Baby returned more quickly to parents’ care despite social worker concerns, murder jury told

A baby boy allegedly murdered by his cannabis-smoking parents in a “savage” attack was returned to their care over eight weeks by a court order, despite social workers asking for a longer transition, a jury has been told.

Stephen Boden, 29, and Shannon Marsden, 22, are accused of killing 10-month-old Finley Boden on Christmas Day during the winter 2020 Covid lockdown – 39 days after he was placed back into their care.

Prosecutors said they jointly carried out the murder, after burning and beating him “in repeated acts of severe violence” and, to this day, remained “in it together”.

Jurors have already heard Finley suffered a catalogue of “appalling” injuries, including two burns, one likely “from a cigarette lighter flame”, 57 fractures – including to his collarbones, thighs, and pelvis – and 71 bruises, some up to two weeks old.

On Tuesday, Derby Crown Court (pictured) heard how a report by the family’s social worker had recommended a six-month transition back to the parents’ care – three times longer than the eight-week period which was ordered at a court hearing concerning the child’s care, in October 2020.

Jurors previously heard child protection concerns meant Finley was removed from his parents’ care shortly after being born in February 2020.

Social worker Emiley Hollindale, who worked with the family from January 2020 until shortly after Finley’s death in the December, authored a report in which she recommended a longer transition because of concerns about Marsden and Boden’s parenting capabilities.

The trial jury have not been told what evidence was heard for the October 2020 court hearing.

Ms Hollindale, in her evidence to the murder trial, described how the couple’s cannabis use was monitored by social services through hair-strand testing, because their substance abuse was a risk to Finley.

Mary Prior KC, prosecuting, asked why the substance’s use was checked, with the social worker replying: “Because of the impact it could have on the child should he be returned to the care of his parents, particularly safe use of cannabis.

“We can’t assess that risk without knowing what the risk was.”

The court heard evidence both parents used cannabis, although Marsden was “not being open and honest” about the level of drug use, claiming she had not used cannabis “since July 2019”.

Marsden “previously denied using cannabis while pregnant with Finley”, according to Ms Hollindale, but testing had found she had been smoking the drug while carrying her baby.

Hair tests for Marsden later found “a significant increase in the use of cannabis” in early summer 2020.

Boden’s hair tests showed he was using a “significant amount of cannabis on repeated occasions”, and “had accepted smoking cannabis”, added Ms Hollindale.

Ms Hollindale noted the couple’s drug use as one of several “concerns” within a report which informed the October 2020 court proceedings.

In August 2020, she also spoke of being “verbally abused” by the couple from their bedroom window at the family home in Holland Road, Old Whittington, Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

There were further concerns about “clutter” around the property, while the smell of cannabis was noted in the home’s master bedroom, where there was a Moses basket, during a social services home visit in February 2020.

Ms Prior asked: “At that stage, despite those concerns, the local authority’s recommendation was for a return for the child to go back to its parents, wasn’t it.”

She added: “Your recommendation included a six-month period of transition.

“That means going back slowly over a six-month period, together with a supervision order for 12 months to the local authority.

“That is the recommendation that went before the court?

“The risk you were identifying related to the parents: if they were unable to sustain their home conditions and do so consistently, the child was at risk of suffering neglect, physical and emotional harm?”

Ms Hollindale replied: “Yes, those concerns had not been completely excluded.”

The social worker also recommended continuing the hair-testing in her report, but Ms Prior confirmed “no mandatory hair-testing” was made in the October 2020 court ruling.

After Finley was returned to his parents, Ms Hollindale saw the baby during an arranged home visit on November 19, 2020, when he was “alert and smiley”.

She noted a 4cm bruise “on the top of his forehead”, but the parents said it had been accidental.

On November 27, 2020, Ms Hollindale carried out an unannounced visit to the family home.

After failing to get an answer by knocking the door, she looked through a window and, describing what she saw, said: “Finley was lying on the sofa, by himself, in the living room.”

She continued knocking “for around 10 minutes” then rang Marsden’s phone, to be told: “They were in, but upstairs in the bedroom… listening to music and hadn’t heard me knocking at the door.”

Ms Hollindale was invited in and said she advised Marsden and Boden against leaving the baby alone on a sofa but added that, while she did not pick up Finley, he seemed “settled”.

She told the court it was the last time she saw baby Finley alive.

Boden, of Romford Way in Barrow Hill, Chesterfield, and Marsden, of no fixed address, deny murder, two counts of child cruelty, and two charges of causing or allowing the death of a child.

The trial continues.

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