Lancashire childminder who killed baby in her care jailed for more than 12 years

<span>Harlow was in the care of Foster when he sustained traumatic injuries resulting in his death.</span><span>Photograph: Lancashire police/PA</span>
Harlow was in the care of Foster when he sustained traumatic injuries resulting in his death.Photograph: Lancashire police/PA

A Lancashire childminder who killed a nine-month-old baby by shaking him to death has been sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for manslaughter.

Karen Foster, 62, had been due to stand trial at Preston crown court for murdering Harlow Collinge on 1 March 2022 but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter before the jury was sworn in.

The prosecution accepted her manslaughter plea after talking to Harlow’s family.

Described as a “healthy and happy boy”, Harlow was in the care of Foster, a registered childminder with nine years’ experience, when he sustained traumatic injuries resulting in his death.

Sentencing Foster, Mr Justice Cotter told her she “should have been a safe pair of hands” and was in a position of trust.

Instead she had taken on more children than her registration permitted, which had caused her to “lose her temper” with Harlow.

“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.”

In a victim impact statement read to the court before sentencing, Harlow’s mother, Gemma, wrote that Harlow had been a “happy, smily baby whose giggle was infectious” but that she was “struggling to remember even the good times with Harlow” since he was killed.

“How do I explain losing my son in such horrific circumstances? Harlow was enjoying his little life. He was a happy smiling baby,” she said.

The court heard how emergency services were called to an address in Hapton, Lancashire, after Foster reported Harlow was not breathing.

The boy was taken to Royal Blackburn hospital, where scans showed he had significant injuries to his brain. Foster was arrested at the hospital on suspicion of grievous bodily harm.

She was then charged with murder after a postmortem examination showed Harlow, who died four days later in hospital, had sustained a traumatic brain injury caused by “forceful shaking”.

The basis of the manslaughter plea was that Foster had shaken Harlow in frustration after he toppled out of his highchair and began crying.

The defence counsel Michelle Colborne KC said Foster had lied to police, medics and Harlow’s parents after “panic set in” when she realised he was seriously injured. She said Foster had “taken on too much” and was not a “bad human being”.

Karen Tonge, a specialist crown prosecutor, said: “Harlow was just nine months old when Foster forcefully shook him, causing a catastrophic head injury which led to his death just four days later.

“Far from being remorseful following Harlow’s death, Foster prolonged the trauma suffered by Harlow’s loved ones by refusing to take responsibility for her actions until the trial was due to start.”

The Crown Prosecution Service and Greater Manchester police investigation revealed Foster had lied to Ofsted about her personal circumstances and health, and that she had been caring for more children than her registration permitted. She had told parents she was a qualified nurse when that was not true.

Tonge said: “She also lied to Harlow’s mother at hospital when she gave her the impression that she had ‘saved him’.

“In the end, the strength of the evidence was such that Foster had no option but to accept she was responsible for Harlow’s death.”