Three young siblings were left unfed, taken on shoplifting expeditions and reduced to stealing food from other children in school as a result of their mother’s “selfish” heroin addiction, a court has been told.
Details of the tragic conditions suffered by the children aged 10, four and two – including how the eldest tried to look after her younger family members – emerged during the child cruelty hearing at Cardiff Crown Court.
The court was told how the 28-year-old mother from the Cardiff area instructed the youngsters to help her shoplift to fund her £20-a-day habit, and sometimes locked them in the house fending for themselves.
The eldest child told police how she tried to cook for the others when they were left alone and told how, when they all went out shopping, they were encouraged to pick up things their mother could sell.
Prosecutor John Probert said all three had head lice, the eldest so severely that the lice were burrowing inside her skin. The youngsters’ grandmother also reported the children were “grubby and smelly” when they arrived after the mother tried to take her own life.
Judge Niclas Parry told the mother – who first gave birth as a teenager after meeting her partner and who was already a heroin user when she was 15 – that she had betrayed her responsibility and betrayed her family.
He said: “This is a case as distressing as it is serious – there is no greater responsibility than having the care of young, vulnerable children. There will undoubtedly be psychological harm caused, particularly to the eldest who through her own pathetic efforts was trying to fill in for you.
“They were left unfed, reduced to stealing food from other children at school, witnessed violence in the home and saw class A drugs being taken.
“And the cause of the neglect was your selfish craving for drugs.”
But he also said the neglect was down to an absence of care rather than willful acts of cruelty and with the children in mind, agreed to suspend the 16-month prison sentence for admitted child cruelty.
The mother, who appeared in the courtroom via video link to Eastwood Park Prison, constantly wiped tears from her eyes as the details were read out.
She covered her face with her hands as the judge heard how her 10-year-old daughter was asking to see her.
Byron Broadstock, defending, said: “The greatest punishment for her is being separated from them. She herself accepts she has let them down badly and knows she has to conquer her addiction if she wants to see them again.”
The eldest girl was put on the Child Protection Register when she was born because both parents were by then on heroin but her case was closed two years later.
Mr Probert said children’s services became involved again, eight years later, when that child found mum collapsed on the floor from an attempted suicide in January last year and she and her siblings were put back on the “at risk” register.
When a new social worker was assigned she made frequent visits, sometimes being let in and sometimes not and was concerned enough to go the primary school.
There, she was told how the 10-year-old was stealing food from other pupils because she was hungry and had no friends because of her appearance and her head lice.
She was also informed the school had bought the girl a uniform because she did not have one and gave her extra helpings of school dinners.
Eventually the child’s father took her to a hospital’s accident and emergency department last November because of the lice when he had her on a weekend visit, and that’s when they were found to have burrowed under the skin.
An emergency protection order was put in place after she and the other two were seen by a consultant paediatrician.
The little girl later revealed she was frightened at home because her mother’s friends who came to the house were “nasty” to her.
The mother, who cannot be named to protect her children, admitted the charges. She also admitted to police that she took drugs while the children were in the house but denied doing it in front of them and denied that she had ever left the children locked in the house.
She had recently admitted fresh shoplifting charges – thefts of coffee, cleaning products and four rump steaks – and pleaded guilty to stealing a bag of clothes put down for a moment by a city centre shopper.
“She just picked up his bag”, Mr Probert said.
Judge Parry warned her: “If you re-offend by stealing from shops or taking class A drugs while the suspended sentence is in place, you will be in breach and could be jailed.”