Doctor blames parents for 'worst case of malnutrition'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A doctor who treated twin babies rescued from a house of "utter squalor" told a court yesterday that it was "the worse case of malnutrition he had ever seen outside the developing world".

A doctor who treated twin babies rescued from a house of "utter squalor" told a court yesterday that it was "the worse case of malnutrition he had ever seen outside the developing world".

The emaciated boys, one of them was close to death, were among five children rescued from a terraced house in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, last June. The parents, David Askew and Sarah Whittaker, both 24, were each sentenced to seven years at Sheffield Crown Court after admitting five counts of cruelty.

Police officers involved in the rescue said they had difficulty not being physically sick in the filthy bedrooms and kitchen, but were astonished to find a neat living room, filled with state-of-the-art electrical appliances.

The Recorder of Sheffield, Alan Goldsack, told the couple: "The reality is that behind the closed doors of your home your children were being slowly starved to death. Most members of the public will not begin to understand how in the 21st century children can slip through the net in the way yours did." The court heard how the horror at the three-bedroom house was discovered when, at his daughter's behest, Whittaker phoned for an ambulance because one of the twins was "lifeless". Paramedics found the boy skeletal and grey, suffering from hypothermia, hypoglycaemia (deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream) and severe malnourishment.

Andrew Hatton, for the prosecution, said both twins weighed just over four kilograms (8.8lbs) - less than they had done when nine months old. They were 40 per cent of the weight expected for a one-year-old infant. The most seriously ill twin was passing live maggots into his nappy; these were later identified as the larva of the common housefly. Experts said they had come from the baby ingesting fly-ridden food or from an infestation in the heavily soiled nappies he was found in.

Both boys' growth was consistent with a four- to five-month-old baby, according to doctors. The other children in house - now aged eight, four and three - were also living amid dog and human excrement, with urine-soaked mattresses and soiled clothes. A kitchen cupboard contained a tin of peas, baked beans and corned beef. There were sprouts, three fishcakes and powdered baby milk in the freezer. The eldest girl said she fed the twin babies. In the living room, officers found a large television, two DVD players, a Sony PlayStation and stereo as well as more than 80 DVDs.

The judge heard that relatives who babysat for the couple had found the children in a terrible state and had told them to sort it out. Social services had never been involved with the family. Askew tried to distance himself from the cruelty, saying it was Whittaker's responsibility to look after the children. He told police that the house "could do with tidying up". Whittaker had become pregnant at 15 and had a number of miscarriages and terminations.

The children are now in local authority care. The court heard all five were thriving, although one of the twins may have permanent problems with his sight and hearing. Alan Jones, chair of the Sheffield Area Child Protection Committee, said his organisation "deeply regretted" that the child protection system in Sheffield had failed the children and would learn lessons.