A judge has questioned why a couple who let their four young children live in “squalor” in an excrement-covered house were allowed to continue to care for them.
The hungry children, all aged under five, were sleeping in filthy rooms strewn with used nappies and faeces on the walls, and one screaming little girl was found trapped under a bed frame.
Officers had to go out and buy the youngsters food after seeing them pulling at discarded food wrappers in the kitchen - and finding the only item in the kitchen was cannabis hidden in a slow cooker.
Preston Crown Court heard the youngsters were taken away by police under a protection order and placed with their gran - but their parents, who have since admitted neglect, were allowed partial care of them again.
But Preston Crown Court heard, since a decision was made at a meeting in February to allow that scenario, concerns had been raised in various unannounced visits which noted a smell of cannabis, no stairgate, a strong smell of faeces, and flies. A social worker told the court if the concerns with the current “placement” continue, they would issue a 14 days notice with intent to remove the children.
The Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, said: “I do not understand the local authority’s approach. There’s been chance upon chance upon chance.
“You know how terrible and squalid the conditions were. What more chance do these parents deserve? I’m astonished.”
“Surely the priority is the wellbeing of these children not the rights of the parents. Isn’t it about time action was taken?”
Speaking after the case, Lancashire County Council told the Post the children had been returned to their parents on the orders of a Family Court.
The dad, 23, was jailed this week for 14 months but the 29-year-old mother was given a suspended sentence on account of her mental health difficulties.
Prosecuting, Frances McEntee said it was “a case of protracted neglect with the youngsters having been described as kept in conditions of fetid squalor.”
Police officers came across the tots by chance in October 2015 while at the property on an unconnected matter. One officer opened a bedroom door when he heard a child inside.
Mr McEntee said: “He was hit by a vile and horrid stench.
“Officers found there was fecal matter smeared and sprayed across the walls and indeed it had become apparent that the lower half appeared to have been repainted.
“The officers noted 15 heavily soiled nappies full of urine and fecal matter which was open to the air.
“The floor itself was covered in faeces and scraps or stale food and there appeared to be intermingling of the two.
“There were plastic children’s drinking cups with fluid that appeared to be settled, with fecal material on those cups.
“Within that room were two children, dressed in just t-shirts.
“One of them had dried blood across the bridge of this nose and upper lip. Their appearance was described as dishevelled and dirty with food in his hair and stains around the body.
“There appeared to be an abrasion to the forehead which appeared to have been neglected dirty and sore.
“They were very quiet. Neither child appeared to have been cleaned. The room had an upturned bed with a soiled mattress with no bedding or blankets.”
The court heard police checked the other bedroom and one was so appalled by the smell inside, he threw up.
They found a screaming toddler, pinned down by a bed-frame which they had to lift to free her.
The house had no hot running water, a dirty bathroom with a bath full of paint.
The children were seen pulling at empty packets of food and when police went to get them a drink they found their bottles were mouldy.
The court heard the youngsters did not show emotion and were “for all intents and purposes dumb - described as like zombies.”
In interview the dad claimed one had had chickenpox that “must have spread.”
He claimed the children were bathed in the kitchen sink and he had been “trying his best” since his partner had mental health difficulties.
The mum suggested the tots were in habit of taking their nappies off and smearing it on the walls.
Philip Boyd, defending the father, said: “He was a very young man. If he had been more mature and adequate at dealing with difficulties he would have been able to take assistance which was available to him.
“He tried to sort things out himself but they got worse and worse.
“This was not somebody who was being deliberately cruel - he was an inadequate young man feeling he could do it all himself.
Defending the mum, Mark Stewart said she was embarrassed and in a poor position mentally.
The judge told the couple: “You have been given chance after chance, but despite this concerns remain.
“What has happened since is relevant to my decision.
“This was a deplorable and appalling state of affairs. I’m satisfied that all of this shows you have complete indifference to their welfare.”
LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Amanda Hatton, director of Children’s Services at County Hall, said: “The family were referred to the local authority for the first time when the police initially visited the property. At that point we secured placements for the children outside the family home. We put this matter before a family court. However, the Family Court did not agree with this position and the children were placed back in the care of their parents with the local authority undertaking close monitoring of the case. We are now working with extended family members to ensure the ongoing safety and wellbeing of the children.”
An NSPCC spokesman said: “The conditions these young children were forced to live in are horrendous and it is entirely right that the parents were brought to face justice in the courts.
“No child should have to endure such sickening squalor and neglect, and we hope the children receive all the help and support they need to recover from the trauma of their early years in that household.
“It is astounding that the family lived in these conditions for so long and we hope lessons are learned from this horrific case to prevent other children enduring similar neglect.”
Detective Constable Lee Bradshaw-Wood, of the Public Protection Unit, said: “These people displayed an abject failure to provide basic care for such young, vulnerable children.
“The investigation established the feral and dangerous conditions that these poor children were living in. The living accommodation was disgusting and unsafe and the
children were dirty and their clothing was inadequate. No child should have to live in those conditions.
“We are committed to working, along with our partner agencies, to ensure that all children in Lancashire are kept safe from harm. If anyone has concerns around the
safety of a child or young person they should contact us or Lancashire Social
Services. Information can also be passed anonymously via the NSPCC.”
Call 101 or the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or for youngsters Childline on 0800 1111.