Tag Archives: cruelty to children

Mum and stepdad convicted of murder of 4 year old Daniel Pelka

Daniel Pelka

Image from BBC News.

Magdelena Luczak and her partner Mariusz Krezolek were convicted of murder, having previously admitted cruelty to a child. The victim was Luczak’s son, 4 year old Daniel Pelka.

The couple came to Britain in 2006 from Poland. It was alleged that they worked as a team to systematically starve Daniel to death. During the trial, his condition was likened to that of a concentration camp victim by a doctor.

BBC News reports are here, here and here.

Starved

Her case was that she cared for Daniel in the mornings and gave him breakfast. Krezolek cared for him in the afternoons and initially gave him smaller portions to discipline him, but later stopped feeding him all together. Daniel lost a lot of weight over the school holidays and this was noticed by teachers at school.

The prosecution alleged that Daniel was forced to steal food from school and that there were text messages from Luczak to Krezolek discussing bribing Daniel with food to keep quiet about being beaten. Luczak admitted bribing him. She also admitted prohibiting Daniel’s school teacher from giving him food; she said this was to protect him from Krezolek, the inference being that he would be violent if he found out.

It was also alleged that Krezolek fed Daniel salt and water so that he was sick and brought up the food he had eaten at school before his body could gain proper nourishment from it,

Beaten

Luczak denied assaulting Daniel but admitted that she should have done more to protect him as she ‘knew what was really going on at home’.

When asked why she had not taken Daniel to the doctors, she replied “Because Daniel would always have a lot of bruises.

“I tried to make it secret, what was happening to him. That is why I didn’t go to the doctor.”

When asked why, she said “It wasn’t me, it was [Krezolek] but I knew what was happening. I myself don’t understand my actions. I must have loved [Krezolek] to allow such a thing.”

Daniel died in hospital of severe head injuries on 3 March 2012.

Trial

Both denied murder but were convicted on 31 July 2013.

Both Luczak and Krezolek ran defences which blamed each other; Luczak said that Krezolek would not let her feed Daniel and maintained that she had tried to protect Daniel from Krezolek, who was abusive.

Krezolek said in evidence that Luczak stopped him calling an ambulance after Daniel fell because she was concerned social services would notice his bruises.

He said the boy had lost consciousness while Luczak was getting him ready for a bath and Daniel was left for 24-26 hours after his fall before he was seen by a paramedic.

Daniel’s death is- the subject of a serious case review by Coventry’s Safeguarding Children Board.

Sentence

Here is our guide to sentencing in murder cases.

The life sentence is mandatory for those convicted of murder. But the Judge has to set the minimum term to be spent in prison before the pair are eligible for release.

A whole life tariff is normally the starting point in cases the case of the murder of a child if involving sadistic motivation. Now arguably starving and beating the Daniel to death could constitute sadistic motivation, however it seems unlikely that the court would construe this case as one which is appropriate for a whole life order.

This highlights the fallibility of the ‘starting points’ system in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

This case has no features which would fall into either the 30 year or 25 year starting points. So, the starting point would seem to be 15 years, which is a lifetime away from the whole life order that appeared to be hanging in the balance just a few moments ago.

The court then has to consider the aggravating and mitigating factors. The prolonged, wilful and no doubt painful nature of Daniel’s treatment and his subsequent death, and the abuse of trust are certainly going to result in an upward adjustment from the 15 year figure.

The question is simply ‘by how much?’

We will return to the case when the pair are sentenced on Friday 2 August.

Rebecca Shuttleworth sentenced for murder of her 2year old son

On 25 June 2013, Rebecca Shuttleworth was sentenced for murder and cruelty to a child. Her partner, Luke Southerton, was sentenced for one count of cruelty to a child. Both were convicted after a trial.

The victim was Keanu, Shuttleworth’s 2 year old son. His body was found with 37 injury marks.

Rebecca Shuttleworth

This paragraph of the sentencing remarks neatly sums up the facts in relation to Shuttleworth:

He was a defenceless child, and it was your duty to protect him. Instead you beat him so severely that he died a lingering death from his injuries a day or so later. The jury have also convicted you of offences of cruelty to Keanu by assaulting him on several occasions in the months leading up to his death, resulting in significant injuries, count 4, and by ill-treating and neglecting Keanu throughout his short life, count 5. The jury found each and every one of the multiple allegations in those counts proved. You have been convicted of cruelty in neglecting Keanu in the last hours of his life by failing to summon the medical aid he so badly needed. Finally and quite separately you have been convicted of cruelty towards [another child*] in 2005 by deliberately burning her hand and wrist.

The sentence for murder is of course mandatory life imprisonment. The Judge must then determine the minimum term which must be served. An overview of how murderers are sentenced is here.

Before that can be assessed, the judge must determine – and set out – the factual basis on which the conviction is based. This must be faithful to the jury’s verdict, that is, it cannot be inconsistent with it. For example, if the prosecution put their case on the basis that Mr Smith committed ABH by hitting Mr Jones with his fist, the Judge cannot sentence Mr Smith on the basis that he hit Mr Jones with a knuckleduster.

Factual basis

  • There were signs of ill-treatment and neglect from early on in Keanu’s life.
  • Keanu had numerous injuries including bruises, burns and swelling, on his head, back and feet.
  • Keanu’s foot had been held against a radiator and a substantial head wound had been inflicted, possibly with a weapon.
  • Shuttleworth was alone responsible for Keanu’s death.
  • There were many separate blows.
  • There was no intention to kill.
  • The fatal injury to Keanu’s abdomen was likened to the force in a road traffic collision, and must have been inflicted with heavy punches, stamps or kicks.
  • The depth of bruising suggested that Keanu must have been slammed against a wall or floor.
  • He was badly in need of medical attention and that would have been obvious.
  • Medical attention was not sought.

Personal mitigation

  • She had a poor start in life, with a disrupted childhood spent in and out of care.
  • She lost her mother and grandmother within a matter of weeks aged just 18.
  • She was in an abusive relationship at the age of 16 and gave birth to twins.
  • She was aged just 22 at the time.

Starting point

The starting point was 15 years, as there were no other factors which elevated it to the higher categories.

The offence was aggravated by the fact that Keanu was vulnerable because of his age. Indeed the judge said that ‘He was a defenceless child, and it was your duty to protect him.’

There was mental and physical suffering inflicted upon him prior to his death. There was also the grossest abuse of trust – Shuttleworth was his mother and had a duty to protect him. The judge also noted that the fact that the violence inflicted during the fatal weekend was not the first time Shuttleworth had been violent towards Keanu – that too was an aggravating factor.

The judge added that the cruelty count on it’s own was ‘worth’ 4 years determinate and that was factored in. That took the minimum term to 21 years.

The mitigation was substantially reduced by the fact that there was a brutal and sustained assault on Keanu. The personal mitigation outlined above was noted and taken into account.

That reduced the minimum term to 18 years – the equivalent of a 36 year determinate sentence.

Luke Sotherton

He fell to be sentenced for a single count of cruelty to a child – namely biting Keanu as a method of teaching him not to bite. The bite broke the skin, left a large bruise and there were obvious teeth marks.

He was a father of two boys and the Judge found that he treated Keanu very differently to his two sons. The Judge noted that he was of limited intellectual ability. The Judge said: ‘You were weak and, to an extent, naïve.’ but it was accepted that he was not involved in the murder.

The sentence imposed was explained as follows:

The Judge said: You have endured the strain of 5 months on trial for murder, on top of 2 years waiting for the trial to begin. You have spent a total of 13 days on remand during the course of the proceedings. All those factors enable me to take a course which does not involve your going to prison today.

I am satisfied that your offence merits a short term of imprisonment, but for the reasons I have explained I am able to follow the recommendation in the pre-sentence report to suspend that sentence. There will be a sentence of 9 months imprisonment, suspended for a period of 2 years. The supervision requirement will also be for 2 years. In addition you will perform 200hrs of unpaid work for the community within the next 12 months. There will also be a specified activity requirement of 30 days to undertake the victim awareness workbook in order to increase your understanding of your actions and the harm caused.

Comment

In terms of Sotherton, the sentence seems a sensible one. It is pragmatic to adopt the course that the Judge did, and to my mind a fair approach.

Turning to Shuttleworth, someone asked me why the sentence wasnt in the 30-year cateogry. The reason is that to attract a 30-year starting point, the murder of a child has to involve sexual or sadistic conduct. One might ask whether the prolonged and brutal violence inflicted upon poor Keanu was sufficient to satisfy that description. It is not and it is important to note that the judge made no finding in relation to Shuttleworth deriving any pleasure from the injuries caused to Keanu.

Personally, I can see nothing wrong with a final sentence somewhere in the 20s – perhaps 23 or 24 years. I think the aggravating features justified a significant uplift (of which insufficient account was taken) and the mitigating features over-generously reduced the minimum term.

Will there be an appeal by Shuttleworth? Possibly, but she may also fear an Attorney-General’s reference (a prosecution appeal against sentence). It may be that 18 years is just about enough to avoid a trip to the Court of Appeal however.

Father jailed for manslaughter of 3 month-old-child

Facts

Stephen Coukham, of Truro, Cornwall, aged 21, denied murder but admitted manslaughter; he killed his 3-month-old son, Tyrone, by shaking or throwing him. He was aged 18 at the time.

Coukham gave conflicting accounts of when Tyrone had been ill and initially claimed that the child had slipped through his hands.

The Guardian reported: A postmortem found that the baby suffered a “devastating, unsurvivable head injury”. Experts suggested shaking was the most likely cause of death and said there were other internal injuries that may have been caused before the day Tyrone died.

A health worker who visited the family said she had witnessed Coukham “rough handling” the baby, pulling him up by his arms as a two-week-old. But GPs and health professionals said they had had no cause for concern over the baby’s treatment.

Judge’s comments

Mrs Justice Sharp told him: “The precise sequence of events that led to Tyrone’s death will never be known. But you lost your temper because he was crying or wouldn’t stop crying.

“Then in a fit of temper you shook him hard, or threw him down on a soft surface, actions that were likely to cause him harm.”

The judge said she was confident that until the attack in July 2010 Coukham had been a caring parent, and that he had not intended to cause serious harm to his son.

“This crime is, in a real sense, a tragedy for all concerned. For Tyrone, whose life was cut short so young, for Kerry and Tyrone’s wider family, but also for you because you will have to live with the knowledge of what you did for the rest of your life,” she said.

Sentence and comment

Mrs Justice Sharp sentenced Coukham to 3 years and 8 months. As usual, there are no sentencing remarks available.

We know that Coukham pleaded. On the basis that he was given full credit for his plea, the Judge started at around 5½ years. Without a detailed factual background, it is difficult to accurately assess the sentence, however, we are able to ascertain the following:

  • There was an absence of intention to cause Tyrone serious harm,
  • Tyrone was not mistreated or abused,
  • Coukham’s action was (most likely) out of frustration at Tyrone continually crying,

In light of those features, his culpability is somewhat reduced. In mitigation, there is the emotional trauma that the incident will have caused Coukham, his young age and the (probable) irreparable damage it will have done to his relationship with his partner. There is also the issue of good character, which we have no information on.

Sentences for manslaughter vary wildly and for causing the death of a child (charged under Domestic Violence Crime and Victim’s Act 2004 s 5) recent sentences have ranged from 2 years up to 9 years. There is a clear link between the offence of causing the death of a child and manslaughter and the courts treat case law in one as instructive in the other.

R v Burridge 2011 EWCA Crim 2847 saw a father convicted of murder (substituted for manslaughter on appeal) where his 8 week old son had stopped breathing, suffered bleeding on the brain and rib injuries, and subsequently died. It was held that the injuries were caused by the father in a temper and under stress. He received 10 years.

In absence of further detail, it is difficult to go beyond saying that 3 years 8 months is certainly not outside the range of sentences that could be expected for the offence – in fact some may consider it lenient. Of course it is not possible to accurately assess the sentence without the fullest information.