Couple jailed for neglecting girl who died in hanging

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A mother and stepfather who locked their eight-year-old daughter in her "revolting and squalid" bedroom for 12 hours every night for four weeks were today each jailed for a year.

Charlotte Avenall accidentally hanged herself on September 12 last year at the home of her mother Susan Moody, 24, and 33-year-old stepfather Simon Moody.

The severely disabled youngster, who had the mental age of a three-year-old, had just learnt to tie a knot at school when she wrapped a cord on her bedroom window around her neck.

Her death came after four weeks of neglect when she was locked in her bedroom each night for 12 hours at the family's house in Moor Street, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.

The couple earlier each pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty at Nottingham Crown Court.

Judge Joan Butler QC said the couple didn't understand "the enormity" of their failure to protect Charlotte.

She said: "It's quite plain that the death of Charlotte was a tragic but preventable accident.

"All it would have taken to keep her safe was for somebody to go in to that room and see how it was. Your bedroom was on the same floor so it is hardly an onerous task to go across the hall and check.

"Instead, she was left in a foul and filthy mess for four weeks. For 12 hours every night for those four weeks you left her in that stinking room and on the day she died you had left her for 14 hours in that room."

Earlier the court heard the police officers who found Charlotte had never seen a room as filthy as the one in which the child was forced to live in.

The youngster, who had severe learning difficulties, had smeared her own excrement on the walls and ceiling and was forced to use her chest of drawers as a toilet.

Charlotte, who had a fascination with her own excrement, accidentally hanged herself from a cord tied to a window and then round her pink bunny soft toy.

The court heard social services knew Charlotte was vulnerable and had visited the family's home last June.

But when social workers from Nottinghamshire County Council tried to visit in August, when the neglect started, there was no-one at home.

The court heard no follow-up appointment was made, despite the child's school raising concerns.

Susan Moody pleaded guilty earlier to child neglect but claimed she was unwell at the time and had left responsibility for Charlotte to her husband.

But that did not stop her trying to become a surrogate mother for a family in Manchester in exchange for £10,000, the court was told.

The court heard that despite the squalor of Charlotte's bedroom, the tanks of the family's spiders and lizards were regularly cleaned out.

William Harbage QC, prosecuting, said: "There was an abject failure to provide the most basic requirements for Charlotte, namely an adequate, clean and hygienic place to sleep at night.

"In that period, they kept her locked in a small bedroom for about 12 hours each night in conditions of increasing squalor.

"The stench of the faeces and urine was over-powering even outside the room, such that neither parent, who shared the bedroom across the landing could possibly have been unaware of the problem."

He added: "A number of very experienced police officers described it as the worst smelling and filthiest room they had ever encountered.

"It's beyond the comprehension of any parent, indeed any normal person, how a mother or father could allow a child to spend a single night in that room.

"The prosecution draw the contrast between the room and the rest of the house. Although it was a little bit grubby, it was certainly in contrast to the revolting and squalid state of the child's bedroom."

The court heard that when a post-mortem examination was carried out, it was found Charlotte's fingernails were overgrown, her scalp was riddled with head lice and her body was dehydrated.

Officers found there were no bedclothes in the bedroom and Charlotte's dirty clothing, much of it covered in her own faeces, was strewn around the room.

Her mental condition meant she had a fascination with her own excrement, the court heard.

She had no sense of danger but she was a youngster of a "happy and sunny disposition", Mr Harbage said.

The day before she was found dead she was learning to tie knots at school. She had found a cord and tied it to the window and then to her pink toy bunny rabbit. She then wrapped the cord around her neck.

When she was found, she was kneeling down, her face against the radiator in her room. Her body was supported by the ligature.

The court heard she was locked in her bedroom from 7pm each evening until 7am the following morning, sometimes later at weekends.

Her parents claimed they needed to lock her in because she sleepwalked and it was for her own safety.

Social services had become involved in 2004 and in 2006 Charlotte was referred for specialist help.

The court heard social workers were aware Charlotte was locked in her room but thought it was only while her parents were asleep and did not realise it was for as long as 12 hours each night.

Her school also raised concerns in March last year because Charlotte regularly turned up with excrement on her hands and in the wrong clothes for the weather conditions.

When they raised concerns, her parents transferred her to another school.

The court heard they received £1,300 a month in benefits to care for the youngster, even though Simon Moody had a job as a window manufacturer while his wife stayed at home as a housewife.

Mr Harbage said the couple had a "number of people to turn to should the need arise".

Detective Superintendent Adrian Pearson, head of Nottinghamshire Police's public protection unit, said: "Our detailed and exhaustive investigation revealed Charlotte's death was a tragic accident.

"However, it also showed in great detail the neglect that she suffered at the hands of Simon and Susan Moody in the final weeks of her young life.

"The conditions in which she died were the most shocking I have ever had the misfortune to see in my career.

"The death of any child is a tragedy, but all the specialist officers involved in this case could not help but be deeply affected by the revolting and wholly preventable conditions in which Charlotte died."

Nottinghamshire County Council released a statement on behalf of Chris Few, independent chair of the county's safeguarding children board.

He said: "Charlotte's death is a tragedy. No child should ever die in these circumstances.

"Charlotte had a number of disabilities and there were many agencies involved in the life of Charlotte and her family.

"These agencies came together shortly after Charlotte's death to participate in an independent serious case review.

"The purpose of this review is to look at the way agencies worked together with Charlotte and her family to see what action should be taken to make improvements in the future.

"The serious case review process is still under way and we will make the findings public as soon as we are able to do so.

"In the meantime, the agencies involved with Charlotte have already evaluated their own actions and are putting in place improved ways of working.

"The public can be reassured that all agencies are working together to improve their services and ensure children in Nottinghamshire are as safe as they can be."