A TEENAGE mother was caught repeatedly hitting her baby at Hereford County Hospital by a secretly installed hidden camera.

Harrowing film played to Worcester Crown Court showed the “depressed, stressed” mother striking and ill-treating the continuously crying baby, which had been under the protection of social services since birth.

The court heard how the secret film was shot in a side room at the County Hospital when childcare professionals went to the police with their worries about the baby’s welfare.

Natasha Day, aged 18, of Albert Road, Ledbury, admitted a child cruelty charge but escaped a prison sentence because of the way she was turning her life around, helped by Hereford-shire’s Youth Offending Team (YOT).

Judge Alistair McCreath paid tribute to this apparent turnaround in making Day the subject of a two-year community rehabilitation order, allowing her work with YOT to continue.

Acknowledging Day’s “distress and shame” at what she had done, Judge McCreath said the teenager had already served the equivalent of any prison sentence he could pass while she was held on remand.

The court heard how social services had the baby registered as ‘at risk’ from before it was born.

In June last year, the baby was in hospital for observation over a series of episodes when it apparently experienced difficulties in breathing.

Andrew Lockhart, prosecuting, told the court that agencies involved in the baby’s care – including the police – agreed on covert surveillance to address their shared concerns.

Mr Lockhart said that mother and baby were secretly filmed in a side room. Footage played to the court showed Day striking and ill-treating the crying tot in its cot while monitor alarms sounded in the background.

Day denied ill-treatment until faced with video evidence, at which point she accepted what she had done and said she was stressed. Jane Crowley QC, defending, said Day showed obvious signs of post-natal depression, a condition for which she had not initially been assessed.

The court heard that the baby did not suffer serious injury.

Natasha Day would “do anything” to get her baby back, according to evidence put in her favour at her sentencing last Friday. But the court heard that this was not possible.

Instead, the teenager – 17 when the baby was born against Natasha’s “troubled and difficult” background – was working to turn her life around.

Hints at what could be were put to the court, which heard that Day was, at first, seen to be doing a good job with the baby acknowledged as well nourished and always well presented.

The court heard that problems probably arose out of Day trying too hard to be independent when, in fact, she was an “isolated young mother” who needed help.

Much of the credit for Day’s apparent turnaround went, the court heard, to Here-ford’s Youth Offending Team (YOT) and its work on addressing her “often perplexing” behaviour and other issues arising out of “a great deal of personal instability.”

The extent of the turnaround was outlined by her barrister, Jane Crowley QC, who said Day was now a very different person to the “bottled up” teenager first presented to the defence little over a year ago.

“She is demonstrating increasing signs of maturity and speaking positively about a better future, she wants to make something of her life,” said Mrs Crowley.

Day was visibly distressed as covert footage of her ill-treating her baby was shown. Her “distress and shame” meant she was no longer able to watch, said Mrs Crowley.