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Pair set for child cruelty sentence after forcing son to live in coal bunker


Pat Hurst
Monday 21 May 2012 15:53 BST

A mother and stepfather who forced their 11-year-old son to live in a filthy converted coal-bunker are behind bars today.

Bullied and constantly hungry, the traumatised child was made to live and sleep in the room, described as a "cell" by social workers, and reduced to using a potty as he was locked up each night until morning, Preston Crown Court heard.

The room was described as "freezing" with no heating, a bare lightbulb, concrete walls and floor. The child was left to sleep on a dirty mattress with just a sleeping bag for a blanket.

The boy was put in the room as punishment for raiding the family's fridge, the court heard.

The room was a windowless old out-house with one exit bricked up and a new one added leading on to the lounge of the family home in Blackpool, Lancs.

When police and social workers visited they removed the child from the room where he had lived for a year, then aged between 11 and 12.

The parents, both in their 40s, cannot be named for legal reasons.

Both have admitted a single charge of cruelty by willful neglect between January 2010 and January 2011.

Both were due to be sentenced today but after hearing the evidence Judge Norman Wright said as the case was so "emotionally charged" he adjourned sentencing until next week.

He rejected pleas from the defendant's lawyers to spare them jail and remanded the pair into custody to await sentencing next Monday.

Jeremy Grout-Smith, prosecuting, told the court: "It is the prosecution case the boy spent most of his time at home in the cell, because of his behaviour.

"The case began following concern about the boy, raised at his school in January 2011."

The school reported that the boy always seemed to be hungry, was disruptive and struggled in class.

But when they gave him food he seemed to "calm down" and become more content, Mr Grout-Smith said.

After the school spoke to his parents they were told he hed been caught stealing food from the freezer and eating it frozen.

But when the boy was threatened with being sent home for bad behaviour he became "hysterical" and begged: "Don't send me home, I'm sorry, give me one more chance, I will be good."

The family was then referred to social services who, along with a police officer and PCSO visited the home in January last year.

Mr Grout-Smith added: "Asked to see the boy they were directed to a door in the corner of the lounge.

"When opened what they saw was an uncarpeted room, 6ft (1.8m) X 4ft (1.2m) with a single bed. The boy was asleep on a mattress. There was a bare lightbulb and no apparent heating.

"Officers told the boy to go back to sleep."

Days later a social worker visited the boy at school.

Mr Grout-Smith said the child told her: "His parents were not caring about him and not liking him. He was punished and had to stay in the room for long periods of time."

The social worker then visited the home, the court heard and asked to see the boy's room.

"She described it as a cell. The room was just big enough for a single bed with concrete walls and floor and a bare lightbulb," Mr Grout-Smith added.

"Rubbish was on the floor and a potty half-full with urine. The bed had no sheet and there were scratch marks on the wall. There was no heating and the window had been boarded. No natural light or ventilation.

"It was described as 'freezing'. His homework was under his pillow. There were exposed electrical cables.

"The room had previously been an out-house and a new entrance made from the living room.

"They did not deny locking him in the room to stop him eating large amounts of food from the kitchen."

The boy was taken from the home the same day and put into local authority care.

Doctors who examined the youngster said he was underweight and below average height for his age, and treated him for anemia.

The boy told police he lived and slept in the room and to keep himself occupied, "pulled wallpaper off the walls because he had nothing else to do".

He also said the lock on the door made him "unhappy" and he had to wait until someone got up to be let out of the room in the mornings.

Since being placed with foster parents the youngster has put on weight and his behaviour has improved dramatically, described as a "remarkable achievement for him".

He admitted behaving badly at times and told officers this was because: "People take the mick out of me because I'm ugly."

The mother initially denied neglect but later accepted the boy's living conditions were inadequate and that he should never have been locked in the room.

Wayne Jackson, defending, said the boy was "undoubtedly" a very difficult child to manage but the mother, who herself had a tough upbringing, admitted she could have done more to get help.

"We were a family in crisis who kept getting the door slammed in our face," she told probation officers.

Mr Jackson added: "Undoubtedly the boy has been traumatised and psychologically affected. No-one will be able to quantify the degree of that effect on him until older years to see how he turns out."

Jacob Dyer, defending the stepfather, who wiped tears from his eyes as he sat in the dock, said the unemployed defendant accepted he was wrong to lock the child in the room as a punishment for bad behaviour as this just made things worse.

"These were inadequate parents who were unable, because they did not have the skills or abilities, to cope," Mr Dyer added.

Both defendants will be sentenced next Monday.


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