More than 70 people will be testifying in a courtroom in Gjøvik over the next four weeks, as the mother of a 13-year-old girl from the Oslo suburb of Lommedalen defends herself against charges that she let her daughter starve to death. State prosecutors claim she failed to get help for her daughter and actively tried to keep health care officials at a distance.
The girl was found dead in her family’s mountain cabin on New Year’s Eve two years ago, emaciated after a long history of eating disorders. The case also has sparked major media introspection in Norway, after TV and newspapers reported claims the girl had been bullied at school, thus setting off her anorexia. Pupils at the school in Lommedalen, and their parents, objected and Norway’s national press complaints board ruled last week that several media outlets violated ethical standards for coverage of news involving children. Newspaper Dagsavisen, among those scolded, acknowledged that innocent children had all but been accused of murder.
As the media outlets including TV2, Dagbladet, NRK, Aftenposten and NTB among others ran apologies and official acknowledgement of how they erred in their handling of the Lommedalen case, the judge presiding over the mother’s trial was preparing to hear testimony from 74 people including school officials, health care officials, psychologists, child welfare officials and the girl’s father, who lives in the US. The case began promptly at 9am Monday, amidst some drama as the dead girl’s mother reportedly appeared close to fainting and left the courtroom because she couldn’t stand hearing the charges against her read aloud in public.
At issue is what exactly happened when her daughter, named Angelica, died at the family’s cabin at Beitostølen in Valdres, and whether the mother, Camilla Heggelund, can be blamed for her death. If found guilty, she faces 15 years in prison for criminal child abuse.
“The authorities believe that the mother was fully aware that she kept her daughter out of reach of health authorities, and that she neglected to get the necessary help for her daughter,” prosecutor Arne Ingvald Dymbe told Aftenposten on Sunday. “And we believe the mother was aware of her daughter’s health situation.”
Heggelund pleaded “not guilty” as expected Monday morning and views the charges against her as “absurd” and a provocation. “This is a mother who’d had a child with anorexia for years, and who had one goal, of getting her daughter healthy again,” claimed her defense attorney, Aasmund Sandland. Since receiving the anorexia diagnosis in 2012, Sandland said his client had contact with 13 to 14 various health institutions and went through nearly 200 consultations in that period. “This ended as tragically as it could,” he said, “and resulted in an indictment that equates to violence and abuse in a close relationship.”
Sandland claims that charges against the mother should never have been filed because “she tried for years to get help for her daughter.”
The case is being heard in Gjøvik since the courthouse in Valdres wasn’t large enough to handle it, given all those testifying, all their lawyers and the media interest. The trial is due to run through May.