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4 September 2013, 12:59
A devoted elderly son attempted to murder his frail 93-year-old mother in her New Forest care home because he was concerned about paying the fees and his own health, a court has heard.
Ronald Barham, 74, "snapped'' in the room of Elsie Barham, grabbed a pillow and tried to smother her telling this petrified mother, "I've got to do this now''.
She struggled and Barham then grabbed her around the neck as she was pinned to a chair before he pushed her dentures down her throat in the concerted attack, Winchester Crown Court heard.
The former successful businessman from New Milton, Hampshire, was described as a "caring, dutiful and attentive son'' but is also suffering from dementia. He pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of his mother on March 7 this year.
Social services are now paying the fees for the home Mrs Barham still lives in after first telling Barham it could not help, the court was told.
The pensioner, who feared he could lose his home to pay for the care fees for his mother, was given a hospital order under the Mental Health Act by the judge, who said the case was tragic and that the pressure to pay for care was "far from easy''.
Kerry Maylin, prosecuting, said that Mrs Barham has moved into the Quaker House residential home in New Milton from sheltered accommodation in Southampton in August 2012 so she could be close to her son, who had suffered a stroke and had diabetes and was struggling to travel to see his mother every day and look after his wife, who also has dementia.
She explained that his mother, who was frail but in good health and able to largely look after herself, had found it difficult to adjust to a more institutionalised environment and had complained to her son, who visited every morning
"Ronald Barham has been a dedicated son of Elsie for all of his life. It's clear that they had a close relationship,'' the barrister explained.
"She is a 93-year-old lady who is good health. She is capable of her own care and taking her own medication. She has no diagnosed illnesses and no mental health issues but she is 93 and does have a degree of frailty.''
Miss Maylin said that Barham had discussed his concerns over the fees with the manager of the home, Paul Abbot, before.
Barham signed in as normal at the home at 10.30am and then went to the communal lounge for coffee with his mother and then they went back to her room, the court heard.
"After returning to her room it became clear that Ronald Barham began to attack his mother in such a way that he was trying to kill her,'' Miss Maylin said
"He said, 'I've got to do this now'. He put a pillow over her face and he began to try to smother her.
"It was perhaps not as easy as he had originally thought - Elsie Barham struggled and he put her hand on her neck. She said she thought 'she was a goner'. Her dentures became dislodged and Mr Barham tried to push them down her throat where they became lodged.''
The court heard that Mrs Barham has a personal alarm around her neck but Barham had ripped this off during the attack. He also drew the curtains to ensure no-one could see.
"She said she thought she was going to die. She thought it all lasted 30 minutes but in reality it lasted only a few minutes,'' the barrister explained.
It was then that a staff member knocked on the door to say Barham's taxi had arrived and he replied "thank you''. But the staff member was suspicious because she hear a noise similar to someone being sick and so she got another member of staff, Michelle Burgess, who went inside.
"She saw Mr Barham kneeling over both arms of the armchair pushing the pillow over her face,'' Miss Maylin said. "She then grabbed Mr Barham with both hands saying to him 'stop and get away'. She pushed Mr Barham.''
Mrs Barham was described as blue and hyperventilating by staff.
"She was extremely distressed, She could not believe what her son had done", the barrister said.
Barham was taken to the home's office and Mr Abbott said to him: "Do you realise what you have done?''
He said: "Yes.''
"What is that exactly?'' Mr Abbot asked.
"I have tried to strangle my mother,'' Barham replied.
"Is it about the financial situation?'' the manager said.
Barham said: "Yes.''
He was then arrested and admitted to police and doctors what he had done and said he had snapped when they had coffee and she had been moaning about the residents at the home. He said to one doctor: "I'm sorry I didn't succeed.''
In mitigation, Jonathan Simpson said that Barham was a "loving, caring, dutiful and attentive son''.
"Being the only son - a son who felt his mother wholly depended on him, there is no doubt that because of the onerous task of having to fund his mother's care this was recognised by the defendant that given her age and fortitude, it was something that would go and on.
"It was a snapping, irrational and wholly inconsistent with his love of his mother but the pressure of age, mild dementia at that stage and a latent anger and frustration all culminated in this unplanned but nearly executed act.''
Mr Simpson said the attack was "an aberration'' and that Barham, who has never been in trouble with the police before, came from a loving family who hoped he could be reconciled with his mother.
"He comes from an extremely professional, articulate and communicative family some of whom are lawyers as well,'' he explained
Imposing the interim hospital order until a permanent bed can be found, Judge Guy Boney QC said:
"It's not often that a man pleads guilty to the attempted murder of someone he has known for 74 years and certainly not his own mother.
"This is about the most tragic and upsetting case that can be imagined between a son and his mother.''
"The financial situation (for funding care) it is well known is very far from easy. It's difficult not to feel a good deal of sympathy for her and for you.''