Finley Boden was just 10 months old when he died on Christmas Day in 2020, just 39 days after being returned from care. Sarah Corker reports for ITV News.
The parents of a 10-month-old baby have been found guilty of his murder, just 39 days after he was placed back in their care by social services.
Shannon Marsden, 22, and Stephen Boden, 30, killed their son Finley Boden during the winter 2020 Covid lockdown at their home in Chesterfield.
Derby Crown Court heard how the baby boy had been subjected to ‘substantial and repeated acts of severe violence’ and suffered more than 130 appalling injuries including two burns, 57 fractures to his collarbones, thighs and pelvis and 71 cuts and bruises.
The trial judge, Mrs Justice Tipples, choked back tears as she thanked the jury for its "extremely impressive" conduct throughout the 5 month trial and excused members from further jury service for life.
'The injuries are among the worst I have ever seen, only his skull and his left arm didn't have fractures'
Detective Inspector Steve Shaw, of Derbyshire Police, said it had been one of the most distressing cases his officers had ever worked on.
“It’s horrific what has happened to a defenceless 10-month-old baby. Only his skull and his left arm didn’t have fractures.
“In my 23 years as a police officer I’ve never seen injuries like this” he added.
Finley was returned to the couple’s care over eight weeks by a court order in November 2020, despite social workers asking for a longer transition.
Instead of caring for the boy, he was neglected and abused as the couple's main interest was their £120 pound a day cannabis habit. The prosecution said "they worshipped weed in the same way others worship God - it can do no wrong.”
Finley Boden was taken in care shortly after birth in February 2020 due to concerns over the couple’s drug use, filthy living conditions and risk of domestic violence.
Sept 2020 – Oct 2020
Despite evidence of continuing drug use as late as September 2020, in October, Derbyshire County Council’s “recommendation” was Finley be returned to his parents.
That happened on the 17th of November, and a week later, was the last time social workers saw Finley alive – viewed through a window asleep on the sofa.
Just two days before his death, a social worker again tried to visit Finley but the couple refused to let them in. On 23rd December, a text message, thought to be from Stephen Boden, said "Little one f****** kept me up all night. I want to bounce him off the walls. Haha."
By Christmas Day he was dead. He’d been in the couple’s care for just 39 days.
Boden and Marsden lived in filth and squalor. Police found baby bottles filled with mouldy milk and the house littered with animal faeces, rubbish and evidence of drug use.
Neighbours told ITV News drugs dealers were frequently seen at the property and claimed that warnings about the couple’s behaviour and cannabis use were ignored by social services.
“It (the house) was disgusting, pretty much a pigsty where no child or animal should have been. The house always stunk of weed,” Sarah Bryan told ITV News.
'That little boy would still be here if they had done their job properly'
“I think all the professionals failed Finley, I do, it broke my heart when I found out what happened because my daughter was the same age.
"They should have been there to protect that little boy, they should be ashamed of themselves, both the council and social services. That little boy should still be here,” she said.
Questions for social services
The latest Ofsted report of Derbyshire County Council’s Children’s Services rated it as ‘requiring improvement’ and found staff were ‘consistently overworked with complex cases.’ As of June 2022, Derbyshire had a vacancy rate of 23.9% which equates to 63 full time staff. There are serious safeguarding questions for the local authority to answer.
Why was Finley Boden returned to his birth parents despite evidence of continuing drug use and unhygienic living conditions?
One of the conditions of Finley being returned to his parents was that it was a supervised return over 8 weeks. Yet the parents made repeated excuses as to why social workers couldn’t see the boy. He was last seen alive by the authorities on November 27th, a month before his death.
The local authority knew about the couple’s excessive cannabis use. The court heard that on 23rd December a social worker witnessed Shannon Marsden ‘conduct a drug deal’ outside her home.
In court the social worker said that the ‘local authority view’ was that parents’ cannabis use had to be done safely; ‘one parent would take care of the children while the other went to collect drugs and visa versa.’
Neighbour Georgia said when drugs dealers would deliver to the home 'they didn't even try to hide it'
Georgia Hubbard lived directly next door to Boden and Marsden. The mother of two told ITV News it had been a harrowing experience.
“It’s just hard isn’t it,” she told me in tears. “He was just a baby, how could you do that to a baby? it’s disgusting. You are meant to protect them, not hurt them.”
“You’d see cars pulling up at the house, drug dealers – all of the time, they didn’t even try to hide it,” she added.
A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “Finley’s death is a tragedy and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to everyone who knew and loved him.
“Following the conviction of Finley’s parents Stephen Boden and Shannon Marsden for murder we continue to be fully engaged with the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership which has commissioned a Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review.
“This is a statutory legal process, formerly referred to as a Serious Case Review, which looks in depth at the role of all agencies following the death of a child. The review is conducted independently and it would not be appropriate for us to comment further until that review is complete to ensure we do not pre-empt its findings.
“Once the review process has concluded we will be in a position to communicate more fully about this case.”
Child protection reforms
This comes after a spate of high-profile child protection tragedies during the pandemic, including the murders of one-year-old Star Hobson in Bradford and 6-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in Solihull, both murdered in their own homes by their parent’s partners.
The number of reported incidents of children dying or being seriously harmed after suspected abuse or neglect rose by 19 percent during the pandemic, according to official figures. A reduction in face-to-face visits due to Covid resulted in a layer of professional contact with children being removed, meaning they became less visible and serious abuse was unseen until it was too late.
Last year, an independent review of children’s services found high vacancy rates and excess workloads. The review chair Josh McAlister called for a radical overhaul of a ‘rigid system stuck in crisis mode and disconnected from the needs of families and children they support.’
The NSPCC has warned that Britain’s child protection system needs urgent reform and the pandemic had exacerbated existing problems.
'Over 36 died at home through abuse or neglect in 2020, we need a child protection service fit for 2023', says Helen Westerman
“Finley was failed by a system that couldn’t protect him. We really want to see significant changes in the child protection system, and we need that to happen now, we can’t wait until another child dies,” NSPCC’s Helen Westerman said.
Boden and Marsden repeatedly lied to social services claiming they ‘wanted to be a family’ but all that time they were systematically beating Finley and then trying to hide the catastrophic injuries they had inflicted on a defenceless little boy.
Instead of seeking medical help, his final days at home were spent in agony.
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