Mother caused death of son, three, by putting him on religious fast, court told

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A mother caused her three-year-old son to die from malnutrition and dehydration by putting him on a religious fast with her during the Covid-19 pandemic, a jury has heard.

Olabisi Abubakar, 41, from Cardiff, is on trial charged with manslaughter and child cruelty relating to the death of her son Taiwo Abubakar.

Cardiff Crown Court heard police were called to Abubakar’s home in the city on June 29 2020 after a friend raised concerns for her welfare.

“Olabisi Abubakar was lying on a sofa bed. She was noticeably thin, malnourished and dehydrated.

“Lying beside her was Taiwo. He was severely emaciated and cold to the touch. It was clear that Taiwo had been dead for some time.”

Mr Heywood said Abubakar was taken to hospital, where she was treated for her physical condition but it became apparent that she was also mentally unwell.

She is currently detained in hospital for ongoing treatment and has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the jury heard.

“Ms Abubakar is a deeply religious Pentecostal Christian, for whom fasting is a tenet of her faith.

“Her religion makes it clear that fasting is an act of devotion, and children – too young to understand this – should not fast.

“The evidence suggests that in 2020, fearful of the coronavirus pandemic and under personal pressure, she caused Taiwo to fast both of food and water along with her.”

The court heard Abubakar was born in Lagos, Nigeria, where she married and had four children with her husband before moving alone to London in 2011.

She formed a connection with the Christ Apostolic Canaanland Church in Charlton, south London, though never became a full member.

Abubakar, an asylum seeker, initially lived in London but was moved to Cardiff after giving birth to Taiwo in April 2017.

There were “no concerns” for Abubakar or Taiwo between 2017 and 2019.

Mr Heywood said Abubakar was known to fast as part of her faith and had attempted to “dry fast” – consuming no food or liquid – for immigration issues and an operation Taiwo underwent.

People who knew Abubakar through churches in Cardiff before the coronavirus pandemic believed she was a devoted mother and “thought well of her”, he told the jury.

Abubakar was “very concerned by the dangers” of Covid-19 and stayed indoors, asking friend Chike Obi to bring her shopping to her flat, Mr Heywood said.

In early June 2020, Mr Obi saw Taiwo for the first time since the lockdown had started – when the child had been fat and healthy – and noticed he was “unhappy and very thin”, Mr Heywood said.

Mr Obi became concerned after not hearing from Abubakar and went to her flat on June 29, phoning 999 when he could not gain entry.

Taiwo was pronounced dead at the scene. A post-mortem examination found he weighed just 9.8kg, with no evidence to suggest his death was caused by anything other than malnutrition and dehydration, the prosecution said.

Mr Heywood said it was not disputed that Abubakar had neglected Taiwo but the issue in the case was her state of mind at the time.

Two psychiatrists are due to give evidence that during the time leading up to his death, she was “suffering delusions” brought on by paranoid schizophrenia, he told the jury.

Prosecutors say she remained capable of forming the intent that is a component of the offence of cruelty to a child.

Jurors will have to decide whether Abubakar may have been insane at the time of the alleged offending, which would make her not guilty of the charges against her by reason of insanity.

In police interviews, Abubakar told officers she did not remember anything from falling asleep on June 27 to 29 when the police attended her flat.

“She described this wakening as coming back to life – she believed she had been in heaven because she could see relatives that had died and heard angels singing,” Mr Heywood said.

“She had said she did not want to die, and angels brought her back to life.”

Abubakar told police she mostly fasted during Easter but insisted Taiwo did not fast because he was young, telling officers he was healthy and eating well.

Officers found a notebook in which Abubakar appeared to describe fasting with Taiwo, with one entry reading: “Thank you, Jesus Christ, for this three days fasting for the coronal 19 (sic), for the nation.

“Me and my child thank you Jesus Christ that I and my child can be chosen for this fasting for the nation.”

She later told police that Taiwo had never fasted and she did not understand why she had written that.

Abubakar has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and two counts of child cruelty.

The trial continues.

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