Parents killed baby after family court told they did not pose unmanageable risk

Ten-month-old Finley Boden was placed back in his drug-taking parents’ care just months before they murdered him after a Family Court was told they did not pose an unmanageable risk, new documents show.

A transcript of a Family Court hearing, held over the phone during the pandemic, has been released following an application to the High Court by the PA news agency and other media.

It shows that despite calls by the local council for a gradual four-month transition back into the care of parents Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden and drug testing for the pair, the court ordered he be returned to them within eight weeks without any tests.

It also reveals that Finley was given back to his parents despite them appearing to lie about their drug use, with multiple drug deals taking place in the days immediately before his murder.

Finley died on Christmas Day 2020 after a campaign of abuse at the hands of Marsden and Boden, which left him with 130 injuries including multiple bone breaks and fractures, bruises and burns.

The 10-month-old died just over a month after being returned to his parents’ full-time care at their home in Old Whittington, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, in November 2020, after a court order made at a hearing at Chesterfield Justice Centre on October 1.

The transcript of that hearing shows that the parents were said not to “pose such a risk” to Finley that it was “not manageable” or required him “to be placed out of their care in the foreseeable future”.

Shannon Marsden with Finley prior to his murder (Derbyshire Police/PA)
Shannon Marsden with Finley prior to his murder (Derbyshire Police/PA)

The documents also show the court ordered Finley to be returned to his parents within eight weeks, despite social services asking for a four-month transition due to having “some concerns” over Boden and Marsden’s cannabis use and parenting abilities.

Finley was placed under a care order a month before he was born due to concerns over the home environment and his parents’ use of the class B drug.

Other documents released by the court show that the house was found by social workers to smell of urine and cannabis, with litter and flies around the property.

While being looked after by carers, Finley began to see his parents at scheduled meetings, which were also attended by social services.

While Boden and Marsden were found to make improvements while Finley was in care, including cleaning the house and decreasing their drug use, social worker reports from September 2020 said that the pair had “not yet had the opportunity to fully demonstrate their ability to meet the needs of Finley” or to protect him from harm.

One social worker also warned that Finley would be “at risk of suffering from neglect, physical and emotional harm” if his parents continued to use drugs or failed to continue making positive changes.

At the Family Court hearing, a representative for Derbyshire County Council said “all parties” agreed that the plan for Finley should be for him to “transition” back to the care of his parents, but asked for this to be staged over four months and with the need for additional drug testing.

However, a representative for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) – who represented Finley himself at the near-two-hour hearing – questioned a four-month transition and said it did not believe additional regular drug testing was necessary.

They said the Cafcass guardian “remains fixed on the view” that Finley’s welfare required rehabilitation into the care of his parents “and that should happen within an eight-week period”, with continued supervision by the council after that.

They added Derbyshire County Council was “not presenting a case to the court that would suggest that these parents pose such a risk” to Finley that the risk is “not manageable” and requires him to be placed out of their care in the foreseeable future.

Cannabis use later became a key theme of the criminal trial, with the jury hearing how one drug deal was witnessed by a social worker and jurors were shown images of cannabis paraphernalia next to baby formula which had gone off in the family’s cluttered home.

A Cafcass spokesperson said: “It is not possible to say whether a longer transition plan would have prevented Finley’s death.

“What led to his death was the ability of his parents to deceive everyone involved about their love for him and their desire to care for him.

“This deception included their own extended family. No one could have predicted from what was known at the time that they were capable of such cruelty or that there was a risk that they would intentionally hurt him, let alone murder him.”

Images of Finley's family home showed signs of cannabis use (Derbyshire Police/PA)
Images of Finley’s cluttered family home showed signs of cannabis use (Derbyshire Police/PA)

At the Family Court hearing, a council representative said that drug testing the previous January had revealed that the parents were lying about their drug use, having shown “much higher usage” than they admitted.

They said that although cannabis use was not “a bar” to Finley returning to his parents, not enforcing regular drug testing could “send the wrong message”.

They added: “It does appear that there have been times in the past where the parents have done better but then, for whatever reason, there has been a decline in the standard of the parenting that they have provided.

“All things are not equal and sadly, in recent weeks, some concerns have arisen which, I would suggest, does need that longer period for the court to (have) complete confidence.”

Finley’s hearing was presided over by two lay magistrates, also known as Justices of the Peace.

These are volunteers who give up their time to oversee cases in the Magistrates’ and Family Courts.

They are not legally trained but make decisions with the assistance of a trained legal adviser who advises on matters of law and procedure.

In their judgment, they concluded that four months was “too long in order for appropriate rehabilitation to the parents’ care to take place”.

“We believe that eight weeks is a reasonable and proportionate length of time for the process to take place, which most importantly protects [Finley’s] welfare, which is our paramount consideration.”

On drug testing, they added: “We conclude that while such information may be beneficial, it is not necessary to ensure the proceedings are concluded appropriately.

“The parents should continue, however, to engage with Derbyshire Recovery Partnership regarding their drug use.”

Boden and Marsden will be sentenced at Derby Crown Court on Friday.