Lauren Wright's stepmother jailed for 15 years

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The Independent Online

A woman who mistreated her stepdaughter so violently she suffered a death "more drawn out and agonising" than most murder victims was jailed for 15 years. Tracey Wright was told her cruelty towards her stepdaughter Lauren was chilling and left the six-year-old as alone as if she had been "cast out into the desert".

Judge David Mellor jailed Mrs Wright's husband Craig for three years, saying he had ignored his daughter's suffering while spending his time drinking in pubs and cultivating an image of an all-round "good bloke". The 38-year-old mechanic turned a blind eye while his wife spitefully abused and mistreated Lauren.

Lauren died in May last year at her home in Welney, Norfolk after her stepmother hit her so hard in the stomach her digestive system collapsed. Her body was covered with more than 60 bruises.

The Wrights were convicted of manslaughter and cruelty at Norwich Crown Court last month. Mrs Wright, a 31-year-old playground supervisor, has been attacked in jail while awaiting sentence. Yesterday, Judge Mellor said their behaviour fell below what any society should tolerate and they left Lauren spending her last months in misery before she died a "more drawn-out and agonising death than that suffered by most victims of murder".

The judge sentenced Tracey Wright to 10 years for man- slaughter and five years for cruelty, to run consecutively, and said in other circumstances she might deserve sympathy because she was burdened with Lauren and her two own children while her husband spent their limited income on "liquid pleasures".

But Judge Mellor said it was was unforgivable that she vented her frustration on Lauren while falling over herself to co-operate with social services, doctors and teachers. "Lauren paid the price. Cowardice and bullying are indeed kissing cousins," he said.

"It is ... more difficult to bear the accounts of the spiteful ways in which you isolated, scapegoated and humiliated Lauren than it is to contemplate your violence towards her. It is a chilling measure of her despair and isolation and her desperation for the affection of someone who must have appeared all-powerful, that that little girl never, so far as we can know, uttered a word of complaint about your conduct."

Judge Mellor said that as soon as Lauren was hit in the stomach it was clear she would die without medical attention. "Without that, her death from hunger and thirst was as certain as if she had been cast out alone into the farthest desert. In a sense, in the home of her immediate family, with relatives next door and elsewhere in the village, she died as much alone as if she were in that desert."

Tracey Wright's lawyer, Joanne Greenberg, QC, told the court yesterday that her client had been put into a segregation unit in prison after she had boiling water thrown over her by other prisoners. Her client had the intellect of a primary school- child and faced a "particularly difficult and lonely", time in prison, she said.

The judge said Craig Wright was "the most inadequate of fathers". He told him: "Your crime is of omission. It took Tracey to make her suffer. It took you to ignore that suffering. You carried on as before, pursuing your own selfish and self-centred lifestyle, ignoring her welfare, when the risk to her health was obvious and serious. The bottom line is that you were both sane adults capable of acting in other ways than you did and your conduct fell far short of any that society can tolerate."

Susan Edwards, QC, for Craig Wright, said he had never abused or assaulted Lauren, whom he loved, and was "constantly haunted" by the knowledge that he failed her. Lauren had spent most of her life under supervision from social services after she had been taken from her natural mother at the age of three after allegations of neglect.

Officials from Norfolk Social Services have apologised for their mistakes and have accepted that if they had followed recognised procedures Lauren would "in all probability" still be alive. The social worker in charge of Lauren's case has resigned and aspects of the affair are to be considered by the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, another victim of neglect.

The leader of Norfolk County Council, Alison King, said several changes had been made to child protection procedures to help deal with cruelty and neglect cases. She said it would never be possible to completely guarantee a child's safety but the council was attempting to ensure areas of risk were as low as possible.