A WOMAN convicted of the long-term abuse of a young girl has kept her freedom as an act of mercy.

Judge Gary Burrell, QC, told Christine Morgan, 61, that if she had been in better health and younger, he would have sent her straight to prison.

Morgan, of The Tyleshades, Romsey, had been found guilty of two counts of wilful ill-treatment. Jurors had heard how the victim was just four years old when it started and which involved threats to kill her, striking her in the face and grabbing her by the throat.

The youngster told Southampton Crown Court how Morgan had once forced her mouth open and stuffed it with cloth with cleaning fluid on it, and had also held her head under water.

She said she suffered nightmares and had been left mentally scarred by Morgan haunting her.

Morgan received a 12-months suspended sentence with 200 hours of unpaid work and was told to pay £1,500 costs.

David Reid, defending, described Morgan as “a somewhat isolated, rather reclusive figure who would be vulnerable in prison”. He added that some of the treatment meted out came from her inability to cope and medical problems, and she continued to deny the offences.

Passing sentence, the judge told Morgan she had been in a position of trust and the abuse had lasted a significant period of time. “You bullied her.”

He said he was suspending the sentence as an act of mercy because of her illness and isolation, saying: “You will have to live with what you have done.”