A MOTHER has admitted killing her son by setting light to a car which she had doused in petrol as he sat in his car seat.

Teresa Sheldon was given a hospital order after admitting the manslaughter of her five-year-old son Tommy, on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Tommy died two weeks after his mother spread petrol around her car, igniting it with a lighter, while he sat inside.

After the hearing Tommy’s family paid tribute to Tommy who was described as “a beautiful little boy”.

Winchester Crown Court was told how the 38-year-old, who at the time lived at Kathleen Road, Sholing, was suffering from “psychotic symptoms” when she drove to Merdon Castle Lane in Hursley near Winchester last year where she carried out the horrific act.

As reported, during the hearing she sobbed as she denied her son’s murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter claiming diminished responsibility.

She wore a striped black jumper, a gold chain with her long dark hair held back from her tear-stricken face.

After listening to reports, the judge Mr Justice Dingemans agreed prison would not be in the best interest due to her “recurrent mental disorder” and sentenced her under the Mental Health Act.

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 7.45pm and 8.05pm, then climbed into the back seat with Tommy and another person, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

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

The court heard how a passing father and son, Alan and William Beusmans, tried to free the child from the car.

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 person had escaped the vehicle.

Ms Maylin added: “They could not initially determine his (Tommy’s) ethnicity due to the extent of the burns.

“It was only by seeing a small patch of skin they realised he was caucasian.”

Speaking to the Daily Echo at the time Mr Beusmans, a parish councillor, said: “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 kid. I went over to the car and managed to get the door open — the boy was pressed up against the window.”

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.

Daily Echo:

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.

In court the judge thanked her family for the dignified way they acted in court and thanked Alan and William Beusmans who tried to save Tommy when they discovered the fire.

Following the sentencing, a statement released on behalf of Tommy’s family, including father Ross said: “He was always full of smiles and laughter, a loving caring happy-go-lucky beautiful little boy who we will always remember.”

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.”