Accidental death by suffocation

Hertfordshire Mercury, 19th December 1914


A 6-month old child, the son of George Edward Day, a Sergeant-Major in the Northamptonshire Regiment, residing at 13 Caroline Court, Ware, was accidentally suffocated on Friday night by its mother lying on it in bed.  An inquest was held at the Police Court on Tuesday afternoon before the District Coroner (Mr Philip Longmore), Mr W.J. Nicholls being foreman of the jury.

Mrs Day, the mother of the child, stated that on Friday night she went to bed at 8.30pm and took the child with her.  He was then quite well, and she laid him on her left side in the bed.  The child dropped off to sleep on her left arm.  She also fell asleep and did not know whether she had a fit or not, but she was subject to them, and may have rolled over the child.  At 3.20 a.m., she woke up and kissed the baby on the forehead, but she then found that he was quite cold and stiff.  As soon as she found this out she jumped out of bed and called her next door neighbour, Mrs Wallis, who told her the baby was dead.  She afterwards went down for Dr Stewart.

The Coroner said “I suppose you know that it is very dangerous for a baby to sleep with its mother, especially if you have fits”.  Mrs Day replied “I have always let my babies sleep with me when they are at the breast, and I have had eight of them”.  “Are they still alive?” the Coroner asked.  “No”, she replied, “I have lost four”.  “Did any of them die in the same manner as this one?” the Coroner asked, and she replied “No, Dr Stewart knows that, as he attended some of them”.  The Coroner asked “How old are the children now alive?”, and she replied “Eleven, ten, five and three”.

Mary Wallis, of 12 Caroline Court, stated that when she got there the baby was quite dead.  She had seen Mrs Day and the baby the previous night, just before they went to bed, and they were both quite well then.  Mrs Day was subject to fits, and had had one every day last week.  She was quite sober.

Dr Stewart stated that he was called at 6.30 a.m. on the Saturday and had found the baby lying on the bed dead, and quite stiff.  He had probably been dead about 3 hours.  There was no sign of a cause of death, but he judged that it had been caused by suffocation.  He had attended the mother at the birth of the child, but had not seen them since.  He had never seen the woman in a fit, but that it was quite possible that she was susceptible to them.

Mr W. Sweeney, one of the jurors, wanted to express an opinion on behalf of the jury as to the woman having fits, but the Coroner stopped him and said that he could not have any individual speeches.  If the juror wished to ask the doctor a question, he could, and he would hear any expression of opinion from the jury as a whole at the proper time.

No further questions were asked.

The Coroner said that he thought it a very simple case, and that no doubt the child met its death accidentally.  He asked the question as to whether the woman had been sober because in an Act of Parliament passed about 5 years ago, it was made a very serious offence for anybody to go to bed the worse for drink and to cause the death of a child by overlaying; but that there was no suggestion of anything of that sort here.

What he should like to call attention to, however, was the danger of infants being allowed to sleep with their parents.  People of the humblest means could procure a cot or a substitute for one, and he would suggest that people take warning by this case and provide themselves with a cot as a safeguard against overlaying.  No doubt, in this case it was entirely accidental and no blame was attached to anyone.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

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