Parents of dead East Kilbride baby jailed for two years after wilful neglect conviction

-Credit: (Image: Hamilton Advertiser)
-Credit: (Image: Hamilton Advertiser)

The parents of an East Kilbride baby who died aged just three months have each been jailed for two years after they were convicted of wilfully neglecting him during his short life.

A jury decided that Stephen Angell, 45, and Laura Stevenson, 46, failed to provide adequate food and nutrition for Stephen junior.

The pair were told by Sheriff Colin Dunipace today (Tuesday): “It’s clear that baby Stephen’s short time on this earth was extremely troubled, from his birth until his tragic death.

“Any parent fortunate to have a child must be aware of the responsibility as well as joy that comes from parenthood.

“You both failed in your duty and neglected him when he was at his most vulnerable.

“Your culpability is exacerbated by your failure to respond appropriately to interventions designed to assist your son.”

Hamilton Sheriff Court heard that health visitors raised concerns about baby Stephen's weight and encouraged the parents to increase the amount of milk he was being given.

But Angell dismissed the advice, saying 'If it's not broken don't fix it'.

The neglect happened at addresses in Alder Crescent, Laurel Drive and Windermere - all East Kilbride - between August and November 2018.

Stephen junior's weight was above average when he was born, but after four weeks he was below his birth weight.

Medical professionals who gave evidence told John Coogan, prosecuting, that the baby spent several days in hospital in October when he put on a significant amount of weight.

Various medical tests were carried out but the results were all normal.

Summing up at the end of the trial, Mr Coogan told the jury: "Concerns were raised that the parents were not meeting their baby's nutritional needs. They did not seem responsive to those needs."

A doctor said Stephen junior was "exceptionally thin" at eight weeks, raising concerns that he was at risk of "long term stunted growth" and at high risk of infection.

During his hospital stay in October the baby was seen to have dirt under his fingernails, under his armpits and between his fingers and toes. There was also a slight body odour.

The court also heard that traces of the drug diazepam were found in a feeding bottle.

Part of the charge stated that the baby was exposed to the risk of ingesting drugs.

The jury was also told of an occasion when baby Stephen was left in the care of a disabled woman whose daughter arrived home to find the baby's nappy and clothing soaked in urine.

Stevenson was sleeping upstairs and appeared to be drunk.

Stephen's cause of death was not established but defence lawyers claimed he could have had a heart defect caused by exposure to codeine while in the womb. The drug had been given to Stevenson when she suffered pelvic pain during pregnancy.

An expert witness told the court that there was a small risk that a baby could develop a heart defect as a result.

Advocate George Gebbie, defending Angell, said his client had told health visitors that the baby vomited when they tried to give him more milk.

This was potentially a symptom of a heart defect but the possibility hadn't been explored and the attitude of the professionals was 'Let's point the finger at Stephen Angell'.

Mr Gebbie said Angell has “serious” health problems and required lung surgery after developing sepsis.

After his conviction in this case he was subjected to a “significant” assault.

Mr Gebbie stressed that none of what Angell had been convicted of was connected to his baby’s death and suggested the neglect was at “the lower end of the scale”.

He urged the sheriff not to jail his client.

Stephen Hughes, representing Stevenson, said she still shows a “high level of denial” and pointed to the evidence of one health care professional who agreed she’d been “doing her best” regarding baby Stephen’s care.

Mr Hughes added: “She has long term mental health problems and in a previous relationship was subjected to domestic abuse including significant violence.

“I suggest custody would not be an appropriate disposal.”

Sheriff Dunipace said he took account of the accused's mental health problems and relative lack of previous offending. He acknowledged that they had not been prosecuted for causing their baby’s death.

But he said the court “has a duty to protect children” and prison was necessary to mark the serious nature of their neglect and deter others.

Referring to social work reports, Sheriff Dunipace added: “It’s a matter of concern that there appears to be little or no remorse on your part. You don’t appear to have recognised the serious nature of what you did and your behaviour doesn’t appear to have changed.”

Angell and Stevenson will be under social work supervision for nine months after on their release.

A South Lanarkshire Council spokesperson said: "This was a tragic case and outcome for baby Stephen and following the child’s death in 2018 South Lanarkshire Child Protection Committee commissioned a Significant Case Review into the child’s tragic death.

"The review was completed by an independent reviewer but has not yet been made public as there was an outstanding court process."

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