Crime and punishment: The value of child's life and leniency of our criminal justice system
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
What’s a meaningful punishment for causing or allowing a child to die, causing serious physical harm, wilful cruelty or torture? What does someone who kills a child or a vulnerable adult deserve?
Recently, there have been several shocking cases involving a child dying by the hands of their mothers, fathers or partners for reasons most parents and people cannot understand or imagine. The details of abuse and torture are incredibly difficult to hear or read, making one sick to stomach. But the result is that those convicted of such heinous crimes get out of court with what is often seen as lenient punishment.
How can a parent hate their child? How can a parent do or allow horrific things to be done to the most vulnerable, children or babies? Worse still, in many cases the mothers are nearly let off for their crimes.
These are murderers who should not see leniency, and hardly be considered for life outside of jail regardless of whether they are a woman or a man. They allow or commit child cruelty, inflict fatal injuries, causing unimaginable suffering and death of a defenceless child. I am not taking about accidental deaths where the parent failed to look after their child on one occasion, which would lead to a disaster. These are series of abusive actions, beatings and torture of children over months or years. Mothers who don’t directly kill the child take part in their abuse or torture and let them die. That is still a murder, isn’t it?
The sentencing guidelines allow for life sentences but in many cases the leniency seen especially when it comes to mothers who let their child die is staggering. More often than not, the plea considered in the verdict leads to lesser charge of 'manslaughter' or 'causing or allowing child to die. But most of those mothers show no remorse, which would also be reflected in the judges’ remarks.
There are a number of issues that directly or indirectly contribute to such horrific crimes. One is the tendency to sentencing leniency based on sex. Our system tends to treat women more leniently.
Monster mothers are sometimes given just three to five years for playing an active part in their child’s murder. Extended sentences just mean that they will get a slightly longer licence period after the release from jail, but hardly anyone really serves a full prison term to start with. Someone given five years for a manslaughter now will be eligible for parole in 2024. Do you call that justice? How does it square with honesty in sentencing? What should the charge be if the mother is involved in cruelty and neglect which result in the death of her child?
The system overload is another. Often it is the social services who get the blame, but these are complex cases of abusive monsters who disguise the serious harms they inflict on children. It is also difficult to take kids away from their birth parents, even when some reasonable doubt and evidence of serious harm exist. Moreover, there is staffing and workload crisis across the system that should protect the most vulnerable.
After the Baby P case there have been many other parents and their partners who have committed heinous crimes on their children, but it seems that there have been hardly any safeguards put in place. How are these social workers trained? Anyone can appreciate that it is a difficult job and the retention of such workers is said to be low. But we have known this for some time. What we don’t know is what exactly has changed or been made better, and what still needs to be done to fix this issue fast. Staffing levels and workload are the two main issues, which means there is a problem to attract people to come to work in such careers for longer periods. But how can we, in the current climate especially – with more vacancies than unemployed people - make such roles attractive for the right type of people? Someone from the field should surely be able to advise.
One of the proposals has been that a Child Cruelty Register should be created to serve in the same way as Sex Offenders’ Register. But questions are being asked as to the effectiveness of this, especially whether it would improve child safeguarding processes. Perhaps we should impose life sentences for those who allow or cause child harm with no minimum jail term set which would more likely protect children than if a serious offender is released. But most people would see this as too harsh. So, what should we do when we say we must be tougher? We must send a clear signal to child abusers and killers that they are not getting out. The punishment must fit the crime.
Another issue was artificially created when Covid related restrictions and lockdowns, nursery and school closures were imposed for long periods. Normal human contact was illegal when we knew that vulnerable kids would suffer or die at the hands of their abusers, because social services or other relatives would not be able to see or examine the abused children in person.
The catalogue of injuries that a child usually suffers before they are killed can be so shocking that it is hard to understand how anyone can be so cruel let alone their own parents or carers.
There is leniency in our criminal justice system, because we want to be believe that the evil child killers will be rehabilitated in prison serving a short sentence. Our system is aiming to be fair, humane, and emphatic to those who have relatively good previous record or have been born to or grew up in difficult circumstances (including where they were themselves abused in the past, or where alcohol or drugs were involved) and so on. But we need to see that this is also about punishment and protection of others who may become victims. These are dangerous criminals. They must be treated as such and not be given pathetic jail time during which they don’t even get a chance to realise that they are in prison before they are out.
When mothers allow their child to die in the hands of the abuser and are found guilty of manslaughter, or causing or allowing child to die or suffer serious physical harm, it cannot follow that they serve a meagre three or five years but are out in half that. They have played a role. Where there is unambiguous evidence that they have played a role, they should be punished with a life sentence. They were responsible for the child’s well-being, and they not just failed in their duty but abused it and abused the trust of the baby or child that depended on them.
Whether you’re a parent or not, if you see or think that harm is being done to a child, do you just stand by and watch? No, you don’t. You act to protect the child.
I would like to highlight some of the recent cases, many of them were sentenced this year (up to mid July 2022), for you to judge whether the custodial sentences given to them are adequate:
1. Mihain Gulie and Gabriela Ion killed their six months old baby Robert with Down’s syndrome in February 2021. Gulie, the father was convicted of murder and got a life sentence with minimum of 20 years whilst Gabriela Ion, baby Robert’s mother was convicted of causing or allowing child to die or suffer serious physical harm got 3 years in prison.
Gulie was known for short temper and domestic violence. He had thrown baby Robert on at least one occasion causing serious injuries and bruising, including on his face.
The post-mortem showed rib fractures and non-accidental head injury sustained weeks before deaths. Baby Robert suffered catastrophic trauma affecting his head with skull fracture, spine and eyes. The judge said that “the trauma to the eyes was particularly severe even by the standards of fatal traumatic injury”.
Gabriela Ion lied to health and social workers and the police, and although she showed some regret, she pleaded not guilty. She failed to protect her tiny baby son from serious violence and death, and her sentence, though in line with the sentencing guidelines, is incredibly short. She will have served only up to half of the three years in prison, and her parole date is set for January 2023.
2. Davey Everson and Kirsty Burdett, described as the cruel killer and a girlfriend who helped cover his crime when in December 2018 he inflicted serious injuries to her newborn baby daughter Millie-Rose, who was just two months old, and died in January 2019 barely three months old. Baby Millie-Rose suffered head trauma, twelve fractures to multiple ribs, leg fractures and compression fractures to her spine. She also suffered a fatal bleed to the brain from being violently shaken and thrown into her cot.
Everson got 18 years in prison for murder, and he also got 4 months to serve concurrently for child cruelty and harming Burdett’s three-year-old son.
Kirsty Burdett was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to die or suffer serious physical harm and for child cruelty and neglect of children. She will serve only half that period in custody before she will be released on licence for the remainder of the sentence. She will be eligible for parole in February 2024.
3. David Nolan and Sophie Nash were convicted of and sentenced to 10 years and 8 years imprisonment respectively for causing or allowing the death of their newborn baby daughter Ava, who was just 8 days old, and for child cruelty to or wilfull assault, ill-treatment, neglect of children.
The prosecution made it clear from the start that they could not say which one was responsible for causing her fatal injuries - for that reason neither was charged for murder or manslaughter.
The judge summed up that Ava would have suffered excruciating pain being only 8 days olds and that there was “a deliberate disregard” by both defendants for Ava’s welfare. He also admitted that the offences would merit consecutive sentences, although concurrent were imposed. Neither of the killers showed genuine remorse for the offences. There were 18 separate serious medical findings to various parts of the newborn baby girl’s body. It makes it a distressing reading. Nash will be eligible for parole in 2026 and Nolan in 2027.
4. Laura Heath, who was a heroin and crack cocaine addict using her seven-year-old asthmatic son’s inhaler case, was sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter through gross negligence and 4 counts of child cruelty to or wilfull assault, ill-treatment, neglect of children when her son was found dead in the freezing garden having died of asthma attack, after she had left him home alone at night. She will be eligible for parole in 2035, two-thirds through her sentence. He was living in filthy conditions, and hospitalised on at least three occasions before his death, multiple applications to social services were made by the school.
5. Lorna and Craig Hewitt (43 and 42 years old respectively) both found guilty of intentional false imprisonment with restraint of movement without lawful excuse, and causing or allowing vulnerable adult to suffer serious physical harm. They kept their starving autistic son Matthew Langley, 22, locked in a "disgusting" attic bedroom. Matthew was severely dehydrated and weighed just six stones or 36 kilos when he was found inside the vomit and faeces-covered room. They were each sentenced to 6 years and will be eligible for parole in three years (2025).
6. Elaine Clarke was convicted and sentenced for manslaughter of daughter Debbie (24 years old), who had Down’s syndrome. Clarke was sentenced to 9 years and 7 months. She will be eligible for parole in early 2030. She grossly neglected her daughter. Debbie was described as a little overweight but generally healthy. Older photographs show her with a beaming smile. She loved horses and enjoyed brushing her long hair. By the time of her death, she was found living in filthy conditions, having various severe skin conditions, her hair short or fallen out and was skinny. Her relatives described the conditions as dirty, untidy, even rotten and terrible smell in which she was living due to being left uncared for by her mother, who was receiving enhanced benefits for her care.
The judge summed up the situation in her sentencing remarks as follows: “The scene that confronted the ambulance crews and police officers who had to attend was truly shocking. The smell coming from Debbie’s room was awful. There were faeces on the floor and bed. Debbie was lying on the floor in an unnatural position. Rigor mortis had set in. Her clothing was heavily soiled. Live maggots were found on the floor near to Debbie’s body. The contrast between the happy, smiling girl in the photographs from Leeds and her condition at her death could not be more marked. Her weight at the post-mortem was 3 stones 10 pounds. In 2016, she weighed over 10 stone. Debbie’s face was completely encrusted with scabs and thickened skin, such that she was no longer recognisable as being a young female. Her hair was falling out. There were signs of skin loss and ulceration. The scabies mites had been allowed to breed and multiply reflecting an infection that had taken some time to develop. The pathologist determined that the cause of death was severe emaciation and neglect with extensive and severe scabies skin infection.”
Clarke sought to minimise the responsibility and lied to the police at first. She got discount of nearly 3 years for her later plea.
7. Verphy Kudi got a sentence of 9 years for manslaughter to which she pleaded guilty, after she abandoned her 20-month-old baby girl Asiah at her flat in Brighton for almost six days while she partied in London and Coventry. Asiah tragically died from influenza and starvation after being left unattended at the flat. She called paramedics who found her baby daughter lying on the floor on December 11, 2019.
8. Nicola Priest and Callum Redfern were found guilty of manslaughter but not of murder of a three-year-old Kaylee-Jayde Priest, who died from serious chest and abdominal injuries in a sustained assault. Neither of them admitted responsibility. They received 15 years and 14 years respectively behind bars. Nicola was also found guilty of child cruelty for which she got 3 years to serve concurrently. Jurors had heard how Priest would hit Kaylee around the head and refer to her as a 'f****** brat', while the youngster was also heard crying 'in a fearful tone'. The text messages between Priest and Redfern showed deeply uncaring and abusive tone towards Kaylee and threats to kill her.
9. John Cole, Angharad Williamson and Craig Mulligan, a 14-year-old boy sentenced in July 2022 to life sentences for life of killing five-year-old Logan, Williamson’s son. They tried to cover it up. It was reported that Logan’s body was bruised, grazed and scratched from head to toe, with more than 50 injury sites, and many more individual injuries, recorded. He suffered damage to his brain, liver and stomach. It was said that his death would have been slow and painful.
Williamson and Cole called the police pretending Logan had been kidnapped. Later, when it became apparent that Cole and the teenager were involved in killing Logan, Williamson pretended she did not know about Logan’s killing but the CCTV as well as her story - some of which was recorded on police body cameras and played in court - did not add up.
Logan Mwangi died of the sort of injuries usually found in people who have been involved in a road accident or a fall from a height. Cole and Mulligan killed and disposed of Logan’s body at night throwing him into the river, which they were convicted of by a jury. Teenager Mulligan was said to have previously expressed hate towards Logan and made threats to harm or kill him, which were not taken seriously. A camera from another property revealed that there was constant movement during the night and two people coming out of the house via back door and garden, then someone inside the house switching lights on and off in accordance with the commotion and moving in and out of the house. They were sentenced for life with a minimum term of 29 years, 28 years and 15 years consecutively.
10. Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith killed Star Hobson, Smith’s daughter. Frankie Smith 20, was handed an 8-year sentence for allowing her daughter's death. This was extended to 12 years in March for being too lenient. Brockhill, 28, was convicted of murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years. No appeal was made against her sentence. This was a high profile case.
11. Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes were sentenced for murder and manslaughter of Hughes’ son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. The six-year-old suffered an unsurvivable brain injury while in the care of Tustin at her home in Solihull. The couple's trial at Coventry Crown Court in December 2021 heard Arthur had been poisoned with salt, subjected to regular beatings, denied food and drink and made to stand for hours alone in the hallway of Tustin's house. He died in June 2020.
Tustin got a minimum of 29 years for murder and Hughes was sentenced for 21 years for manslaughter. These sentences are subsequently being reviewed as unduly lenient and whole life order is being considered. Tustin was also convicted of child cruelty. She pleaded guilty to two counts of child cruelty.
At the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, Tom Little QC, representing the Attorney General's Office (AGO), said Tustin's case "merited at the very least consideration of a whole-life order. This was, we accept, not a straightforward sentencing exercise. The trial was plainly a harrowing one for all concerned," he said. Arthur was "subjected to the most unimaginable suffering", he said, adding: "This was an extremely serious example of child murder against the background of that cruelty." The case was high profile in the media.
12. Nathaniel Pope and Alicia Watson convicted for the murder of and causing and allowing child cruelty on three-year-old Kemarni Watson. They were sentenced to life with minimum 24 years and 11 years respectively. Watson was cleared of murder but convicted for child cruelty and causing or allowing child to die. They inflicted more than 20 rib fractures over weeks of beatings, causing him injuries comparable to a car crash. Kemarni died after “a severe and sustained assault” and was left bleeding to death.
13. Carol Hodgson admitted killing her two-year-old baby son and was sentenced to life with minimum of 18 years. A post-mortem carried out following the baby boy's death was recorded as unascertained, but said doctors were unable to rule out suffocation. Police found a small kitchen knife covered in blood on a table opposite the bed in the home. Hodgson was found with a large wound on one side of her neck and a smaller wound on the other side along with a vacuum storage bag was covered in blood.
14. Daniel Boulton sentenced to two concurrent life sentences, with minimum of 40 years behind bars, for killing his ex-girlfriend and her nine-year-old son. The injuries and fatal wounds inflicted on both victims were proved intent and that Boulton knew what he was doing. He stabbed Chloe Vincent 9 times, and her son DJ 12 times right through the heart, and DJ also had stab wounds to face, neck, legs, skull and back.
Compare any of these brutal cases with sentencing of Kurtis Dilks who broke into Ashley Cole’s home and threatened him and his family, some of these sentences above do not present justice for the defenceless babies and children, who were exposed to a prolonged campaigns of horrific abuse and culminating with brutal murders. The headline sentence for Dilks was the 30 years with a 5-year extended period on licence for the horrific offending at the home of Cole. Cole said in a victim impact statement, "the attack on my home, my family and me, and the situation it created, has led to a large range of emotions".
Who defends those murdered children?
How could some of those sentences pass as causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to suffer, when they were very cruel murders or at best manslaughters?
The current law which states that “A person guilty of an offence under this section of causing or allowing a person to suffer serious physical harm is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to a fine, or to both.” In case of death, it is maximum of 14 years.
The bar is already set very low and the maximum punishment is also low for the particular offence. Yes, a more serious count of manslaughter or murder can be considered by the prosecution, but it should not precede nor follow that such a serious offence as allowing your child to die through serious harm should carry such a low minimum and maximum term in the sentencing guidelines. Especially not when only up to half of the sentence is served in prison, the rest is out on licence. Regardless of the possibility of a return (recall) to prison, it is not a full custodial sentence when the offender is eligible for an early parole date.
The sentences are short for the suffering and death inflicted on defenceless babies and children, especially when there are multiple counts (offences). These are not imposed consecutively but concurrently. There is usually a discount applied for plea or other admissions. Whilst this may seem just, it usually means a few years off, which is far from just when the sentence is already short and parole date set halfway through. Even in the most horrific cases the offender can come out after serving just two-thirds of their sentence in prison.