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Manager 'made babies eat their own vomit' at Little Stars nursery

A nursery manager force fed babies in her care until they were sick and then made them eat their own vomit, a court heard today.

Laura Pettitt, 27, threw youngsters about and put blankets over their faces if they would not go to sleep, Croydon Crown Court was told.

She is also accused of roughly shaking a small baby who was born prematurely, shouting at the children and refusing to change their dirty nappies while working at Little Stars nursery in Bromley, south London.

When Pettitt was arrested and interviewed by police in January 2009 she claimed her colleagues made up "malicious" allegations against her after learning she was a lesbian.

Pettitt, of Thayers Farm Road, Beckenham, south east London, denies 10 charges of child cruelty dating from between January 2006 and November 2008.

She worked at the nursery for seven years and became manager of the baby room, where she was in charge of children ranging from babies aged just a few months up to young toddlers, the court heard.

Prosecutor Tana Adkin said: "Laura Pettitt, when she lost her temper and the babies would not do her will, would treat them roughly in a manner that amounts to cruelty, the prosecution say."

Pettitt shouted "for Christ's sake, shut up" at crying babies who would not go to sleep, dropped them from small heights and slapped them on the back of the head, the court was told.

Ms Adkin added: "She would force-feed them, causing them to vomit, shout at them, and throw soft toys at them from time to time and leave them in their soiled nappies refusing to clean them."

Pettitt is accused of cruelty to 10 different youngsters under her care at the nursery.

She allegedly force-fed a large baby on a gluten-free diet four bowls of food that was not gluten-free when he should not have been allowed more than one.

Pettitt "seemed to find it amusing" that the child kept eating and eating until he vomited all over her trousers so she had to wash them, the six men and six women of the jury were told.

She also allegedly swung him by his armpits until he hit his head on a sofa, causing a lump.

Another little boy was left "gagging and gasping for breath" after she force-fed him until he vomited, the court heard.

Ms Adkin said: "She carried on feeding him the vomit that had fallen out and came into the collection trough of the bib he was wearing."

A third boy was left with a grazed nose when Pettitt threw him on to a sofa cushion in a temper and he bounced off it on to the floor, the jury was told.

Ms Adkin alleged that an accident report form was filled out as a "cover-up" saying the child hurt himself by falling over.

Pettitt was accused of using the offensive rhyming slang "Joe Daki" - for Paki - to refer to an Asian baby girl, whose face she covered with a blanket when she would not go to sleep.

She also allegedly forced a dummy into another little girl's mouth so hard that her gums began to bleed.

The alleged abuse only came to light in November 2008 after nursery assistant Nicola Fiddler complained that Pettitt, while sitting on a sofa, had used her foot to push down the head of a child lying on the floor with such force that he began to cry.

Miss Fiddler first raised her concerns with the nursery's management but she felt it was not taken seriously enough so went to the NSPCC.

The children's charity passed the matter on to social services, which alerted the police.

Ms Adkin said: "The prosecution case is that these nursery assistants are very young, very inexperienced, and in fact were intimidated by Laura Pettitt, who was the baby room manager, and a climate had developed where no one person wanted to speak up and complain."

Wearing a smart black trouser suit, blonde Pettitt sat in the dock without reacting as the prosecutor outlined the case against her.

Relatives of some of the children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, sobbed in court as details of the alleged cruelty were read out.

Giving evidence, a tearful Miss Fiddler, 20, said she did not raise the alarm earlier because she felt "scared" of Pettitt.

She had just turned 17 when she joined the nursery and was only 19 when she reported the alleged abuse, the court heard.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.