Judge Demands Answers From Cumbria Social Services In New Child Cruelty Case

Cumbria’s top judge has demanded answers from social services after a little girl was found living in a squalid drug den.

Police rescued the toddler from her Carlisle home, which stank of stale urine and contained cereal boxes full of needles, after initially calling there on another matter.

Judge Paul Batty QC wants to know why social services failed to intervene to help the girl, after they received a tip-off about her plight.

It is the second case in just a week in which social services have been questioned over an apparent lack of action.

Judge Batty will sentence Allan O’Shea – the youngster’s drug-using father – at Carlisle Crown Court on Monday for what he called the appalling neglect of a child.

He told the 38-year-old, who lives in the city, that he wanted time to reflect on whether he was guilty of short-term neglect of his daughter or of ill-treating her.

O’Shea admitted a charge of child cruelty by neglect when he appeared at the court on Thursday afternoon when he was remanded in custody.

The girl’s mother, who can’t be named for legal reasons, was given a 60-day suspended prison sentence when she admitted a similar charge at the magistrates court. She had a heroin habit. Prosecutor Alan Lovett said police called at the couple’s home last April with regard to an unrelated matter.

Officers found two men there and the toddler in a playpen in a bedroom. There was a very strong smell of urine and the room was filthy. O’Shea and the child’s mother were both missing.

Detective Constable Pamela Hodgson, from the public protection unit, arrived and found there was no food for the child or cooking facilities and that the fridge was empty. Cereal packets were full of needles.

The child’s room had no lightbulb, her cot was damaged and the bedding was stained. There was an unbearable smell of urine and faeces from a travel cot.

Meanwhile a carpet was so stained that the little girl, who was very pale, was walked across it on a parent’s feet.

It emerged that the toddler was fed and washed at another house.

When O’Shea returned to the property he was not coherent and could not stand still. He was clearly under the influence or drink or drugs.

When he was interviewed later, he accepted that conditions at the house were not fit for a child.

He admitted to a problem with heroin but did not realise there were empty syringes in the cereal boxes. The girl was removed to foster care.

Mr Lovett said there had been an anonymous referral to social services in January 2008 about the conditions that the little girl was living in. The caller claimed they were appalling and that curtains at her home were never open.

Judge Batty asked for a full explanation for the apparent inaction of the social services department between January and April.

Greg Hoare, defending, conceded it was a shocking and disturbing case but said the girl had not actually been maltreated.

He said: “O’Shea is guilty of shocking fecklessness but he is not an arch villain. He feels disgusted it got like this. He is essentially a decent man who went off the rails after losing his job as a bin man following an accident at work and dropping into a drugs habit. This case shows the depths of degradation that people who indulge in hard drugs can reach.

“But this girl was not singled out for ill-treatment – it was a case of her living in general squalor.”

A spokesman for Cumbria social services said they would not be commenting on the case until after O’Shea was sentenced.

The case comes just a week after another couple living in Carlisle were jailed for their roles in the horrific abuse of their three-year-old daughter, who had 200 scars from injuries her father inflicted on her.

In that case, Judge Peter Hughes QC called for lessons to be learned after commenting how social workers and health workers missed opportunities to check on the child. Rueben Williams was jailed indefinitely for three counts of GBH. Elodie Massacrier was jailed for 30 months for failing to report what was going on at their home in Stanhope Road, Carlisle.

Cumbria County Council has reviewed the case but won’t reveal the findings of the inquiry at the moment. Officials have urged people in the community to be vigilant.

Detective Superintendent Andy Slattery, who leads Cumbria Constabulary’s Public Protection Unit, said: “It is unfortunate and sad that two cases relating to the abuse or neglect of young children have come to light this week as Cumbria Constabulary and its partners, particularly Children’s Services, work hard to safeguard children and in the vast majority of cases do so very successfully.

“It is important that cases such as these are highlighted to the community to demonstrate how seriously the police, partner agencies and the criminal justice system treat cases of child neglect.”