Foster parents to be jailed for 'depraved and cruel' treatment

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Two "evil and cowardly" foster parents were convicted yesterday of abusing and assaulting children and a special-needs woman in their care.

Two "evil and cowardly" foster parents were convicted yesterday of abusing and assaulting children and a special-needs woman in their care.

Jeff Tanner, who with his wife, Brenda, was warned he would be jailed, was described as "depraved and cruel" by a judge who had listened to evidence that he forced a boy to eat faeces and drink urine. Another victim was made to dance naked while holding heavy weights above her head.

The 54-year-old former scrap merchant and his wife were employed as foster carers by Cambridgeshire County Council in the 1980s.

King's Lynn Crown Court was told that all three of their victims, a boy, a girl and a woman, had difficult upbringings and special educational needs.

As she remanded them in custody pending sentence next month, Judge Isobel Plumstead described the husband as the principal abuser, convicted of "offences of cruelty, offences of depravity, offences of the breach of the greatest trust that anyone could have been guilty of – that is, when young people, children, are entrusted to their care.

"That these two young people had been very cruelly and harshly neglected and ill treated by others does not make it any better.

"In fact, in a way, it makes it worse, because each of these children were put into your household so they could get away from the squalor and filth that they had seen before."

To Tanner's 53-year-old wife, the judge added: "No adult who assumes care of a child can be regarded as less than responsible for that child if that child is neglected or abused in that household."

Yesterday the couple hugged and wept in the dock before being taken away.

Detective Superintendent David Hankins said the offences ranked among the worst child abuse cases he had dealt with in 26 years. "The most disturbing aspect is the sustained, degrading ill-treatment of the young people involved. What they have done to these children has possibly damaged them for the rest of their lives. What they have done is despicable, evil, indeed cowardly."

The court was told that the Tanners were foster parents to the girl and unofficial carers for the boy with the knowledge of social workers. Both are now adults. The third victim, a woman now aged 40, stayed with the family after becoming homeless.

The couple, from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, denied a total of more than 20 charges, but were convicted in April. For legal reasons the outcome of the trial could not be reported until yesterday.

A council spokesman acknowledged that services in the late 1980s and early 1990s did not meet high standards but said important improvements had been made.