A mother who wrongly believed she had cancer killed her five-year-old daughter in the first Covid-19 lockdown after medics failed to spot her spiral into psychotic depression, the Old Bailey heard on Thursday.
Sutha Sivanantham, 36, stabbed to death her daughter Sayagi and turned the knife on herself in a bedroom of the family home in Mitcham, south London, in June last year.
The court heard Sivanantham had made repeated complaints to medical professional about stomach and chest pains and suffered from plunging weight loss.
Dr Nigel Blackwood, who conducted a psychiatric assessment after the killing, said medics were “pre-occupied” with her physical symptoms, and had “missed the fact she was in fact developing a severe depression”.
In lockdown between April and June last year, Sivanantham suffered from anxiety, tearfulness, extreme tiredness, and a concern for her family if she were to die.
Sivanantham’s husband said on Thursday: “I feel her complaints to health professionals were not dealt with appropriately and she didn’t get the service she deserved.
“I also believe the Covid-19 restrictions may also have had a negative impact”, he said, adding that she “took the restrictions seriously and was petrified of catching the virus”.
The court heard Sivanantham was restricted to telephone consultations with doctors after the pandemic struck.
Judge Wendy Joseph QC passed an order to detain Sivanantham in a secure hospital indefinitely, saying the case was a “terrible tragedy”.
“What is clear is the emerging mental illness was not fully appreciated by anyone around her, including her doctors”, the judge said. “She was in great mental and emotional turmoil.”
Sivanantham, following proceedings through a Tamil interpreter, broke down in tears at several stages during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.
Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones QC said Sivanantham began to complain about her health in August 2019, but doctors struggled to identify a cause. She was treated repeatedly in A&E for “unexplained abdomen and chest pains”, a benign lump was found on her liver, she suffered from diarrhoea, dizziness, and irregular periods, and her weight dropped to just seven-and-a-half stone.
“The defendant developed a morbid concern that she was suffering from an undiagnosed, serious illness”, said Mr Emlyn Jones. “She believed it might be cancer or a stomach ulcer, and ultimately became convinced she was going to die.”
The night before the stabbing, Sivanantham “asked her husband if he would take care of the children in the event of her death”, and the following morning she pleaded with him to stay home from work. However he felt he had no choice but to go.
The court heard she stabbed Sayagi at least 15 times on June 30 last year, including twice through the heart, and had stabbed herself in the stomach when they were found lying side by side on the bed by neighbours.
Later, she told a doctor she had “not thought her daughter would be able to live without her”, and said she “felt as if she was asleep and dreaming” during the attack itself.
In an impact statement, Sivanantham’s husband said they had a “very happy, fulfilling and blissful life”, describing her as an “exemplary good mother”.
“I know if Sutha was well, she would not be capable of killing our daughter”, he said.
“I would like to forgive her, I understand it was her illness that caused her to do what she did.”
The court heard Sivanantham was finally diagnosed with a mental illness after her arrest, while tests have since revealed that she contracted Covid-19 prior to the stabbing.
Psychiatric experts found that the isolation of lockdown had contributed to the worsening of her mental state.
Sivanantham, from Mitcham, pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.