Mother who killed seven-year-old son given life with minimum term of 18 years

A murderer who used a scarf and a cushion to strangle and smother her seven-year-old son has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years.

Lesley Speed, 44, killed Archie Spriggs at their home in Rushbury, near Church Stretton, Shropshire, on the day of a family court hearing, amid a custody battle with her ex-partner.

Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court unanimously convicted Speed on Monday after hearing how she was found with cuts to her neck and wrists in a bathroom, having killed Archie in his bedroom.

Sentencing Speed, who appeared in court via a videolink to HMP Foston Hall, Mr Justice Nicol accepted that she had a “longstanding and chronic” history of mental ill health.

A trial was told that Archie was killed during an “acrimonious” dispute between Speed and his father, Matthew Spriggs.

The judge told Speed: “There can be no greater abuse of trust than to kill a child whom you should be protecting.

“You may have believed that it would be harmful for him to live with his father.

“That’s as may be, but, even if your belief on that score was genuine, it cannot begin to excuse your action.”

The judge also accepted that Speed had tried to take her own life after the murder, having left a “chilling” note for Mr Spriggs.

The judge added: “Archie was only seven years old at the time of his death. He was described as a playful and bubbly child who was interested in how things worked.

“His teachers said that he was chatty and popular, kind and caring, with a good sense of humour. It was this life which you cut short.”

Speed, who denied murdering Archie on September 21 last year, remained silent as sentence was passed.

In a victim impact statement read to the court before the sentencing, Mr Spriggs said the authorities should have done more to protect Archie.

Accusing the child protection system of being biased against fathers, he said of his son’s murder: “I did all I could to protect my son but was denied the support I needed to do so.

“There is something wrong with a system which allows one parent to dismiss legal proceedings without consequence and an even bigger problem when despite laws on equality, the assumption is that a mother must be ‘good’ and a father ‘bad’.

“There were so many failures and missed opportunities to safeguard Archie but because the concerns were raised by myself, his father, they were dismissed.

“One person committed this heinous act against an innocent little boy but others were also complicit. Archie’s death could have been avoided. He should be with me now.”

Defence counsel Rachel Brand QC submitted that Speed had suffered from a depressive illness for several years, which has led to a “distorted and negative” pattern of thinking.

Ivan Powell, independent chair of the Shropshire Safeguarding Children’ Board, said: “The death of any child is very sad, particularly when in such tragic circumstances, and our thoughts are with Archie and his family.

“The SSCB has already commissioned a serious case review which will consider the way in which agencies worked both individually and together in this case, and explore whether there is a need to improve the way they work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in Shropshire.

“The family have been informed of this and they will be given the opportunity to contribute to the review process.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) West Mercia Constabulary / PA Wire.