The harrowing tale of a teenager who got hooked on drugs via his mother is evidence why we need to remove children from addict parents, writes Des Houghton.
The harrowing tale of a teenager who got hooked on drugs via his mother is evidence why we need to remove children from addict parents, writes Des Houghton.

'Why we need to remove kids from addict parents'


William was 12 when he began smoking his mother's marijuana. When she found out he was stealing pot from her stash, she didn't chastise him, she got him more. She was described in the Supreme Court of Queensland as William's pusher.

William was 14 when she introduced him to the methamphetamine that would eventually send him around the twist with terrible consequences.

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"He had reported seeing dragons in the sky, thinking that one of his friends had killed another of his friends with snakes, and was feeling that people had taken over his body," said Appeal Court president Walter Sofronoff, who was sitting with fellow Supreme Court judges Philip Morrison and Debra Mullins in a sentence application.

For one of his birthdays, William's mother, left a pipe and some dope on his bedside table so he could get high when he awoke.

William was five days shy of his 18th birthday when he snapped, stabbing his mother in her bed in what the court heard was a "frenzied attack" so ferocious that it fractured her skull. At law, he was still a child when he inflicted the terrible injuries.

Later, in the Rockhampton Supreme Court, judge Graeme Crow said William's mum suffered 16 lacerations across her head, face, neck and other places. Some of her wounds were 10cm deep. The woman unfit to be a mother (my words) also suffered a collapsed lung and was "barely conscious" when police arrived and coaxed William to put down the knife.

William told police: "I got a little bit psychotic and I was reading my mum's mind and I kinda lost control."

He added: "I had to kill her, but I didn't want to."

Said Sofronoff: "He thought the 'Asian population' was going to attack Australia and that his mum was 'in it and stuff'. He thought she was planning to kill him."

Psychiatrist Jillian Spencer said by the time William turned 16, he was suffering a "substance-induced psychotic disorder".

Crow said William's mental health had been harmed by drugs supplied by his mum. "Symptoms include religious delusions, ability to read other people's minds, grandiose delusions," he said. "The doctor concludes this substance intoxication significantly contributed to the offence."

Crow sentenced William to seven years and six months, and listed the offence as "heinous", giving a court the power under the Youth Justice Act to detain William for life. He fixed a parole eligibility date at February 15, 2021.

William sought leave to appeal, with his barristers, Deborah Holliday and Gavin Webber, arguing the sentence was manifestly excessive and the judge erred in regarding the crime as "heinous" within the meaning of the act.

The Court of Appeal agreed. Sofronoff's judgment contains pages of interesting discussion of the meaning of the word "heinous". He said the "exceptional significant penal consequences that parliament has declared can be justified only if the offence involves the use of violence and is, in the court's opinion, 'particularly heinous'."

A dictionary helped. "The word 'heinous' is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary to mean, 'hateful, odious; highly criminal or wicked; infamous, atrocious: chiefly characterising offences, crimes, sins, and those who commit them'. "One might think any act of attempted murder would be a heinous offence. That is why the word 'heinous' is qualified by two things. First, it is not enough for the offence to be heinous. It must be, in the court's opinion, particularly heinous. Second, the heinousness of the offence is not to be judged by the objective facts involved in the commission of the offence only. It is to be evaluated, 'having regard to all the circumstances'.''

Sofronoff said the circumstances in William's case "preclude one reaching the conclusion that this is a particularly heinous offence."

"It follows that the sentencing discretion miscarried," he said.

"Ms Holliday submitted that the appropriate sentence is one of six years imprisonment with eligibility for parole after serving two-thirds of that sentence. In my view, that submission should be accepted."

He went into detail about William's "highly positive" recovery while in detention away from drugs and his mother's influence. His woodwork instructor said he had shown "a high level of enthusiasm'', his hospitality teacher praised his "strong work ethic", a clinical nurse said he had " leadership qualities".

The judges agreed William deserved another chance.

Legislators are considering laws to remove children permanently from the homes of drug-addled parents, and offering them for adoption. This case suggests those laws can't come quickly enough.

*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. 

Originally published as Why we need to remove kids from addict parents