'House from hell' couple jailed for child neglect

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The Independent Online

A mother and father who were acquitted of murdering two of their sons and a nephew were yesterday jailed for wilful neglect of children at what was described as the "house from hell".

A mother and father who were acquitted of murdering two of their sons and a nephew were yesterday jailed for wilful neglect of children at what was described as the "house from hell".

The man, 38, was sentenced to a total of six years and his 26-year-old partner was given a two-and-half-year jail term for mistreatment of their five children. Following the sentences, police called for new legislation to block a legal loophole which allowed the couple to be freed because there was no independent witness to the killings.

The man and woman, of Brighton, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were cleared last year of smothering their sons, aged 17 months and six weeks, and their five-week-old nephew. The murder inquiry was launched after the boys died in the couple's care between 1994 and 1997.

Mr Justice Moses ordered the jury to return not guilty verdicts on all three counts after ruling that the Crown could not prove which one, if either, had killed the children, or whether they had acted together.

"Better both be acquitted than one wrongly convicted," the judge said. But at Lewes Crown Court yesterday they were sentenced for cruelty to five of their children. The neglect charges concerned the couple's 17-month-old son, who died, and their other four children, who were aged six, three, two and one when taken into care.

During a two-week trial the jury heard how the children's beds were left soiled with excrement, the children's hair was infested with lice, food had been walked into the carpet and the bedrooms of the house were full of flies. Judge Scott-Gall said the couple "did not deserve children and should never have them again".

The woman was jailed after being convicted of five charges of wilful neglect of children. Her partner was given a two-year sentence for the five charges of wilful neglect.

He was also given a three-and-a-half-year sentence after being convicted of six charges of rape involving his sisters when he was a teenager, and a further six-month sentence for threatening to kill a social worker who visited the home he shared with the woman. The sentences are to run consecutively.

There are now calls for an inquiry into why the couple were able to continue abusing children for so long.

Detective Inspector Malcolm Bacon, who led the inquiry, said after yesterday's hearing: "When I went to the house it was awful. It was the house from hell. There was food in the carpet and there was urine on the floor. It was a house in the 1990s, but it could have been the 1890s.

"It was shocking wilfulness in the way that it continued and did not stop... It was the worst case of neglect I have ever seen." The murder case prompted Sussex Police Authority to write to the Home Office calling for a new offence to be introduced making both parties in such cases responsible, even if only one committed the crime.

Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex, said: "We have three people in the room. Two adults come out alive and a child is dead. How can it be right that you cannot convict either of them if they stay silent or blame each other?" he said.

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