A drug addict mother has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the manslaughter of her asthmatic son who died alone and “gasping for air” in a garden.
Laura Heath “prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine” prior to the “needless, premature” death of seven-year-old Hakeem Hussain on Sunday 26 November 2017, Coventry Crown Court heard during her trial.
The 40-year-old, formerly of Long Acre in Nechells, Birmingham, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter after her “frail” son died in the home of a friend where they had been staying.
Mr Justice Dove said Hakeem’s death was the result of Heath’s “catastrophic and deplorable” parenting.
He told Heath the death had occurred after her life “entered a drug-fuelled downward spiral into squalor, chaos and tragedy.”
The judge said: “When Hakeem Hussain died in the early hours of the morning he was only seven years old.
It is clear that in his tragically short life he had been an inspiration of happiness and affection for people who knew him.
“All of that potential for a wonderful and fulfilling life was cut short, extinguished as he collapsed on his own suffocating, clutching a leaf in the garden.
“The truth is that Hakeem died as a result of your deplorable negligence. You had allowed your life to be completely overtaken by your addiction to heroin and cocaine. His death was needless, tragic and a result of your abject failure as his mother.”
Images shown in court revealed how Heath, who had a £55-a-day drug habit, had modified one of her son’s inhalers with foil and an elastic band so she could use it to smoke crack.
Heath had admitted four counts of child cruelty before the trial, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing Hakeem to the smoke of asthma triggers; heroin, crack and cigarettes.
School nurse warned Hakeem could ‘die at the weekend’
During the trial it emerged that school nurse Melanie Richards had warned a child protection conference Hakeem could “die at the weekend” just two days before his death.
Health, education and social workers at the conference voted to protect Hakeem.
However, the meeting ended with an agreement that the family’s social worker would speak to Heath about the outcome on the Monday – by which time Hakeem had died.
Neelam Ahmed, a family outreach worker at the boy’s school, told jurors how she had voted at that meeting “to take Hakeem immediately into care”.
Both Ms Richards and Ms Ahmed scored Hakeem’s safety as “zero” out of 10.
After the verdict Andy Couldrick, chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Trust, said social workers missed “clear opportunities” to prevent the boy’s death.
The jury also heard how Heath had previously had other children taken into care.
A serious case review into agencies’ contact with Hakeem is set to be published within weeks.
‘Disgusting’ conditions inside home
During the trial jurors heard how Heath had been living in a home on Long Acre since 2013, with one visitor describing the conditions as “disgusting”.
The same witness told how Hakeem said he had no bed and slept instead on the sofa, while there was evidence Heath used an upstairs bedroom for sex work to fund her habit, with a basket of condoms next to the mattress.
In the days before Hakeem’s death, Heath had recently started staying with a friend, Timothy Busk, who lived in a flat a short walk away in Cook Street.
One visitor described the inside as “foggy and smoky” and a “mess,” the court heard.
Heath smoked three bags of heroin on night before death
Heath told police on the night before her son died that she smoked three bags of heroin – two before Hakeem went to bed at 10.30pm and one afterwards, leaving her in a drug-induced sleep.
Mr Busk woke Heath up at 7.37am on Sunday 26 November 2017 and told her he had found Hakeem dead in the garden and had carried his gaunt body to the sofa.
Heath phoned 999 and later told police: “Hakeem was freezing and his lips were blue.
“Hakeem would go out when he was unwell and must have fallen asleep (when outside).
“I just suspect he didn’t wake me up, took himself to get fresh air and then probably fell asleep.”
In the early hours a neighbour had heard tapping at his window but saw nothing in the darkness after going downstairs to investigate.
At the opening of the trial the Crown said Heath “failed to administer” any “preventer” asthma medication in the two days before Hakeem died, and did not have access to a spacer device, used to get more drugs into a child’s lungs.
Police searches found part of a spacer amid mouldy food, over-filled ashtrays and drug paraphernalia in Long Acre.