Shelagh Robertson case: Found not guilty by reason of insanity of Louis Thorold’s death

Pensioner, 75, accused of causing car crash that killed a five-month-old baby boy in his pram is found NOT GUILTY by reason of insanity after jurors find her ‘undiagnosed dementia’ had affected her driving

  • Shelagh Robertson, 75, was charged for the death of baby Louis Thorold in 2021
  • Jurors at Cambridge Crown Court found her not guilty by reason of insanity 
  • Expert witness said pandemic caused her illness to go unnoticed before crash
  • Louis was being pushed in his pram by his mother when he was hit by a van 

A pensioner charged with causing the death of a five-month-old has been found not guilty by reason of insanity because of her undiagnosed dementia.

Shelagh Robertson, 75, was being tried over the death of Louis Thorold, who was killed in a fatal collision in January 2021 when a van went on to the pavement and hit his pushchair.

The jurors found that Ms Robertson’s dementia, which had gone undetected and untreated during the pandemic, had affected her driving.

Cambridge Crown Court heard Ms Robertson was driving home after shopping in Tesco in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire on January 22 when she drove into the path of an oncoming van.

The collision with the van forced it on to the pavement where it hit and killed five month-old Louis Thorold and sent his mother, Rachael Thorold, flying into the air and left her with serious injuries.

Shelagh Robertson (pictured outside Cambridge Crown Court today), 75, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of causing the death of five-month-old Louis Thorold

Shelagh Robertson (pictured outside Cambridge Crown Court today), 75, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of causing the death of five-month-old Louis Thorold

The judge, Mark Bishop, told jurors that if they were satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Robertson had dementia at the time and either did not know what she was doing or did not know that what she was doing was wrong, they could return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

James Leonard, defending, said in his closing speech that it was ‘obvious’ Robertson’s driving ‘fell below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver’. 

But he said that Robertson was ‘ill-equipped to negotiate’ the junction due to her dementia and she was unaware of this as she was undiagnosed at the time.

Five month-old baby Louis Thorold (pictured with his mother Rachael)  was killed when a van went on to the pavement and collided with his pushchair

Five month-old baby Louis Thorold (pictured with his mother Rachael)  was killed when a van went on to the pavement and collided with his pushchair

Prosecutor David Matthew said in his closing speech that he did not doubt that Ms Robertson had ‘a form of dementia’ in January 2021 but questioned how bad it was at this time.

Adam Zeman, professor of cognitive of behavioural neurology at the University of Exeter, had presented a report on Ms Robertson to the jury.

He said she had ‘dementia caused most probably by Alzheimer’s disease in a slightly atypical presentation.’

Rachael Thorold (pictured outside court today with her husband Chris) was seriously injured in the collision in January 2021

Rachael Thorold (pictured outside court today with her husband Chris) was seriously injured in the collision in January 2021

Prof Zeman added Ms Robertson would have been at ‘high risk of becoming confused at that junction and one possible outcome of the confusion would be to look the wrong way.’

He added: ‘It’s a difficult junction for the average healthy driver.’

Prof Zeman said: ‘Some forms of dementia are diagnosed relatively late as the features are rather subtle.

James Leonard, defending, said that Robertson was ‘ill-equipped to negotiate’ the junction of the A10 and Car Dyke Road in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire (pictured) due to her dementia

James Leonard, defending, said that Robertson was ‘ill-equipped to negotiate’ the junction of the A10 and Car Dyke Road in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire (pictured) due to her dementia

‘The time her problems were getting more severe coincided with the pandemic so there would have been fewer opportunities for face-to-face contact than there normally would be.’

Jurors were shown an MRI scan of the defendant’s brain, which Prof Zeman said showed ‘shrinkage’ of a part of the brain associated with memory and language.

He said that if he had a patient with the ‘difficulties’ he saw in Ms Robertson he would ‘advise them immediately not to drive’.

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