The parents put the tots to bed in rooms covered in filthy open nappies, in a house branded “feral and dangerous” by police.
All four youngsters had rashes, temperatures and skin ailments when police rescued them from their Leyland home and took them to hospital. One officer was so overpowered by the smell of faeces in the property that he was repeatedly sick.
At Preston Crown Court, each parent admitted four counts of neglect after a judge was told the youngsters, all under five, were so thirsty and hungry when police found them that officers had to go out and buy them food, because there was nothing in the kitchen - except cannabis in a slow cooker.
They found a baby in a bouncer two feet away from a halogen heater, naked except for an overflowing nappy, a screaming little girl trapped under a bed frame in a room full of faeces and flies, and two toddlers in a bedroom with excrement sprayed on walls and exposed carpet rods.
The parents cannot be named to protect the identity of the vulnerable children, who were described in court as acting like “zombies”.
The 29-year-old mum shook violently and cried in the dock, while the 23-year-old father appeared calm as he sat beside her.
He was jailed for 14 months but the judge accepted her mental condition meant she simply was not able to cope and suspended her 14-month sentence for two years, with a rehabilitation requirement.
The Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, criticised the local authority’s approach to the case, asking why the parents had been given “chance upon chance upon chance” after learning their access to the children had continued.
The judge told the couple: “This was a deplorable and appalling state of affairs. I’m satisfied that all of this shows you have complete indifference to their welfare.”
Prosecuting, Frances McEntee said: “This is a case of protracted neglect, the youngsters having been described as kept in conditions of fetid squalor quite literally.
“Those matters came to light quite by chance quite by chance on October 25, 2015, at 11.45am.
“Officers had attended the address in relation to an unconnected matter, looking for a third party.
“Whilst they were dealing with the defendant, who had appeared at the door in just his underwear, the mum came forward protesting at the officers coming to her property suggesting they were bullying her.
“Permission was given for a search.
“Whilst they were on landing they noticed three bedrooms two of which had the door shut. A child could be heard.
“The door was tightly shut. The officer opened it and 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.
Mr McEntee added: “The officer describes a response of retching at the smell - one officer was sick into his mouth a number of times.
“It was a similar state. Toys were strewn out over the floor. The state of the room was further enhanced by the number of flies buzzing around.
“The officer heard a child screaming and asked if there was a child in the room. The defendant denied this but the screaming continued.
“It could not be seen at that stage but having searched the room, officers located the toddler trapped against a mattress which was situated under a mattress, pinned down by the bedframe. Together they lifted the frame and pulled her out.”
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.
Speaking after the heating, Detective Constable Lee Bradshaw-Wood, of Lancashire police’s 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.”
The Post has asked County Hall to respond to the judge’s criticisms on the case.