County Durham couple who forced children to scavenge for scraps and eat soap convicted

The couple forced children to eat soap, locked them in cupboards, and forced them into boiling hot showers and baths. Credit: NCJMEDIA SYNDICATION

A County Durham couple have been convicted after subjecting children to prolonged physical and emotional abuse for several years.

An extensive police investigation was launched in 2018 when one of the children disclosed what happened to her to a trusted adult.

The investigation, which spanned four years and involved more than 150 witnesses found the pair had forced children to eat soap, locked them in cupboards, and forced them into boiling hot showers and baths.

The couple would also withdraw their access to food, leaving the children to scavenge for scraps to eat. On one occasion they were found at 4am walking along to a supermarket four miles away to find something to eat.

Detective Constable Kat Pudney, of Durham Constabulary's Safeguarding Unit, said: "This was an extremely complex and distressing investigation for all involved, the likes of which I have never encountered during my time as a police officer.

"They subjected several vulnerable children to multiple forms of abuse, robbing them of their childhood, and undoubtedly leaving them with psychological wounds which they may never truly recover from.

"I want to highlight how incredibly brave these children have been throughout this lengthy investigation - their strength to stand up to their abusers must be commended.

"One of the victims is now a young woman – she has shown incredible bravery in reliving her ordeal many years later. I hope she finds some comfort that her attacker has now been convicted and remanded."

Teesside Crown Court heard how the pair would also order takeaways and make the children watch them eat while stood in stress positions for long periods of time.

A 39-year-old man, and 35-year-old woman were charged with multiple offences of child neglect and sexual activity with a child, and one count of perverting the course of justice.

The man was also charged with three counts of rape in relation to non-recent abuse of another child which happened when she was young.

Both of the defendants denied all charges, resulting in a seven-week trial.

At the trial, the court heard from medical experts who described how the children regularly suffered injuries, one of whom was left with life-limiting injuries as a result of the couple's abuse.

They also heard how the pair wrote letters claiming to be from the children in which they apologised for lying and were sorry, while making false allegations of sexual assault by professionals working to support them.

However, a handwriting expert was able to confirm that the writing was not that of a child, and the letter had been written in a notebook found at the couple's home.

It took the jury three days to find the male defendant guilty of three counts of rape, seven counts of neglect, and one count of perverting the course of justice.

He was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.

The woman was found guilty of five counts of child cruelty and one of perverting the course of justice, but was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.

The pair will be sentenced on Friday 28 April at Teesside Crown Court. Until then, they have been remanded in custody.

Detective Constable Kat Pudney said: "They have lied to police and other professionals, and attempted to blame others throughout this investigation, in an attempt to divert the attention away from themselves.

"I am delighted that the jury have returned these verdicts, ultimately protecting further children from falling victim to their manipulative and abhorrent behaviour.

"I hope this result will allow the children to close this chapter of their lives and start their healing journey."

She added: "The safeguarding and wellbeing of children is everyone’s business - all children deserve to be safe, protected, and loved. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please speak out – your actions could save a life.

"You can report suspected abuse or concerns to Durham Constabulary by calling 101, or 999 if life is in immediate danger. Alternatively, reports can be made completely anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

"Concerns can also be reported to Durham County Council on 03000 267 979, or Darlington Borough Council on 01325 406222."

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