Mother pleads guilty to infanticide over death of baby daughter

Warning: This story contains details that may distress some readers.

A woman researched whether a train would derail if it hit something in the minutes before she laid her three-month-old daughter on the tracks, according to court documents.

Melissa Arbuckle on Tuesday formally pleaded guilty to infanticide in the Victorian Supreme Court over the death of daughter Lily on July 11. Lily suffered critical injuries when hit by a train in Upwey, in Melbourne’s outer-eastern suburbs, and died in hospital that night.

Infanticide is a rare charge that can be applied against women who kill their children when the mother is affected by mental health problems related to childbirth. The charge applies only to children aged under two and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Court documents released by Melbourne Magistrates Court last week show Arbuckle held her daughter to her chest and used the baby’s arm to wave at a passing train about 5.02pm on July 11.

Minutes later, as another train approached, she carried her child to the tracks and laid her down. The driver activated the emergency brakes, but the train hit the mother and her child. Lily died in hospital hours later, while Arbuckle suffered injuries to the right side of her neck and body.

The former vet self-harmed as people attended to her daughter. The next day she was diagnosed with postpartum depression and possible psychosis.

According to the court documents, Arbuckle was on a late-morning walk with her baby in a pram when she used her phone to search for details about trains in the area and whether a train could derail if it hit a cow, rock or other object.

That afternoon, following a visit to her home from her mother and sister, Arbuckle sent a text message to her husband to say Lily was unsettled and they were going for another walk.

While outside, Arbuckle again went online to research train timetables, speeds and derailments between 4.23pm and the time she waved to the train, the court documents say.

The mother had appeared “really down” about two weeks earlier, as she feared she had hurt her baby by vigorously shaking her bassinet, the documents say.

Arbuckle, who now lives in Gippsland, is on bail and is due to return to court on April 5 for a plea hearing.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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