'Cruel' U.K. Mom Jailed for Elaborately Faking Son's Illness

A "cruel, manipulative" mother who forced her young son to use a wheelchair and persuaded doctors that he was the "most ill child in Britain" was jailed yesterday for 39 months.

The boy, who is now 8, spent six and a half years undergoing tests, including exploratory surgery, to determine the cause of his disabilities, many of them inflicted by his mother.

A court heard yesterday that Lisa Hayden-Johnson, 35, claimed tens of thousands of pounds in benefits because of her son’s supposed medical problems, was given free cruises and met celebrities including Tony Blair, soap stars and royalty.

To create the illusion that her son was seriously ill she forced him to breathe from an oxygen cylinder, persuaded doctors that he had to be fed by tube and put glucose in his urine to make them believe he had diabetes.

Judge Stephen Wildblood, QC, told her that the crimes against her son "defied nature". He said: "There are five adjectives which describe you: cruel; manipulative; perverse; disordered; and pitiful. You used your own child as an instrument for your own disordered emotions.

"A mother is supposed to care for and nourish and love the young through childhood but that role was distorted. Your conduct led to physiological, psychological and emotional damage to your child.

"You were manipulative in the way you made people believe in your deception. Your fabrications drew large amounts of public money and wasted resources needed for the genuinely needy. You undermined the welfare system. I find the financial benefit was plainly an additional factor behind your offending."

The court heard that Hayden-Johnson suffers from factitious disorder by proxy, previously known as Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, which led her to seek attention for herself through her son’s illnesses. She took the boy to charity events and lobbied on her son’s behalf for a Children of Courage Award.

Sarah Munro, QC, defending, said: "In a case like this, you ask yourself if the defendant is sad, mad or bad. Perhaps there is a bit of all of them. The bottom line is that she has a genuine personality disorder."

Hayden-Johnson, a married mother of two, used her forceful personality and medical background to browbeat doctors who questioned her son’s diagnoses. She claimed that among other ailments he was allergic to sunlight, had cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and a disease of the spleen. She bullied staff at Torbay Hospital in Devon, Bristol Children’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street in London and played them off against each other.

The deceit was uncovered when she panicked after doctors called a case conference to try finally to get to the root of his problems. Hayden-Johnson cancelled the appointment, claiming that she had been the victim of a violent rape. The allegation led to a large police inquiry that cost an innocent man his marriage.

Andrew McFarlane, for the prosecution, told the court: "For the first six and a half years of this boy’s life, until the intervention of police and social services, the defendant organised, orchestrated and ensured a regime of medical, physiological and psychological mistreatment amounting to 24-hours-a-day torture that touched every aspect of his young and vulnerable life.

"As a result of her sadistic fabrication of the non-existent symptoms, the defendant achieved much publicity and national attention. She obtained many benefits, financial rewards and treats provided by charities and others, including two cruises. She described her son as being the most ill child in Britain.

"The cruelty was both lengthy and enduring. The defendant enjoyed the limelight that she generated. Her family album contained photographs showing the boy meeting the Blairs, June Whitfield, Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen, Simon Cowell, the Duchess of Cornwall, the cast of Casualty and EastEnders and many other personalities."

By the age of 7 the boy had been seen by doctors more than 325 times and undergone nine operations. The court heard that since he started his new life under a fresh identity the boy has thrived and only suffered "normal" childhood ailments.