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Mother and ‘sadistic’ stepfather ‘who enjoyed inflicting pain’ jailed for killing her son

A judge said a stepfather who has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a nine-year-old boy is a “sadistic bully” who gained “pleasure from inflicting pain and discomfort”.

Alfie Steele died in his home in Droitwich, Worcestershire in February 2021 after he was subjected to a cold bath as punishment, a jury heard.

Dirk Howell was sentenced to life for murdering the young boy with a minimum term of 32 years, while Alfie’s mother Carla Scott was sentenced to 27 years after being convicted of manslaughter and child cruelty.

Alfie Steele was just nine years old when he died (Supplied/West Mercia Police)
Alfie Steele was just nine years old when he died (Supplied/West Mercia Police)

Mr Justice Wall said neither Scott nor Howell have “shown any remorse” for their actions.

Addressing Scott, he said she is “a woman who puts her need for male companionship above her duty to protect her children.

“It is revealing that you have maintained your relationship with Howell after he killed your son. It is a sure sign that you approved his actions,” the judge added.

Howell slumped forward in the dock, with his right hand cupping his chin, as Justice Wall told the 41-year-old: “I am sure that you got pleasure from inflicting pain and discomfort.

“In my judgement some of your actions can properly be described as sadistic. The risks of killing him by your conduct were real and obvious.”

On the day of his death, Alfie was found lifeless with a body temperature of 23C and may have been put back in a warm bath as the couple tried to pass off the murder as an accidental drowning, jurors at Coventry Crown Court heard.

Scott rang 999 at 2.24pm and told the call handler that “Alfie had fallen asleep in the bath”.

Alfie was found fatally collapsed at home in Droitwich, Worcestershire, in February 2021 (PA Media)
Alfie was found fatally collapsed at home in Droitwich, Worcestershire, in February 2021 (PA Media)

Howell was not at the house when officers arrived, with Scott later claiming to have found the boy “submerged” and that he had previously “hit his head”.

Jurors also heard that Alfie had 50 injuries all over his body, with only a handful likely to be attributed to normal childhood bumps and scrapes.

Scott, 35, denied murdering her son and told her trial that she had not “belted” Alfie, while her partner claimed to have attempted CPR to revive the schoolboy.

Mr Justice Hall said: “Alfie did not have the quiet death that you tried to portray: a death in which he had an epileptic fit and gently fell asleep in the bath. His death was violent and brutal.”

The court heard that Alfie had “refused” to get in to the cold bath and “called in vain for his grandfather to help him”.

Dirk Howell  has been jailed at Coventry Crown Court for life with a minimum term of 32 years (PA)
Dirk Howell has been jailed at Coventry Crown Court for life with a minimum term of 32 years (PA)
Body cam footage of Howell’s arrest at Droitwich railway station (PA)
Body cam footage of Howell’s arrest at Droitwich railway station (PA)

The judge said that the child’s refusal “sealed his fate” and was “struck repeatedly” and “dunked” in the water,

In a victim impact statement read out in the court, his grandfather, Paul Scott, said: “When I was told Alfie had passed away, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Since then, it has felt like a nightmare.

“When I close my eyes, I have thoughts of him screaming for me to save him. My life has been changed forever for the worst.”

Neighbours had raised concerns for months before Alfie was killed, with a safeguarding review now underway.

In a 999 call made six months before he was killed, a neighbour told police: “It sounds like my neighbours are doing something bad to their kid in the bath.

“Like they are really hurting them. It sounds like someone thrashing around in the bathtub.

“It sounds like you can hear he’s being hit and held under the water or something ... and like loads of thrashing around.”

Carla Scott has been handed jail sentences totalling 27 years (PA)
Carla Scott has been handed jail sentences totalling 27 years (PA)

The call was played to jurors, along with further audio of an emergency call in 2020 in which a concerned resident told the operator “something strange is going on”.

In another call, it was reported that a family known to police had “got a young lad outside” and “had him in the garden standing like a statue”.

Another piece of evidence put before the jury was a video filmed by a neighbour in August 2019, recording Alfie’s voice as he pleaded to be allowed back into his home for around 25 minutes.

Detective Chief Inspector Leighton Harding, of West Mercia Police, reads a statement outside Coventry Crown Court (PA)
Detective Chief Inspector Leighton Harding, of West Mercia Police, reads a statement outside Coventry Crown Court (PA)

Despite a social services plan barring Howell from staying overnight at her home to protect Alfie, Scott frequently flouted this rule and allowed Howell to stay over regularly, the CPS said.

Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Leighton Harding said: “We are aware that the family were known to West Mercia Police and other agencies prior to Alfie’s death.

“The jury heard evidence of 999 calls from neighbours and reports from other people regarding concerns over Scott and Howell’s conduct and treatment of Alfie, which led to police and other agencies having contact and involvement with the family in the months before Alfie’s death.

“I recognise the concerns and questions this raises. We are committed to learning the lessons from Alfie’s tragic death and will fully engage with the review.”