THIS is the first picture made public of a mother who killed her toddler while suffering a nervous breakdown.
The touching image of Melanie Ruddell and son Christy on the swings comes as her brother and sister spoke out about their struggle to find help for her.
Just hours after they urged a hospital to take action, Melanie was allowed to leave its care and went on to kill her two-year-old boy.
Melanie, now 40, from Castle Eden, walked into Peterlee Police Station in August 2010, carrying her son after strangling him at the West Rainton home of her brother, Neil Close.
She later admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility at Newcastle Crown Court, and continues to receive treatment at a secure facility.
At an inquest into Christy’s death held in May, Sunderland coroner Derek Winter recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.
He has since written to the Secretary of State for Health to recommend mental health awareness training for medical staff and to stress the important part loved ones play in such situations.
An inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, published last month, said officers from Northumbria and Durham forces acted appropriately when dealing with the mother in the days leading up to the attack.
But Melanie’s family say their calls for help “fell on deaf ears” as they sought support because of her strange behaviour, which included claims she had been assaulted and accusations that she had harmed her son.
They feel Christy’s death could have been prevented.
Melanie, who called her son “Mr Beautiful”, was taken to University Hospital of Hartlepool by her concerned friends and family.
She was told she was suffering from acute psychosis by A&E specialist Dr Clement Agbatar.
She claimed she felt better after he told her it could be several hours before a crisis team could carry out a full mental health assessment.
She then discharged herself to go to her brother’s home, where Christy was being cared for.
Her sister Julie Stout said Melanie was a devoted mother and has spoken of visiting her in hospital.
She said: “She knew what she’d done, but she also believed that he was coming back.
“She said she had some magic words, she just needed to remember where she’d put them. You don’t know what’s sadder.
“The fact that he’s never coming back, or the fact that she thinks he is.
“I just don’t get how your mind does that so quickly.
“She doesn’t see a future for herself without Christy.
“Christy was her future.
“I think any mother would tell you, a mother without a child is just a nobody, I think.
“That’s how she feels.
“I can’t put her sadness into words.”
Interviews with Julie, Neil and Melanie’s friends feature in a documentary, I Took My Baby’s Life, which will be screened on ITV1 at 10.35pm on Monday.