An Adelaide mother who gave her children chocolate milk laced with sleeping tablets has been sentenced to a full term of three years in prison with a non-parole period of 15 months.

The 47-year old mother of four, whose name has been suppressed to protect her children, pleaded guilty in the South Australian District Court to five counts of ‘aggravated committing an act likely to cause harm’.

The court heard that in March 2018, she crushed several pills into a two-litre bottle of chocolate milk before giving a glass to each of her four children, who were aged 10 to 17 at the time.

All of the children finished their glasses before, in the words of Judge Wayne Chivell, “They variously reported feeling funny and strange, abnormal and slow, suffering from head spins and feeling dehydrated.”

The concentration of the drug was later found to be “above the normal therapeutic level” but did not lead to “extremely pronounced effects”.

Directing his comments to the defendant, his Honour stated:

“When some of them told you they were feeling abnormal, you offered them some Panadol, which they took.”

“You contacted a friend of yours and told her what had happened. She contacted emergency services and later she came to the house”

Impact of depression

The court was told the woman had been on anti-depressants for 20 years, but had stopped talking them six months before the incident.

It further heard the woman advised her mental health practitioner just three days before the event that she intended to put her children to sleep before killing herself.

“It is clear that at the time of the offending, you had reached a crisis point as a result of your declining mental health”, his Honour remarked.

“You had ceased taking antidepressant medication with the approval of your general practitioner in late 2017, about six months prior to the incident.”

“You had been taking that medication for a period of about 20 years prior to that.”

His Honour added, however, that the offences were “premeditated” and involved a “gross breach of trust”.

“The nature of your relationship with the victims was such that they trusted you unreservedly”, he made clear to the defendant.

Bail refused

The woman was arrested and charged shortly after the incident, before being refused bail at the police station and later in court.

With time already served, she will be eligible to apply for release on parole next month.

Poisoning offences in New South Wales

Section 39 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) prescribes a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for any person who administers or causes another person to take any poison, or any intoxicating, destructive or noxious substance which endangers the life of, or inflicts grievous bodily harm upon, that other person, where there is recklessness or an intention to injure that other person.

Section 41 of the Act imposes a maximum penalty of 5 years for a person who administers or causes another person to take any poison, or any intoxicating, destructive or noxious substance, with the intention to injure or cause the other person distress or pain.

And section 38A sets a maximum of 2 years and/ or a fine of $11,000 for a person who causes another to be given or to consume drink or food which contains an intoxicating substance the other person is unaware of, in circumstances where there is an intention to cause harm.

If the sleeping tablets supplied by the mother were a ‘restricted substance’, she could face a potential penalty of up to two years in prison under section 10(3) of the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 1966 if the offences were committed in our state.