Crime Files Network

Mum walks free despite

drugs in dead baby’s blood

Aja Styles

April 21, 2011

Bradley Whitehouse about a week before he died.
Bradley Whitehouse about a week before he died. Photo: Channel Ten


Evidence of drugs being found in the blood of a three-month-old baby who passed away after being “extremely malnourished” was not enough to press charges against the infant’s mother, a Perth Coroner has found.

In delivering his findings today, Coroner Alastair Hope largely blamed botched police work for a lack of criminal charges being sought against the Westminster mother.

Three-month-old Bradley Fredrick Whitehouse was found blue and stiff, with rigor mortis set in, at his home on February 8, 2008, after police were alerted to his mother screaming that her baby was dead. 

Deborah Hughes at the Perth Coroner's Court during the inquest into the death of her son.
Deborah Hughes at the Perth Coroner’s Court during the inquest into the death of her son. Photo: Channel Ten


During a Coronial Inquest into the boy’s death, it was revealed that his mother, Deborah Marie Hughes, had been an amphetamine user and claimed to be oblivious to her son’s rapidly deteriorating state of health.

The court was shown a report today that proved that an amount of methylamphetamine and amphetamine was found in the baby’s blood which indicated baby Bradley most likely ingested it through Ms Hughes’ breast milk.

Mr Hope said unfortunately the report was only prepared after evidence was presented at the inquest.

He said the lack of charges was also to blame on low-quality policing when baby Bradley’s body was discovered by police in an evidently thin state.

The young and inexperienced officers who attended the scene did not immediately investigate whether anything criminal could have contributed to the boy’s death, Mr Hope said.

Instead they waited on a post mortem examination, but the examining doctor Judith McCreath was unable to return any conclusive findings into the exact cause of death.

“Photographs of the deceased naked during a post mortem examination conducted on 12 February 2008 depict a grossly underweight and malnourished baby,” Mr Hope said.

“It appeared from evidence at the inquest that following his birth, the deceased had never been taken to a doctor, and in the last month of his life there had been no nursing or other medical input.

“This inquest was held in order to determine how it was that in the 21st century in Perth a baby could die in such a pathetic state.

“Unfortunately the police investigation into the circumstances of this death was of very low quality and very little evidence was obtained by police investigators as to how it was that the baby came to be so emaciated.”

Mr Hope also delivered a damning review of Ms Hughes as a mother, which left the young woman in tears in the court.

He said she had clearly lied about not being aware that her baby was “sickly thin” and her ongoing amphetamine use after her son’s birth.

“While Ms Hughes claimed in her evidence that she did not use amphetamine after the birth of the deceased, the fact that methylamphetamine was subsequently detected in a sample of the deceased’s blood … indicates that this was not true,” he said.

“The drug amphetamine is a scourge of Western Australian Society. Tragically Ms Hughes was introduced to the drug as a child.

“I am convinced that the drug played a large part in the self-destructive aspects of her life and probably played a role in her criminal behaviour and the death of her son.”

He left the cause of death open and made two recommendations to WA police.

“If it is the intention of Western Australia police to leave investigation for hidden homicide with the Coronial Investigation Unit, that unit be adequately resourced to conduct extensive investigation when these are required,” Mr Hope said.

“…I recommend that Western Australia police ensure that in cases where deceased babies or infants are malnourished, neglected, or have injuries which are unexplained, a comprehensive investigation is conducted.”

Ms Hughes refused to comment outside the court.

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