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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 17:53 GMT
Nappy rash death term 'lenient'
Mary Pickering - image purchased from agency for single use only
Mary Pickering told neighbours that her baby liked having a dirty nappy
MSPs have criticised as "lenient" the one-year jail sentence handed to a heroin addict mother whose baby died of blood poisoning from nappy rash.

Mary Pickering, 27, told neighbours at her former home in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, that the three-month-old girl liked having a dirty nappy.

The next day, Alexandra King died from septicaemia after she became infected from her own excrement.

Pickering admitted wilful neglect at Hamilton Sheriff Court on Tuesday.

The pregnant 27-year-old, from Rutherglen, also admitted failing to adequately care for the child in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering.

Given that a life was lost, it is very lenient
Alex Neil, SNP MSP

Pleas of not guilty to a charge of breach of the peace and failing to appear in court were accepted by the Crown.

Labour and Scottish National Party MSPs described the sentence as "inadequate" and "lenient".

Alexandra, who was born in December 2002, was taken to Glasgow's Yorkhill Hospital 9 March, 2003, after Pickering's partner at the time checked the baby and found her cold to the touch.

Paramedics failed to revive her and, upon examination, doctors found the child's nappy was soiled and had blood on it.

Police who raided Pickering's home at Wilson Street, Larkhall, found there were no nappies to change the baby.

Staff cleared

Care workers from NHS Lanarkshire saw the baby, who had been on the child protection register since birth, 18 times and tried in vain 11 times to contact her mother before her death.

Politicians have called for a fatal accident inquiry or independent hearing into the case.

Alex Neil, SNP MSP for Central Scotland, described Pickering's sentence as "lenient".

This is a matter so serious that nothing other than a custodial sentence will suffice
Sheriff David Bicket

He said: "I'm surprised that she wasn't given a longer sentence. Given that a life was lost, it is very lenient.

"The whole thing is just a tragedy.

"But given that Ms Pickering is pregnant then I hope there will be a serious effort to try and rehabilitate her so that when she gives birth again, she will give the child the correct care.

"I hope the authorities will sit up and learn the lessons of what has happened to the baby that has already died."

Hamilton Sheriff Court
Pickering appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court for sentencing

Karen Gillon, Labour MSP for Clydesdale, said she has written to the Lord Advocate to ask if there were grounds to appeal against the "undue leniency" of the sentence.

She said: "This is a complex but very tragic case. However, I do think that the sentence is inadequate for the crime that was committed."

An internal review of the case by health chiefs with South Lanarkshire Council cleared staff of any blame.

Pickering's defence solicitor Sandy Morrison told the court that his client and her mother had suffered intimidation in the community since Alexandra's death.

Passing sentence, Sheriff David Bicket said: "This is a matter so serious that nothing other than a custodial sentence will suffice."

Sheriff Bicket said Pickering would be placed on a list of those unsuitable to work with children.

Her three remaining children are being looked after by other people.

Kevin McKean, a former school friend of Pickering's, said she was "a decent lassie" but then "got into things and that was it".

Maggie Mellon, from the charity Children 1st, said focus should switch to the welfare of Pickering's unborn child.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland she said: "Focus always has to be on the child's welfare and safety.

"It's important not to get into the blame thing. It was the mother who made the mistake and the mother who neglected this child.

"Prison is not going to make this woman a better mother in the future and it's not going to bring back the baby."

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