Childminder Karen Foster jailed for 12 years for shaking baby boy to death

A childminder who shook a nine-month-old boy to death has been jailed for 12 years and seven months.

Karen Foster, 62, left Harlow Collinge with unsurvivable brain injuries after he had been dropped off at her home with her by his mother, Gemma Collinge, Preston Crown Court heard.

After paramedics were called and Harlow was rushed away by ambulance, Foster hugged his mother at the hospital and claimed the youngster had begun choking and she had slapped him on the back.

But she later tried to blame Ms Collinge for the injuries.

Harlow, who was injured on March 1 2022, died days later in his parents’ arms, having suffered massive brain injuries.

Foster, despite claiming benefits for ill health, was a registered childminder who had been breaking Ofsted rules on the numbers and ages of children she should be caring for, to make more money from parents, the court heard.

She had been accused of murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter just before her trial started last week, for the first time admitting “forceful shaking” of Harlow causing his death.

Relatives of the baby shouted “Scumbag bitch! I hate you!” as Foster was led away from the dock after being sentenced by Mr Justice Barry Cotter.

Passing sentence, the judge described Harlow as a “happy, healthy, much-loved” boy, but said that Foster, despite ill health and pain in her hip, chose to carry on looking after more children than she should have under Ofsted rules, and this contributed to her “loss of temper”.

He said: “You should have been a safe pair of hands to which Gemma Collinge could ensure her precious child.

“I have no doubt you snapped on the 1st of March 2022, in part due to the fact that you were not coping with the demands of caring for four children. You lost your temper and he was on the receiving end.

“You shook an (almost) 10-month-old child so violently to cause devastating injuries. His death was caused in the course of an assault.”

Harlow’s mother, father Allen Frangleton, older siblings and wider family, sat in the public gallery, weeping as Foster’s case was heard and their victim impact statements read out.

Ms Collinge’s statement read: “How do I explain losing my son in such horrific circumstances? Harlow was enjoying his little life. He was a happy smiling baby.”

She also spoke of the “guilt” she felt, having made arrangements to move him to a nursery six weeks after first using Foster as a childminder, due to her own concerns about the number of children being looked after.

“All the red flags I missed,” she continued before recalling Foster trying to comfort her at the hospital, claiming Harlow had choked on pasta.

She added: “She even put her arms around me. I can’t think of anything more evil. It is despicable. I blame myself every day for my son’s death. This monster, Karen Foster, deserves nothing. I hope her actions haunt her.”

Karen Foster court case
Childminder Karen Foster admitted the manslaughter of baby Harlow Collinge (Lancashire Police/PA)

Earlier, Anne Whyte KC, prosecuting, said Foster, herself a mother-of-two and a grandmother, had been a childminder registered with Ofsted for nine years before Harlow’s death.

But when she first registered in 2014, she did not say she was married and lived with her husband or that she sometimes sought help with childminding from other unregistered individuals, or that her health was poor.

In fact Foster made two benefit claims for Personal Independence Payments in 2018 and 2022, claiming she felt constantly drowsy and tired, that sometimes she could barely move, or safely carry out daily living activities.

This was all repeated in her 2022 application, just days before Harlow’s death, suggesting she needed help cooking and going to the toilet.

In December 2021, one mother whose children Foster looked after complained to Ofsted, saying she was looking after too many children, on some occasions up to 10 youngsters.

But Foster told the regulator she did not exceed the permitted number of children and lied to other parents that she had been a nurse and her husband was also a registered childminder.

Her registration permitted her to care for a maximum of six children under the age of eight. Of the six, a maximum of three could be “young” children, defined as young until September 1 following their fifth birthday, but only one child could be under the age of one.

But on certain days Foster was exceeding the ratio permitted by Ofsted, the court heard.

Ms Collinge spoke of the same concerns to her family and she had already made arrangements to move Harlow to a local nursery, but they could only take him until his first birthday.

On March 1 2022, Foster was looking after two children, both aged four, and two, including Harlow, under 12 months – breaking the rules of her registration with Ofsted.

He was dropped off by Ms Collinge at around 11am and all the children were taken to a local park, returning to Foster’s home at 12.45pm.

Within half an hour, Foster was calling 999 to say Harlow was not breathing, adding: “I think he’s choking, he’s had like a fit and he’s not breathing.”

Paramedics arrived at 1.23pm, Harlow’s skin was purple and mottled, he had no pulse, was not breathing and his pupils were fixed.

As he was rushed to the Royal Blackburn Hospital, Foster told medics that Harlow’s mother had said the youngster had been unwell recently.

But Ms Whyte said the truth began to emerge as scans were taken of the boy, showing significant injuries to his brain, associated with the shaking of a baby and he was transferred to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

Consultants there agreed surgical intervention was not possible due to the “catastrophic” injuries to his brain.

Foster was arrested on suspicion of causing Harlow grievous bodily harm.

She was charged with murder after Harlow died four days later on March 5, surrounded by his loved ones.

Foster initially told detectives that Harlow had been in his highchair, had made a type of choking noise and that she had picked him up and slapped him hard on the back.

In her defence Foster had been “exploring” the possibility of blaming Harlow’s injuries on the boy’s mother, before finally admitting causing the injuries herself, though she had shown no remorse, the court heard.

Michelle Colbourne KC, mitigating for Foster, said she had never been convicted of any offence previously, her family described her as a “loving and supportive” mother, and she had simply taken on too many children to care for.

In a statement Harlow’s family said: “We do not know where to begin explaining what it is like losing our son in the most horrific of circumstances.

“Our boy’s life has been taken away by a horrible, fake individual, who we trusted and who promised to care for him.

“No words can describe how it has ruined our lives. The moment we got the call saying he had collapsed changed our lives forever.

“Harlow’s last few days of life were absolutely terrible.

“He tried so hard to fight but, in the end, he just didn’t have the strength, she had done so much damage to him.

“That fateful day when Karen Foster shook Harlow to death will stay with us forever.”

Outside court, Detective Superintendent Allen Davies, of Lancashire Police, said: “Before this reprehensible assault committed by Karen Foster, Harlow Collinge was a healthy and happy baby boy who had his whole life ahead of him.

“That life was so cruelly and unfathomably snatched away by a woman who Harlow’s parents had put their trust in to keep their little boy safe.

“Having inflicted such a devastating and catastrophic injury on Harlow, Foster spun a web of lies which she continued to repeat to medical professionals, the police and Harlow’s parents about how he came to be so gravely unwell.

“Her purpose was to try and protect herself rather than be honest about the child she had a duty of care to keep safe.

“To make it worse for the family, Foster has continued with those lies for over two years, whilst they have been waiting for answers as to what happened to their son and why.

“The case of evidence proved beyond all reasonable doubt that Foster was solely responsible for Harlow’s unlawful killing, meaning Foster finally admitted her guilt last week.

“My thoughts remain with Harlow’s family who have behaved with dignity while dealing with such an unimaginable and unexpected loss.

“They have endured every parent’s worst nightmare and have shown great strength and bravery.”