'Lazy and selfish' Blackpool mum starved disabled daughter to death in dark, faeces-covered room

A 'lazy and selfish' Blackpool mum who starved her disabled daughter to death in a filthy bedroom covered in takeaway boxes and used nappies has been jailed.

By Wes Holmes
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 1:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th February 2022, 4:58 pm

Elaine Clarke, 49, of Garden Terrace, South Shore, 'bought herself handbags and shoes' while her 24-year-old daughter, Debbie Leitch, wasted away in a dark, faeces-covered room which 'smelled of death'.

Debbie, who had Down's Syndrome, weighed just 3st 10lbs when she was found dead at the family home on August 29, 2019.

She had been suffering from a severe skin infection, Norwegian scabies, which had spread to such an extent that paramedics and police attending the scene were unable to identify whether she was male or female.

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Debbie Leitch

In Preston Crown Court today, John Harrison QC, prosecuting, said: "Debbie was extremely emaciated with a severe rash to the scalp, the face and the soles of the feet. The jumper and trousers worn by the deceased were filthy and mites were found crawling on them. A urine soiled nappy was found inside her trousers.

"A live maggot was found next to the body.

"As her clothing was cut away from her body, bits of skin came away with it as it had adhered to her body. Mites were found crawling all over her back. The trousers were covered in liquid faeces.

"Debbie's hair was falling out due to the scabies rash. Her face was covered with the rash.

Elaine Clarke

"Debbie's ribs were visible through the skin. All of her limbs were wasted and the rash was widespread on them.

"Her buttocks were completely covered in faeces which extended down to the thighs.

"As the body was examined, large areas of skin fell away from the body... More than 30 per cent of her skin was covered in the rash, which was more severe in some parts of the body than others."

Clarke's niece Sammy Muggerridge, visited the Garden Terrace home a month before Debbie's death, when she found the 24-year-old lying on a filthy mattress in a dark, foul-smelling room covered in takeaway boxes and dirty nappies.

She warned Clarke that Debbie would die if she was not looked after, and reported her to social services.

She said: "I'll never forget the last day I saw Debbie alive. I knew she was ill and not well, but the sight of her in the room will live with me forever.

"The stench was unbelievable... I can only describe it as the stench of death.

"Debbie was so skinny. Her hair had been hacked off. Her skin looked like raw flesh. It was like something out of a horror movie."

Following the safeguarding report on July 26, a GP from Whitegate Health Centre arranged a home visit that day.

Clarke then made efforts to clean up the room and put her daughter in the shower. The court heard: "Debbie screamed throughout the shower. The pain on her skin must have been excruciating."

Clarke reassured the doctor that she was treating her daughter's skin infection with medication. He made arrangements to visit again on August 12, but when he arrived he was unable to gain access to the property, and follow-up attempts from the health centre were ignored.

Clarke similarly presented Debbie to Blackpool Council social workers, telling them she was 'doing really well, was eating really well, and was spending time downstairs'.

Debbie's condition continued to deteriorate, and she was heard crying and calling 'mummy, mummy,' by a neighbour in the days leading up to her death.

When Clarke, who was paid £215 a week to care for her daughter, finally called 999 on the evening of August 29, it was determined that Debbie had been dead for between eight and 36 hours.

Clarke initially denied the unlawful killing of her vulnerable daughter, but changed her plea to guilty in January just 10 days before the case was due to go to trial. Her former partner Robert Bruce, 45, from Rothwell in Leeds, was charged with allowing or causing the death of a vulnerable adult, but this was later dropped.

Sentencing her to nine years and seven months for gross negligent manslaughter, Judge Amanda Yip said: "You are responsible for Debbie's death. You were her mother, she lived with you and you were also paid as her carer.

"You have at times continued to minimise your responsibility... You say you did your best. You may be in denial, to yourself as much as others, but you cannot say that is true. Not only did you not do your best, but you must have done absolutely nothing to care for her.

"Instead, you simply abandoned her to die alone, in pain, without nourishment, in the most awful state. The pain she must have felt is apparent."

She added: "Debbie was starved, the scabies was allowed to run out of control, she became more and more weakened until she died. In her last days, she was denied the most basic care and dignity."

Ms Muggerridge said: "Debbie was a happy child growing up, but I didn't feel she got the attention and affection she deserved. She loved horses and she would often stand in the mirror brushing her long hair. All she wanted was love and affection from her mother. Unfortunately Elaine never gave it to her.

"Anything Debbie got always seemed to be an afterthought. She was rarely taken out socially and was left at home when Elaine and Robert went out. She wore Elaine's clothes because she never had any of her own.

"Elaine has always been a lazy and selfish mother, only interested in her own personal needs. She'd buy herself handbags and shoes but was too lazy to get out of bed to look after her family. She neglected her children.

"People were always trying to help Elaine, but she always rejected help, believing she knew better.

"Debbie didn't have a life. It was robbed from her by the one person who should have cared for her: her mother."

Clarke must serve at least two thirds of her prison sentence before she is eligible for release, after which she will remain on licence.

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