An alcoholic mother-of-eight has been convicted of starving her four-year-old son to death and hiding his remains, in a case which raises renewed questions about the protection of vulnerable children.
Amanda Hutton, 43, a former care worker for the elderly, was found guilty of manslaughter after a jury heard how Hamzah Khan’s grossly malnourished body was found hidden at her Bradford home in a baby-gro for a nine-month-old baby.
The child’s mummified and insect-infested remains were not discovered until nearly two years after his death in December 2009 when a complaint from a neighbour led officers to the family’s three-storey home and a scene of appalling squalor.
Hutton, who betrayed no emotion as the unanimous verdict of manslaughter by gross negligence was delivered at Bradford Crown Court, had claimed that Hamzah was a “fussy eater” who had effectively starved himself to death.
The well-spoken mother was known to police after suffering domestic violence at the hands of her estranged partner, Aftab Khan. She was placed on a West Yorkshire Police register of abuse victims at the highest level of risk.
But police and prosecutors said the history of abuse could not absolve her of her devastating neglect of Hamzah - one of six school-age children aged five to 13 living with her. The trial heard that Hutton had fed Hamzah half a banana and half a cheese and onion pasty each day.
Detective Superintendent Lisa Griffin, of West Yorkshire police, who led the investigation, said: “Ultimately the responsibility for the care and welfare of the children in that household lay very firmly with Amanda Hutton, and it was her responsibility and hers alone, to ensure that all their basic needs were met... Clearly she failed in that.”
The conviction of Hutton, who also admitted charges of cruelty to her remaining five school-age offspring and failure to dispose adequately of a body, raised immediate concerns about whether professionals, from police officers to social workers and health visitors, could have spotted warning signs prior to Hamzah’s death.
A serious case review by Bradford's Safeguarding Children Board, due to be published shortly, is expected to express concern that Hamzah was removed from the patient list at his GPs practice in 2009 after his mother failed to attend a number of appointments.
The jury in Hutton’s trial was told that the child’s health record was blank beyond the age of two weeks and he had never been seen by a GP. Although he was of school-age by the time of his death, Hamzah’s absence was not noticed by his education authority.
The NSPCC said it was concerned at the practice of GPs removing children from their lists. David Tucker, head of policy, said: “Children not appearing at medical appointments is an indicator of risk that a parent or a carer is trying to avoid a professional seeing that child and seeing the abuse or neglect that that child is suffering.”
Following his arrest for attacking Hutton in 2008, Khan repeatedly asked officers to check Hamzah to see “how undernourished he is”.
But despite being the subject of multi-agency case meetings to discuss vulnerable families and visits from police and one social worker, nothing untoward was reported about Hutton or her children.
During one visit nine months before Hamzah’s death, a police officer described the six children as being in “good health” and “perfectly adequate surroundings”.
By the time the child’s body was discovered, conditions in the family home had deteriorated to the extent that officers who entered the property found themselves ankle deep in fast food boxes, faeces and empty vodka bottles. Hutton told the court that following Hamzah’s death she had taken to drinking a litre of spirits each day - a fact which prosecutors said proved she had put alcohol and cannabis above the needs of her children.
The bathroom sink was caked in vomit and the fridge contained nothing other than rotten food and ready meals for which the best before date had expired five months earlier.
In the only vaguely clean room - Hutton’s bedroom - Hamzah’s body was found beneath layers of discarded clothing in a blue travel cot. A teddy bear had been placed beside him by his mother, who claimed she had spent hours holding his body on the night of his death but was also found to have ordered take away pizza and curry that same evening.
Police said that Hutton, who will be sentenced tomorrow along with her grown-up son Tariq Khan after he previously admitted a charge of failure to adequately dispose of a body, had been “obstructive” and “difficult” and turned down multiple offers of help from care agencies.
Ms Griffin said the final months of Hamzah’s life, during which he was at one point observed eating the contents of his own soiled nappy, could only have been horrific. She said: “I can only imagine the pain and the suffering that that child endured.”
Social services leaders in Bradford said working practices would be changed to reflect concerns raised by the case. Professor Nick Frost, independent chair of Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Given the refusal of all offers of help that would be offered to any mother and the lack of serious concerns raised from any other source, there was limited involvement from statutory agencies.“