York mother shook her baby to death, court told

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A single mother who struggled to cope with parenthood shook her five-month-old son to death after losing her temper, a court heard today.

Leighton O'Donnell, who was born prematurely and had serious health problems, died of horrific brain injuries, Leeds Crown Court was told.

His mother, Gemma O'Donnell, 27, of York, denies his manslaughter.

Leighton was taken to hospital on November 29, 2010 after he began ''gasping for breath'', jurors heard.

He was found to have swelling to his brain, which had recently been bleeding, and recent retinal haemorrhages to both eyes.

He did not respond to treatment and died on December 4 after the decision was made to switch off his life support.

The Crown claims that O'Donnell, who separated from Leighton's father before his birth and was ''not coping with motherhood at all'', shook him in a fit of rage.

She inflicted the fatal wounds three to five days before his death, James Hill QC, prosecuting, told jurors, adding: ''It was no accident, rather a loss of temper.

''It's the prosecution case that the most likely result was that Leighton was shaken and that the only person who could be responsible is his mother.

''The prosecution is not suggesting that Gemma O'Donnell intended to do serious harm. Had that been the position then murder would have been the appropriate charge.

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''Gemma O'Donnell shook Leighton and we say that the medical evidence points very firmly in that direction.

''We say that she shook him and that that amounts to an assault. We say that any reasonable person would realise that if you shake a baby 20 weeks old, you are exposing that baby to a risk of harm.''

Leighton was born 13 weeks prematurely and weighed just 1lb 15oz, the court heard.

He spent time in special hospital units and had serious health problems including chronic lung disease, retinal haemorrhaging and a hole in his heart.

O'Donnell was assigned a neo-natal outreach worker amid fears Leighton was not being fed properly - a ''clear indicator that Miss O'Donnell could not cope with the situation'', the prosecution said.

O'Donnell pleaded not guilty to one charge of manslaughter before the trial, which is scheduled to last up to four weeks.

The trial continues.

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