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An alcoholic mother-of-eight was on Thursday convicted of starving her four-year-old son to death and leaving his body in a travel cot, where it was found by police almost two years later.
Amanda Hutton, 43, a former care worker for the elderly, was found guilty of manslaughter after a jury heard how Hamzah Khan's malnourished body was found at her Bradford home.
The child's mummified remains were not discovered until September 2011, nearly two years after his death in December 2009. Police were alerted to the family's three-storey home and the scenes of appalling squalor within when a neighbour complained that dirty nappies were being thrown into his garden by the children.
Hutton, who betrayed no emotion as the unanimous verdict of manslaughter by gross negligence was delivered at Bradford Crown Court, had claimed that Hamzah was a “fussy eater” who had effectively starved himself to death. The trial heard that she had fed him half a banana and half a cheese-and-onion pasty each day.
The family was known to police after Hutton suffered domestic violence at the hands of her estranged partner, Aftab Khan. She was placed on a West Yorkshire Police register of abuse victims at the highest level of risk.
But police and prosecutors said the history of abuse could not absolve her neglect of Hamzah - one of six children aged between five and 13 who were living at the house. Detective Superintendent Lisa Griffin, of West Yorkshire police, who led the investigation, said: “Ultimately the responsibility for the care and welfare of the children in that household lay very firmly with Amanda Hutton and it was her responsibility and hers alone, to ensure all their basic needs were met... Clearly she failed.”
The conviction of Hutton, who also admitted charges of cruelty to her remaining five children and failure to dispose adequately of a body, raised immediate concerns about whether the authorities could have spotted the warning signs before Hamzah died.
A serious case review by Bradford's Safeguarding Children Board, due to be published shortly, is expected to express concern that the boy was removed from the patient list at his GP's practice in 2009 after his mother failed to attend a number of appointments.
The jury in Hutton's trial was told that the child's health record was blank beyond the age of two weeks and he had never been seen by a GP. Although he was of school age by the time of his death, Hamzah's absence was not noticed by his education authority.
The NSPCC said it was concerned at the practice of GPs removing children from their lists.
David Tucker, head of policy, said: “Children not appearing at medical appointments is an indicator of risk that a parent or a carer is trying to avoid a professional seeing that child and seeing the abuse or neglect that that child is suffering.”
Following his arrest for attacking Hutton in 2008, Khan repeatedly asked officers to check Hamzah to see “how undernourished he is”.
But despite being the subject of multi-agency case meetings to discuss vulnerable families and visits from police and one social worker, nothing untoward was reported about Hutton or her children. During one visit nine months before Hamzah's death, a police officer described the six children as being in “good health” in “perfectly adequate surroundings”.
By the time the child's body was discovered, conditions in the home had deteriorated to the extent that officers who entered the property found themselves ankle-deep in fast food boxes, faeces and empty vodka bottles.
Hutton told the court that following Hamzah's death she had taken to drinking a litre of spirits each day - a fact which prosecutors said proved she had put her need for alcohol and cannabis above the needs of her children.
The bathroom sink was caked in vomit and the fridge contained nothing other than rotten food and ready meals for which the Best Before date had expired five months earlier.
In Hutton's bedroom, Hamzah's body was found beneath layers of discarded clothing in a blue travel cot. A teddy bear had been placed beside him by his mother, who claimed she had spent hours holding his body on the night of his death, but was also found to have ordered take-away pizza and curry that same evening.
Police said that Hutton, who will be sentenced on Friday along with her grown-up son Tariq Khan after he previously admitted a charge of failure to adequately dispose of a body, had been “obstructive” and “difficult” and turned down multiple offers of help from care agencies.
Griffin said the final months of Hamzah's life, during which he was at one point observed eating the contents of his own soiled nappy, could only have been horrific. She said: “I can only imagine the pain and the suffering that that child endured.”
Social services leaders in Bradford said working practices would be changed to reflect concerns raised by the case. Professor Nick Frost, independent chair of Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Given the refusal of all offers of help that would be offered to any mother and the lack of serious concerns raised from any other source, there was limited involvement from statutory agencies.” - The Independent