Stepfather jailed for life over murder of 10-month-old subjected to ‘culture of cruelty’

A man has been jailed for life for the murder of his 10-month-old stepson and will serve a minimum term of 28 years.

Craig Crouch caused “acute physical and mental suffering” to Jacob Crouch over six months, before assaulting him in a “vicious” fatal attack in December 2020.

Crouch, 39, was found guilty of murder and three counts of child cruelty on Wednesday after a jury heard Jacob (pictured) had 39 rib fractures, 19 visible bruises and internal injuries likened to those seen in car crash victims.

Jacob’s mother, Gemma Barton, was also jailed for 10 years for causing or allowing his death and child cruelty, after being cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Jailing Crouch at Derby Crown Court on Friday, Mr Justice Kerr said he was “in some ways, an unlikely murderer” but was “domineering, aggressive, boastful and arrogant” and caused Jacob “intense and prolonged harm”.

He said: “Jacob was a happy, smiley bubbly baby who never complained about the horrific treatment he was receiving.

“He had to put up with it, and he did, often with a smile. Even those who never knew Jacob personally will miss him.

“You caused Jacob acute physical and mental suffering.

“You inflicted first bruising, and then fractured ribs, on this little baby. You have not shown any remorse for what you did.”

Crouch, of Donisthorpe Lane, Moira, Leicestershire, remained silent in the dock, while Barton, of Ray Street, Heanor, Derbyshire, and members of the public gallery wept during the hearing.

A seven-week trial heard Jacob was found dead in his cot at the family home in Foxley Chase, Linton, near Swadlincote in Derbyshire, on the morning of December 30, 2020.

A post-mortem examination concluded he had died from an infection caused by a traumatic bowel injury, with dozens of other injuries also found, despite Crouch saying in a 999 call that Jacob was “fine” just two hours before he died.

Barton, who the judge said had “misplaced affection” for Crouch, said her partner must have been responsible for her son’s death, while Crouch, a former forklift driver, denied all knowledge of how Jacob’s multiple injuries were caused and suggested they were self-inflicted.

But Dr Sarah Dixon, a consultant paediatrician, told the trial it was “not remotely” possible that Jacob could have caused the injuries, which instead were a result of “repeated physical abuse” by Crouch.

Speaking on Friday, prosecutor Mary Prior KC said 22 of the rib fractures occurred in the week of his death.

She said: “Each fracturing event required sustained, significant force by adult hands.

“The severe symptoms of that would have been readily evident to a parent.

“Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this case is that if either of these parents had gone for medical help, Jacob would have lived.

“Therefore, the failure to obtain any treatment for these severe injuries contributed significantly to his death.”

The trial heard Crouch told Barton in June 2020 to be “more regimental” with her son, including by taking him to bed for crying for no reason in order to “not let this take over us”.

In a later text, he claimed he was “starting to get really pissed off” with Jacob, who in one message was referred to as the “devil” by the pair.

In September, when Barton told Crouch she was bathing Jacob, he replied “3 foot deep, just hot water and some bleach xxxx”.

Balraj Bhatia KC, mitigating for Crouch, said he had no previous convictions as his client looked on silently throughout the hearing.

Clive Stockwell KC, representing Barton, said the 33-year-old also had no previous convictions and she was “effectively isolated” by her partner.

He said: “The evidence is supportive of the fact that at all material times, Gemma Barton was coerced and controlled by Mr Crouch and that should be accounted for.

“Gemma Barton did not assault her son and neither did she encourage or assist Mr Crouch.

“She failed to protect her son on that fatal night when she should have been aware, as the jury found, of the risk posed by Mr Crouch, and she will have to live with the reality of that finding, and if the verdict of the jury allies with the truth, so she should.”

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