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Record sentences end the tragic saga of Baby Peter

Judge condemns 'manipulative and self-centred' mother

Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Saturday 23 May 2009 00:00 BST

The mother of Baby Peter was branded "manipulative and self-centred" by an Old Bailey judge yesterday who sentenced her to at least five years in prison for the death of her son.

The 27-year-old woman, who cannot be named, was given an indeterminate prison sentence by judge Stephen Kramer. Due to the length of time she spent on remand, 644 days, she will be eligible for parole in just over three years.

Her 32-year-old boyfriend, who also cannot be named, was jailed for 12 years for his part in the child's death and was given a life sentence, to run concurrently, for the separate offence of raping a two-year-old girl. He was told he must serve a minimum of 10 years. He too has spent 644 days on remand and so will be eligible for parole after eight years.

Their co-accused in the Baby Peter case was their lodger, 37-year-old Jason Owen. He was jailed for three years and – given that he spent 289 days on remand – could be out in two if he satisfies the parole board he is no longer a danger to the public.

Baby Peter, previously known as Baby P, was found dead in his cot aged 17 months in August 2007 having suffered a broken back and ribs. He had endured eight months of abuse and had been seen 60 times by social workers who failed to spot more than 50 separate injuries. The post-mortem examination found the child had 22 injuries when he died: 10 to his face and ears; five to his back and chest; four to his legs and feet and three to his hands.

Addressing all three defendants, the judge said: "Any decent person who heard the catalogue of medical conditions and non-accidental injuries, steadily mounting in seriousness, suffered by Peter ... cannot fail to have been appalled."

He went on to condemn them for not accepting responsibility, adding: "Your alleged ignorance of what was happening to Peter in that small house in Tottenham defies belief."

Peter's natural father, who split from the boy's mother when the child was five months old, was in court to hear yesterday's sentences. He smiled and wiped tears from his eyes as the judge imposed the terms on his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Also in the courtroom watching were 16 men and women who had served on the juries of both trials.

The boyfriend was first to learn his fate. The Judge said he had "played a major role" in Peter's death, adding: "You abused your position of trust towards a toddler". Regarding the rape of the two-year-old girl, Judge Kramer said the crime was "abhorrent" and that the man was a threat to young children.

Turning to the toddler's mother, the judge quoted from the pre-sentence report, which described her as "a vocal and not unintelligent woman who is fairly articulate".

But he added: "Having seen and observed you over many weeks, I have concluded that you are also a manipulative and self-centred person, with a calculating side as a well as a temper. I reject the suggestion that you were blind to what was happening in that house or that you were naive." As she was led from the dock a woman in the public gallery shouted: "Fucking tramp."

Jason Owen was dealt with last. Generally accepted to have been least involved in the abuse, the judge said he nonetheless should have noticed what was happening to Peter and attempted to prevent it. His sentence provoked murmurs of disapproval in the courtroom.

Despite the relatively low minimum tariffs it is unlikely the mother or the boyfriend will make parole at the first attempt. And because of the life sentence given to the boyfriend and the indeterminate sentences given to the mother and Owen, it is possible all three could spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Police sources said they were pleased with the sentences passed on the mother and her boyfriend, pointing out that they were the longest ever imposed for causing or allowing death, the offence the defendants were convicted for after being found not guilty of murder.

But Britain's leading children's charity said it was disappointed. NSPCC chief executive Andrew Flanagan said: "It raises the question of how bad the abuse has to be before offenders get a longer minimum sentence. Baby Peter suffered sustained abuse leaving him with horrendous injuries. Two of his abusers could walk free at a time when Peter should be a schoolboy with the world in front of him. Despicable cruelty has denied him the opportunity."

The sentences came on the day a second Serious Case Review found that the child's death "could and should have been prevented" but social workers and other agencies were too concerned with keeping mother and child together. The report by Haringey Local Safeguarding Children Board said the outlook of social workers, doctors, lawyers and police was "completely inadequate".

The tormentors' jail terms

*The boyfriend: 12 years for causing or allowing the death of a child. To run concurrently with a life sentence for rape. The judge's suggested minimum term is 20 years, but the man will be eligable for parole after 10 years. This is nearer to eight years due to the fact he has spent 644 days on remand.

*The mother: An indeterminate sentence of 10 years (would have been 12, but for her guilty plea) for causing or allowing the death of a child. Eligible for parole after five years, three when the 644 days spent on remand are discounted. Because the sentence is indeterminable she will never be given a mandatory release date. She would have been freed automatically after two-thirds of her sentence if given a determinate sentence.

*Jason Owen: Indeterminate three-year sentence. Eligible for parole in two years because of his 289 days on remand.

Family with history of abuse going back a generation

It may never be possible to comprehend exactly how a mother could treat her son in such an abusive way, apparently without regard for his wellbeing or, ultimately, his life. But Baby Peter's mother abused him just as she was abused herself.

Her family was well-known to social services and she was taken from home at the age of 12 when social services, noting that her mother was a habitual cannabis smoker unfit to raise her, stepped in and sent her to a live-in reform school.

This was not before, while still a child, she was given the tawdry details of how she was conceived; the man she thought was her father had paid another man to have sex with her mother while he watched.

The extended family were also abusers. And, in the early 1990s, a relative of Baby Peter's was under Islington Council's care. The relative was known to be a victim of a suspected paedophile ring.

The child was involved in an infamous children's home scandal which was uncovered by the London Evening Standard in the early 1990s. It found children in council care had been abused by paedophiles and prostitution rings. Baby Peter's relative was one of those children. Liz Davies, the former Islington social worker who blew the whistle on the 1990s scandal, said the child was like a "Pied Piper" who led other children into abuse. "But he was also a victim himself, who begged for help," she said. But, despite this, no charges were ever brought against the care homes.

Baby Peter's mother met the child's father, 17 years older than her, when she was 16. After giving birth, she had post-natal depression and suffered from stress. After the pair split, when their boy was five months old, she met her boyfriend and persuaded him to move in with her.

Much of the courtroom allegations focused on the fact that she was more interested in preserving her relationship with him than she was in preventing the abuse that her son was suffering. The picture was painted that her boyfriend was the violent one, meting out the abuse, but police sources suggest that she too was capable of violence.

So important was her relationship that she neglected her son. Even her own barrister, Paul Mendelle QC, described her as a lazy woman who would refuse to do housework, thus leaving her son to live in squalor. He called her supervision of Peter "far from adequate". He said she was "a woman of low intelligence ... a careless mother, a mother who did not look after her family home or take care of her child's hygiene".

And when police and ambulance services arrived at the home, the scene they were met with confirmed this. Inside the house were human and dog faeces, dead rats and chicks to feed the two pet snakes and a dismembered rabbit. These were the surroundings in which an abused mother chose to bring up her soon-to-be abused child.

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