Mother's heartache and anger after baby son murdered by 'sadistic' woman trying to adopt him

·5-min read
Laura Castle. (BBC)
Laura Corkill is angry at council authorities. (BBC)

A grief-stricken mother whose baby was murdered by the woman trying to adopt him has criticised council authorities and said they should take some responsibility for his death.

Laura Corkill described her son Leiland-James Corkill's killer, Laura Castle, as “an evil sadistic monster” for murdering her one-year-old in January last year.

Castle, 38, was jailed in May for a minimum of 18 years for the murder of the one-year-old, who had been placed with her and husband Scott, 35, less than five months before his death from catastrophic head injuries.

The youngster was a “looked-after child” who was taken into care at birth before he was approved to live with his prospective adoptive parents in Barrow-in-Furness from August 2020.

On Thursday, a child safeguarding practice review into the case found that Castle had previously told a therapist she had anger management issues and drank six bottles of wine a week.

The “critical information” disclosed by Castle was not shared with her GP and consequently was not available to the adoption panel that went on to approve her.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the review's publication, Ms Corkill, from Whitehaven, said Cumbria County Council was also to blame for removing her son from her 48 hours after he was born.

Leiland-James was killed shortly after his first birthday.

She had previously been a victim of domestic abuse and had other children removed from her in the past. Ms Corkill claims she was assured she would be allowed to keep her child prior to him being born.

Cumbria County Council disputes this and says Ms Corkhill was told three times it planned to remove the child.

Ms Corkill also hit out at council decisions surrounding the adoption process, telling the BBC: “Why did they place him there? Why did it take them so long to pick up on it?

“They should have cancelled the adoption order.”

The child safeguarding practice review into the case revealed that Castle, who already had a birth child, was receiving “talking therapy” with an NHS-commissioned service when she applied in January 2019 to be an adoptive parent.

Information held by the First Step programme showed she had issues with “low mood, anxiety and anger management”.

The review added: “This included her self-report that she was often irritable and short-tempered, including shouting too much at her young child.

Laura Castle has been jailed for life for the murder of Leiland-James Corkill. (PA)
Laura Castle has been jailed for life for the murder of Leiland-James Corkill. (PA)

“She spoke about feeling judged by other parents and that she avoided company. She also reported drinking six bottles of wine a week which impacted on her motivation and mood, although she denied it had an impact on her parenting.”

Castle failed to mention those details in the adoption application process and no safeguarding concerns were raised by First Step, which was not aware the couple had applied to adopt, the review said.

'I just froze'

Ms Corkill has also claimed that she was prevented from seeing her son after he was taken to hospital following the fatal attack.

She said she was told he was ill in hospital, but was not told which one until 24 hours later. When she arrived at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool the following day he had already died from his injuries.

"I asked the person who phoned me 'which hospital?' They wouldn't give me it until 24 hours later. By the time I got there, he'd already been dead. I just froze for about five, 10 minutes."

She told the BBC: “I said whoever had him had killed him. The surgeon told me ‘we had suspicions of this and it went into investigation as soon as Leiland-James went into the hospital’.”

Laura Castle had claimed the baby’s death was a tragic accident. (PA)
Laura Castle had claimed the baby’s death was a tragic accident. (PA)

Castle maintained the death was a tragic accident until the day the jury was sworn in for her trial at Preston Crown Court.

She entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter and went on to say that she had shaken Leiland-James because he would not stop crying, and his head hit the armrest of the sofa before he fell off her knee on to the floor.

However, medical experts told the court the degree of force required to cause his injuries would have been “severe” and likely to be a combination of shaking and an impact with a solid surface.

Prosecutors said Castle killed the boy as she lost her temper and suggested she smashed the back of his head against a piece of furniture.

Jurors unanimously found her guilty of murder.

Speaking after the publication of the report, John Readman, Cumbria County Council’s executive director for people, said: “What we know now, from the trial and this review, is that Laura Castle deliberately and repeatedly misled and lied to social workers about vitally important aspects of her life, including her mental and physical health, her alcohol use and debts.

“We also know that relevant information about Laura Castle was not shared between agencies and that more could have been done to clarify some of the information we were provided with.”

Professor Sarah O’Brien, chief nursing officer for NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board, said: “Information sharing was not good enough throughout the critical stages of the adoptive process. Steps have already been taken locally to address this and a recommendation to change national guidance has also been made.”

Asked if she accepts a safeguarding referral should have been made by the First Step service, she said: “Looking at it now with everything we know, yes I think there was probably enough there or to have at least gone and maybe had a discussion with other professionals who knew the family.”