Parents jailed for life for ‘savage’ murder of ‘perfect’ baby son Finley
A mother and father who murdered their “perfect” baby son on Christmas Day have been jailed for life and will serve respective minimum terms of 27 and 29 years.
Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden (pictured) inflicted 130 separate injuries on 10-month-old Finley Boden before his fatal collapse in 2020, including 71 bruises, 57 bone breaks and fractures, and burns.
Finley had fractures to his collarbones and thighs, while his pelvis had been broken in two places, possibly from sustained “kicking or stamping”, with injuries likened to a multi-storey fall.
He also had two burns on his left hand – one “from a hot, flat surface”, the other probably “from a cigarette lighter flame”.
Handing the pair life sentences at Derby Crown Court on Friday, Mrs Justice Amanda Tipples said the pair were “persuasive and accomplished liars” who inflicted “unimaginable cruelty” on their son.
She said: “You both knew that Finley was very seriously ill and dying… yet you deliberately failed to seek any medical help for him and you made sure that he was not seen by anyone that could have rescued him and taken him away from your care.
“He was subject to repeated abuse on multiple occasions. Once the injuries had been inflicted, Finley’s daily experience was one of considerable pain, distress and suffering.
“It was obvious to both of you by December 16 that Finley was very seriously injured, and he was utterly miserable.
“He was no longer able to sit up and play with his toys. He was unable to feed himself.”
She added: “By the evening of December 23 he was plainly dying. There was nothing subtle about this at all. It was plainly obvious to both of you.”
Immediately before she passed the sentence, the judge said: “Neither of you have shown any remorse at all for what you have done.”
The pair showed no emotion and remained silent during sentencing, while family members wept in the public gallery as Mrs Justice Tipples detailed the horrific abuse they inflicted on Finley.
He had been in the care of Boden, of Romford Way, Barrow Hill, Chesterfield, and Marsden, of no fixed address, for just over a month after a Family Court deemed they did not pose an unmanageable risk to their son in the weeks before his murder.
In documents submitted to the Family Court, Boden, 30, described his son as “perfect” and Marsden, 22, said he was a “cuddly, chunky munchkin”.
But in the time he spent at his family home in Holland Road, Old Whittington, Derbyshire, Finley was the victim of what prosecutors called a “savage and brutal” campaign of abuse, surrounded by squalor in the home of his cannabis-using parents.
Images shown to the jury depicted a house full of clutter with cannabis paraphernalia next to gone-off baby formula and items of Finley’s clothing covered in his blood, saliva and faeces.
Documents, since released to the PA news agency by the courts, show that at the Family Court hearing in October 2020, magistrates were shown images of a tidy home and heard from the parents that they “had worked really hard to make changes”.
The court ordered he should be returned to them within eight weeks and did not order further drug testing despite Derbyshire County Council raising “some concerns” over their parenting abilities and asking for a four-month transition.
The Family Court system that gave Finley Boden back to his killer parents
The case of Finley Boden shone a spotlight on the often hidden world of Family Court hearings.
The order giving the baby back to his parents sparked a sequence of events that culminated in his murder at their hands, despite concerns being raised about their drug use and parenting abilities by social services.
His case has raised questions over how and why he came to be back in Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden’s care just over a month before he died on Christmas Day 2020.
But now a leading family barrister has explained the process and steps that are being taken to improve transparency in the system.
Lucy Reed KC is a family barrister specialising in children for 22 years, based in Bristol and London.
She explained that Family Courts become involved when social services have child protection concerns, but need the court’s input to manage this, such as when it feels a need to safeguard a child by removing them from their parents without their agreement.
Mrs Reed said that due to the individual nature of every case, each can progress very differently.
She said: “Things can evolve and run in different ways, but the very general structure is that the local authority will often, but not always, come to court saying ‘things are so serious that we want to remove this child from the care of their parents whilst we work out what the longer term plan is’.
“The court will have to make that decision quite early on, and then there will usually be a process of assessment and gathering of evidence.
“The parents will be able to see all of that evidence and respond to it at an appropriate time, and either matters will be resolved by agreement once all of that evidence is in or the court will, if it’s not agreed, list a hearing at which all of that evidence can be tested.
“That will make a decision to resolve the dispute about what should happen to the child in the longer term.”
The court has a “wide menu of options” on safeguarding a child, Mrs Reed said, and children can either stay or be returned to their parents, be cared for by other relatives or placed in foster care, or be adopted.
A case management hearing first outlines a plan, including how much evidence will need to be gathered and by when, and decides whether the child needs to be removed while proceedings are ongoing.
Parents are represented through legal aid at these hearings, and the child will also be represented, usually by a social worker employed by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
In child protection cases, guardians are appointed automatically and will represent the child through their own lawyer at Family Court hearings, as in Finley’s case.
Once all parties have submitted evidence on how they think the case should conclude, a second hearing, called an Issues Resolution Hearing, is arranged.
If all parties agree on a solution, the case may end by agreement, but if not, a trial is scheduled so evidence can be heard.
Final rulings are then made by lay magistrates, who are untrained volunteers who are assisted by a trained legal adviser, or district judges, who are trained and can perform the role full-time.
In Finley’s hearing on October 1 2020, a representative for Derbyshire County Council said “all parties” agreed that he should be returned to his parents, but there was disagreement over the length of the transition and the need for Boden and Marsden to be subject to drug testing.
While the council wanted a four-month transition, the Cafcass guardian and parents advocated an eight-week plan with supervision to follow, with two lay magistrates ordering the latter and stopping short of ordering further drug testing.
Following Finley’s death, Cafcass said that “no one could have predicted” that Boden and Marsden were “capable of such cruelty” given what was known at the time, and Mrs Reed said the views of Cafcass guardians are influential in Family Courts.
She said: “If a Cafcass officer makes a recommendation, the court has to have a good reason for departing from it and they can’t just say ‘we don’t like that’, they would have to give reasons for departing from that view.
“When predicting risk, sometimes guardians get it right, sometimes they don’t, the same as social workers, but the view of Cafcass would be generally well-respected and influential.”
She added: “The guardian was advocating for quicker rehabilitation, based on what they thought was necessary and proportionate, in terms of the risks that had been identified and proved.”
Cases are meant to conclude within 26 weeks, and while Mrs Reed says that “this doesn’t always happen” due to a number of factors, including backlogs exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, cases can be extended by eight weeks at a time if justified by their circumstances.
Mrs Reed is also chairwoman of the Transparency Project, aimed at providing access and insight to the Family Courts after decades of calls to show how justice is done.
While she believes that the process must retain some degree of privacy due to the vulnerability of children and adults involved in it, she said greater openness could be achieved “in a sensible way”.
She said: “The family court, whether it’s magistrates, or district judges, circuit judges, High Court judges, they’re making really serious decisions.
“Magistrates, who are not lawyers, have the power to remove people’s children, and to have them placed for adoption.
“Those are really big, important decisions and the public are entitled to understand how those decisions are made.
“I think lots of people whose lives have been touched by the family court or by social services, maybe even those that haven’t, are frightened of and suspicious of the process.
“The more we can bring information into the public domain and understand a bit more about where things might be going wrong, the better our chances are as a system of identifying the problems and then taking steps to improve things.”
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