Published on 28 May 2012 Sections

Couple who locked child in coal bunker jailed

A mother and stepfather are jailed for two years each after they locked their 11-year-old son in a filthy converted coal bunker every night for a year.

The child was put into a six by four-feet concrete “cell” with no heating or toilet as punishment for raiding the family’s fridge, the couple told police after their arrest.

Preston Crown Court heard how the youngster was forced to use a potty as he was locked into the windowless outhouse every night and left to sleep on a dirty mattress with a sleeping bag for a blanket. He was described as being bullied and constantly hungry.

On Monday, the couple, who are both in their 40s but cannot be named for legal reasons, were jailed after an earlier hearing in which they both admitted a single charge of cruelty by wilful neglect. The cruelty occurred between January 2010 and January last year.

Delivering sentence, Judge Norman Wright told how the psychological harm done to the boy “will be unknown”.

“This was a flagrant abuse of power and a gross breach of trust,” he said. “The room has been described as a cell but it seems to me it was akin to a prison cell from a third world country, not the home of an 11 or 12-year-old living in this century in this country.”

After the sentencing, his biological father described his disgust at what had happened, saying that the boy’s mother had limited his access to the child. He said: “It was horrible to think that someone had done that to my son. It was horrible. I would never do it to an animal, let alone a child.”

“Conditions in prison cells and police cells are far better than my son has been kept, and for his age to be treated like that is despicable.”

He added: “I feel guilty. Guilty because I wasn’t there to prevent it.”

Channel 4 News reporter Ciaran Jenkins has been covering the case.
He spoke to Melissa Allen, a psychologist at Lancaster University, and asked her what being confined in such a small space would do to an 11-year-old child.
"Panic, claustrophobia," she told Channel 4 News. "This child might have difficulty in confined spaces for the rest of his life because of this very, very intense experience."
She added: "A young child doesn't necessarily have the cognitive awareness to recognise that this isn't his fault. So I imagine a lot of what he was feeling was internalisation: what have I done to deserve this, why am I in this particular situation?"

Detective Inspector Tony Baxter, of Lancashire Police, told Channel 4 News the it was “one of the most barbaric cases and would be right up there in the scale of neglect”.

He said: “Normally, you get poor living conditions or leaving children alone while parents go to the pub. But to leave a child locked up with no access to the outside world and no access to the types of things his parents would be donig…clearly is extremely worrying.”

The court heard how the boy was only let out to go to school. His teachers raised the alarm after he one day refused to go home, and saw that he was always hungry in class.

Police and social workers visited the house and he was placed in foster care.

Doctors who examined the boy said he was underweight and below average height for his age. He was treated for anaemia.

But the court heard how his behaviour has improved dramatically since he was placed with foster parents – described as a “remarkable achievement for him”.

The mother and stepfather’s lawyers told the court that the boy was “undoubtedly” a very difficult child to manage, but that the parents were inadequate rather than wicked.