A PARANOID mother from Southampton has received a hospital order for killing her son after she set alight the car they were travelling in.

Teresa Sheldon was given a hospital order under the Mental Health Act after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of Tommy Sheldon, five, who died two weeks after she took a full petrol can to her car, igniting it with a lighter, while he sat in his child seat.

Health professionals told Winchester Crown Court the 38-year-old, who at the time lived at Kathleen Road, Sholing, had suffered "psychotic symptoms" when she drove to Merdon Castle Lane in Hursley near Winchester on August 11 last year.

She sobbed as she pleaded not guilty to her son's murder but guilty to manslaughter, claiming diminished responsibility, wearing a striped black jumper, a gold chain and her long dark hair held back from her tear-stricken face.

After listening to reports of health professionals, Judge James Dingemans agreed prison would not be in the best interest of her “recurrent mental disorder”.

He thanked her family for the “dignified way” they had listened to proceedings and thanked Alan and William Beusmans – the father and son who tried to save little Tommy when they discovered the fire. 

The court heard how on August 11 last year Sheldon took Tommy to McDonald's in Cosham and bought him toys before driving to Sainsbury's in Badger Farm to fill up a newly purchased petrol can.

She parked up her Ford Fiesta between 7.45-8.05pm, then climbed into the back seat with Tommy and another child, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Sheldon splashed petrol all over the seats before sparking it with a lighter.

The Beusmans, who were on their way to a fishing trip, saw the car up in flames, with Sheldon screaming having got out of the car – her legs partially on fire – before noticing Tommy was still inside.

The court was told they had difficulty getting him out because of the child lock.

Prosecutor Kerry Maylin said: "Mr Beusmans opened the car and Tommy fell and hit his head before he could catch him."

She said paramedics who treated him at the scene described his "clothing smoky" – the burns having covered 65 per cent of his small body – before asking Tommy confirm his name.

They said Sheldon stood there screaming. The other child had escaped the vehicle.

Ms Maylin added: "They could not initially determine his ethnicity due to the extent of the burns. It was only by seeing a small patch of skin they realised he was caucasian."

Tommy was taken to Southampton General Hospital by air ambulance before he was transferred to a specialist burns unit in Bristol for immediate surgery.

Sheldon was also treated for injuries which resulted in three subsequent skin grafts.
She also pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder and one count of arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Tommy died on August 25, at 9.20am, from broncho pneumonia, the court heard.
Pathology reports showed traces of sertraline in Tommy's bloody – the same antidepressants Sheldon had been prescribed.

In the months leading to the incident Teresa suffered depressive mood swings and her mental health had "significantly deteriorated" after divorce papers were served and grew worried her husband, Ross, would gain custody.

Ms Maylin told the court: "[Teresa] said she wanted to be dead and didn't want to be here anymore and didn't want to be without [Tommy]."

She also told the court how Tommy's father, Ross, visited his grave "on a daily basis".

"He speaks of the trauma of seeing how badly burned his son was," she said. "It's clear that there was inordinate pressure watching his son going through what must have been a very painful experience."

She also said Tommy's grandparents had described their lives as "empty" and "filled with sadness".
Mitigating was Nigel Lickley QC, who described Sheldon as "an otherwise good, devoted mother" but confirmed doctor reports indicated she may have to receive life-long treatment.

Senior investigating officer, detective inspector Simon Baker, said after the hearing: "This was a truly harrowing case for all involved and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of all those who have been affected by this distressing incident.

"This was a long and complex investigation which involved months of sensitive enquiries to enable us to bring the case to court in extremely tragic circumstances.

"I would like to commend the bravery and courage of those members of the public and the emergency services who intervened to try and rescue Teresa and the children from the burning car."

The remote lane was the scene of a major incident for the emergency services with police and fire crews all called just after 8pm, including the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance.

Daily Echo:

It was two passers-by who were first on the scene to help rescue Tommy.

They described coming across the fireball on their way to a fishing trip and seeing a boy inside the burning Ford Fiesta car.

Daily Echo:

As reported by the Daily Echo at the time Alan Beusmans (pictured above) and his son William bravely battled against the intensity of the flames and managed to open one of the doors of the car to reach Tommy, who was inside.

A shaken Mr Beusmans, a 64-year-old grandfather of three, said at the time: “We thought we’d run to assist the lady, who had flames coming up around her legs.

“She was pointing towards the car and that’s when I saw the other kid.

“I went over to the car and managed to get the door open – the boy was pressed up against the window.

“I burnt my hand opening it and the boy fell out of the car, and I managed to get him over to the other side.

“They were very distressed and I was shocked at what I saw but I managed to get myself together.”

Daily Echo:

The youngster was treated at the scene before being taken to Southampton General Hospital and on to a specialist burns unit in Bristol.

His mother was also taken to hospital for treatment for injuries she sustained.

Despite the best efforts of medics Tommy died from his injuries on August 25.

Daily Echo:

An appeal in his memory was subsequently set up by Hursley residents who were left shocked by what had happened.

All monies collected from the appeal by local residents were being donated to the Bristol Children’s Hospital where the five-year-old was treated.