Adoption couple who killed child with salt get five years

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A wealthy couple were jailed for five years yesterday after being found guilty of killing a three-year-old boy by poisoning him with salt.

A wealthy couple were jailed for five years yesterday after being found guilty of killing a three-year-old boy by poisoning him with salt.

Ian and Angela Gay had all the trappings of material success - a £500,000 house in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, a Lotus sports car and a cabin cruiser. But the couple were childless and decided to adopt.

The boy, who had been placed with his younger brother and sister on a 13-week trial with the couple prior to adoption, failed to live up to their expectations and the couple became abusive and controlling.

Just days after the placement began, Mr Gay, 37, who had given up his engineering job to look after the children, rang his caseworker to complain about the boy, describing Christian Blewitt as "brainless", "a vegetable" and "a zombie". He demanded to know what was wrong and said his wife needed time to think about whether to proceed with the adoption.

A month later Christian lay dead in a Birmingham hospital. He had a level of salt in his blood equivalent to between 30 and 40 grams and there were 11 "blunt trauma" injuries to his head.

A jury at Worcester Crown Court cleared the couple of murder yesterday but convicted them of manslaughter after hearing evidence that they had fed the child with up to four teaspoons of salt and had caused him a fatal head injury.

The pair showed no emotion as the judge, Mr Justice Pitchers, told them that on an intellectual level they had under- stood enough about parenting from reading books to convince social services that they would be proper carers. He said there could be no criticism of social services for placing the children with the Gays. But he told the couple they had "very little real understanding or sympathy ... for the needs of a child like Christian".

The boy had been removed from his natural mother, who had been neglecting him, shortly after his first birthday. He had thrived in foster care and a decision had been taken to place him together with his younger siblings, Nathan, aged two, and Chloe, aged five months.

The children arrived at the Gays' home in November 2002. Angela Gay, who earned £200,000 a year as an insurance actuary, had agreed to take three months off work to settle the family but instead returned to her job within weeks of their arrival. Ian Gay said his wife had been under pressure in her job. But there had been friction between them and in the week before Christian's death, Mrs Gay had wanted to send the children back.

The prosecution claimed that the couple feared that if they refused Christian they would lose his brother and sister too. They had earlier divorced over Mrs Gay's refusal to have children but had later remarried.

On 8 December 2002, five weeks after the children arrived in the Gays' home, Christian had thrown a plate of food on the floor and had been taken upstairs, held at arms length, by Mr Gay. Mr Gay put Christian in his sister's cot to confine him. Some time later he found him comatose and took him to Russell's Hall Hospital in Dudley, 27 miles away, bypassing a closer A&E department.

Christian was transferred to an intensive care unit in Birmingham and his life support machine was switched off four days later. Mr Gay did not go with him, returning, the prosecution claimed, to "fix" a story with his wife. Mrs Gay returned to work rather than going to the hospital to be with her son.

The judge told Mrs Gay: "Your decision to go to work as Christian lay desperately ill in hospital showed where your priorities lay." The judge said he considered the couple force-fed Christian with at least four teaspoons of salt either directly or indirectly in his food but rejected prosecution claims that they struck the child. Medical experts were unable to determine what caused his head injury.

Outside the court, Mrs Gay's father, Royston Swain, 61, said: "We're totally shocked. They know they have done nothing wrong. It's an injustice."

Sandwell social services said it had ordered a serious case review of its procedures. Angela Saganowska, Sandwell Council's executive director of social inclusion and health, said: "I ... note that the judge made no criticism regarding the adoption process in this case. Obviously, I am keen to see whether there are any lessons to be learnt from the case for the future."

Christian's younger brother and sister have now been successfully adopted together.