr Thorold said in a statement outside court: ‘Louis Thorold was the sweetest, happiest, joyful, and most beautiful baby,’ he said.
‘He was perfectly ours. He was our lives, he still is. We love, adore, and cherish him.
‘Every moment we had with Louis was so special. We loved every single second. Louis knew only love and cuddles before he was killed by Shelagh Robertson.
‘Louis’ future and all his potential stolen, a life sentence for us, his family, our community, and everyone who hears this story.’
He said that Louis’ legacy will live on through a road safety foundation set up in his name.
‘We must now look forward,’ he said.
Louis’s parents Chris and Rachael Thorold (pictured outside court today) said they must ‘now look forward’ and ensure their son’s legacy lives on
‘Louis would not want us to be sad or to give up. Louis will live on. His legacy will be that one day no-one will have to deal with the death of a child on Britain’s roads.
‘The Louis Thorold foundation has already achieved so much, but this is just the start. Our message is simple, no child should die on Britain’s roads.
‘The technology systems and approaches exist to eliminate all road deaths. But they require leadership and courage from those we elect to make a difference.’
James Leonard, defending, said in his closing speech that it was ‘obvious’ Robertson’s driving ‘fell below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver’.
But he said that Robertson was ‘ill-equipped to negotiate’ the junction due to her dementia and she was unaware of this as she was undiagnosed at the time.
IVF baby Louis died instantly in the accident which left his mother Rachael fighting for her life
Prosecutor David Matthew said in his closing speech that he did not doubt that Ms Robertson had ‘a form of dementia’ in January 2021 but questioned how bad it was at this time.
Adam Zeman, professor of cognitive of behavioural neurology at the University of Exeter, had presented a report on Ms Robertson to the jury.
He said she had ‘dementia caused most probably by Alzheimer’s disease in a slightly atypical presentation.’
Prof Zeman added Ms 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.’
Rachael Thorold was seriously injured in the collision in January 2021, spending ten days in a coma and breaking multiple bones
He added: ‘It’s a difficult junction for the average healthy driver.’
Prof Zeman said: ‘Some forms of dementia are diagnosed relatively late as the features are rather subtle.
‘The time her problems were getting more severe coincided with the pandemic so there would have been fewer opportunities for face-to-face contact than there normally would be.’
Jurors were shown an MRI scan of the defendant’s brain, which Prof Zeman said showed ‘shrinkage’ of a part of the brain associated with memory and language.
He said that if he had a patient with the ‘difficulties’ he saw in Ms Robertson he would ‘advise them immediately not to drive’.
James Leonard, defending, said that Robertson was ‘ill-equipped to negotiate’ the junction of the A10 and Car Dyke Road in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire (pictured) due to her dementia
Detective Sergeant Mark Dollard, from the road policing unit, said: ‘This was an extremely tragic and sad incident and our deepest condolences go out to Louis’ family.
‘We carried out a thorough and exhaustive inquiry, however, regardless of the verdict nothing will ever bring Louis back and his family will have to live with that for the rest of their lives.
‘It is however, a stark reminder of how important it is for anyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle to be competent and capable of driving safely.
‘I would urge anyone who is concerned about a family member or friend and their ability to drive to speak up, discuss your concerns with your loved one or alternatively speak to your GP who can submit their concerns to the DVLA.’
Mr and Mrs Thorold have set up a charity in their son’s name: the Louis Thorold Foundation.
It aims to eradicate child pedestrian deaths by improving road safety and to compel drivers over the age of 70 to be retested regularly.