Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

The mother who created her son's phantom illness

By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Lisa Hayden-Johnson
Lisa Hayden-Johnson's lies took her as far as Downing Street

Lisa Hayden-Johnson has been jailed for three years and three months after putting her son through years of unnecessary medical treatment.

But how did she use his fake illness to dupe doctors, meet the prime minister and rub shoulders with royalty?

Lisa Hayden-Johnson attracted sympathy and admiration in equal measure.

She seemed to be living every mother's nightmare. Her child, born prematurely, was battling a life-threatening allergy which left him unable to eat.

She was stoically coping with this cruel twist of fate, struggling to make her son as happy as possible.

But it was all a lie.

If her goal was to attract attention, she succeeded - appearing on GMTV and selling her story to magazines.

Hayden-Johnson even took her son to collect a Children of Courage award at Downing Street where they met the then prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie.

She is a cruel, manipulative, evil mother who constantly lied to the medical professionals that her son was the illest child in Britain.
Det Con Mark Uren

The boy, who believed he was ill, was also introduced to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

In reality, Hayden-Johnson had forced her son into a wheelchair, fed him through a tube and let doctors, taken in by her deception, operate on the child despite the fact that there was nothing wrong with him.

And she managed to keep the fabrication from her family, including her husband.

The 35-year-old from Brixham, South Devon, has been sentenced at Exeter Crown Court after she pleaded guilty to child cruelty and perverting the course of justice in October 2009.

Hayden-Johnson appeared to thrive on the attention that was lavished upon her and her son, who has not been named for legal reasons.

And the lies were lucrative.

She amassed £130,000 in benefits after claiming £20,000 a year in disability living allowance over a six-and-a-half year period.

Unnecessary surgery

Meanwhile, dozens of children's charities gave her freebies including a new car and a cruise in Tenerife. She even received free X Factor tickets.

The lies began when the boy was born prematurely in 2001 and given a tube for feeding.

He made a recovery but his mother, perhaps seeking more of the attention lavished upon her by sympathetic well-wishers, insisted that this was not the case.

For about six years she continued to lie about her son's health, insisting that he was allergic to nearly all food, had cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis, even though medics could not find any symptoms.

She also told doctors the child had diabetes and spiked his urine samples with glucose in order to fool tests.

Doctors, friends, family and even the boy's father believed the child was unable to eat or swallow food.

And the youngster was taken to school in a wheelchair fitted with oxygen bottles.

Doctors eventually performed surgery to fit a feeding tube directly into the then four-year-old child's stomach after he began losing large amounts of weight, because of a lack of nutrition.

Fictional qualifications

Meanwhile, she became well known in Brixham where members of the community rallied round to provide whatever help and support they could.

But the woman's lies were not only about her child. She also fabricated her qualifications to gain a job as a nurse.

And in 2007, when medics insisted that detailed tests should be carried out on her son, Hayden-Johnson claimed she had been sexually assaulted in a bid to cancel the hospital visit.

The fantasist also harmed herself in a bid to make the fictitious attack seem authentic.

She only admitted that this was a lie when police said they were about to arrest someone.

Her fantasy life finally began to unravel when a paediatrician raised the alarm after reviewing her son's medical files and became suspicious that his health problems had gone on for so long without a clear diagnosis.

Hayden-Johnson was eventually arrested in October 2007.

'Evil mother'

Her husband was also arrested but, after questioning, police concluded that he had not been aware of the deception and he was released without charge.

Last October, two years after her arrest, she pleaded guilty to charges of child cruelty and perverting the course of justice.

Following a court hearing, Det Con Mark Uren of Devon and Cornwall Constabulary said of Hayden-Johnson: "She is a cruel, manipulative, evil mother who constantly lied to the medical professionals that her son was the illest child in Britain."

He pointed out that this had gone on for "a sustained period of time" during which she had "been calculating" and lied.

Det Con Uren revealed that police seized a computer from the woman's house and found a video showing her son eating a roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding at a pub and running without the aid of oxygen or a pump.

The boy, who is now eight, lives in another part of the country where he is recovering from the wounds left from an illness he never had.

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Mother jailed for 'sick son' con
22 Jan 10 |  Devon

Telegraph Mother jailed for 'sadistic con' on sick son - 37 hrs ago
The Independent Mum jailed over 'most ill child' pretence - 41 hrs ago
Times Online Jail for mother who invented child's illnesses - 43 hrs ago Mother jailed for faking son's illness - 44 hrs ago
The Sun Mum faked her son's sickness 11 minutes ago - 46 hrs ago

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