Five years for couple who poisoned boy with salt

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The Independent Online

A couple found guilty of killing a three-year-old boy they were planning to adopt were jailed for five years each today.

A couple found guilty of killing a three-year-old boy they were planning to adopt were jailed for five years each today.

Ian and Angela Gay were cleared of murdering Christian Blewitt by a jury sitting at Worcester Crown Court following a seven-week trial.

But they were convicted of the manslaughter of the youngster, who died of a head injury and was found to have excess levels of salt in his blood.

The prosecution claimed the married couple, of Lutley Lane, Hayley Green, in Halesowen, West Midlands, force-fed Christian up to four teaspoons of salt as a punishment.

Trial judge Mr Justice Pitchers was damning of the couple as he passed sentence.

He said the pair were able to demonstrate on an intellectual level that they understood what was required to be parents from reading books and were "intelligent enough" to give the impression to social services that they would be proper carers.

The judge said there could be no criticism of social services for placing the children with the Gays in November 2002.

But he told them: "Anyone listening to this case must have been struck by how very little real understanding or sympathy you had for the needs of a child like Christian."

The judge said that despite the boy's difficult start in life, his foster parents had given him "excellent care" but, not long after, Mr Gay was telephoning social services calling Christian a "vegetable" and a "zombie".

It was "quite extraordinary" to describe a three-year-old child in this way, he said, as was Mrs Gay's decision to return to work not long after Christian and his siblings arrived on their placements.

"Your decision to go to work as Christian lay desperately ill in hospital showed where your priorities lay," the judge told Mrs Gay.

"Every parent in the courtroom must have been thinking to themselves, 'How could she go back to work with her child in that position?'.

"Both of you showed that your approach to that little boy was entirely selfish. You were interested in what was best for you and not what was best for him.

"As the last week passed, you became more upset and angry about his behaviour, which was in reality hardly out of the ordinary even for a child who had not had his difficult start.

"The only inference is you decided to punish him by making him ingest salt."

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 he rejected prosecution claims that they struck the child.

The sentence of five years was on the basis of a "single episode", the judge said, adding: "It was a single episode committed not by the sort of inadequate and unintelligent people often sitting in your position and charged with this sort of offence, but intelligent people who must have made a deliberate choice more or less in cold blood to submit him to this punishment."

Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Cullen, from West Mercia Police, described Christian's death as an "absolute tragedy" and said his thoughts were with the child's biological and foster parents.

He said: "We are pleased that justice has been done today for Christian.

"Christian led a brief life and we can at least be thankful that the period he spent with his foster carers were happy times."

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr Cullen continued: "Investigating the death of a child is always the most difficult type of inquiry for anyone to be involved with and I would like to thank the determination of the officers who have been involved with this case from start to finish.

"They have displayed great conviction and tenacity to ensure that the Gays faced the legal system and were held accountable for their actions."

Mr Cullen said a dedicated team of officers had worked on the case for almost two years and trawled through a great deal of detailed medical evidence.

He said that the combination of head injuries and salt poisoning was extremely rare and that experts would say that either could have caused his death.

"It is difficult to conceive how a little boy would voluntarily eat several teaspoons of salt and this has been backed up by experts who say that a child would naturally reject even a small quantity," he added.

Asked about Christian's placement with the Gays, Mr Cullen said that the adoption process had been primarily managed by Sandwell Social Services and that because a review into the case was still ongoing, it would be unfair to comment.

He said Christian's siblings had been placed with foster parents and were "thriving".

Mr Cullen said police liaison officers were working with both the birth and foster parents following the death of Christian and that they were "extremely traumatised".

He concluded: "There have been various agencies, experts and officers involved in this case and it has touched many people's hearts.

"Although this sentence should help to ease the pain of the loss of Christian, we know that it will never be enough to compensate fully for his death."

Angela Saganowska, Sandwell Council's executive director of social inclusion and health, released a statement which revealed that Christian's younger brother and sister have now been successfully adopted together.

Ms Saganowska said: "I have been keeping a close eye on the court case myself, and note that the judge made no criticism regarding the adoption process in this case.

"As with any case of this nature, our social services department has been looking in depth at its involvement with Christian.

"Christian was going through the normal adoption process, which by its very nature is extremely rigorous.

"Obviously though, I am keen to see whether or not there are any lessons to be learned from the case for the future.

"A serious case review is being undertaken by the Sandwell Area Child Protection Committee, which includes representatives from Sandwell Council, West Midlands Police, local health services and the NSPCC.

"This review is for all relevant agencies to look at child protection procedures relating to the case and identify whether or not there are any lessons that can be learned."

The review is due to be completed in the next few weeks and any necessary action arising from its findings will be taken, Ms Saganowska pledged.