25th April, 2022 11:12 am
The mother of a boy found dead in a freezing garden after an asthma attack has been found guilty of manslaughter.
Jurors were told Laura Heath “prioritised” her drug addiction over caring for Hakeem Hussain.
The court heard Heath had even repurposed one of the seven-year-old’s inhalers as a makeshift crack pipe.
The 40-year-old was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence over Hakeem’s death in Nechells, Birmingham, in November 2017.
She also admitted four counts of child cruelty at Coventry Crown Court, and is due to be sentenced on 28 April.
Prosecutors said Hakeem died alone and “gasping for air” in the garden of a friend where his mother had been staying.
Just two days earlier, a nurse had told a safeguarding panel that he “could die at the weekend”.
The court heard Hakeem went to bed at about 22:00 GMT on 26 November, while his mother smoked more drugs, before she passed out in the same bed as him.
His breathing became more difficult in the night, thought to have been exacerbated by the second-hand smoke.
He had not been able to access his preventative inhaler for two days as it was left uncollected by his mother at his home on nearby Long Acre.
Unable to rouse his mother, it is thought he went outside for fresh air, where he was found the next morning.
His lifeless body was discovered in the garden by the friend Heath had been staying with and he carried him inside the home to the sofa.
Heath called emergency services and later told police he was “freezing and his lips were blue”.
She said Hakeem would go out when unwell and that “he must have fallen asleep” outside.
Tapping at window
“I just suspect he didn’t wake me up, took himself to get fresh air and then probably fell asleep,” she said in a police interview.
A neighbour heard tapping at his window in the early hours, but saw nothing in the darkness, the trial heard.
A post-mortem examination confirmed that Hakeem died of uncontrolled asthma.
Social services were aware of Hakeem before his death different agencies discussed his case just days before his death.
A Child Safeguarding Practice Review into their contact with the youngster and his mother is set to be published within weeks.
But Andy Couldrick, chief executive of Birmingham’s Children’s Trust, said there were “clear missed opportunities” by social workers and that the conference “should have happened earlier”.
Jurors were told that health, education and social workers voted to act to protect Hakeem at the child protection conference with the family’s social worker set to speak to Heath on the Monday, by which time Hakeem had died.
Neelam Ahmed, family outreach worker at Hakeem’s school, told jurors she had voted at the meeting “to take Hakeem immediately into care”.
She and school nurse Melanie Richards rated Hakeem’s safety as “zero” out of 10.
Iain Butlin Moran, who chaired the conference on the Friday, said “standard practice” for the family’s social worker to update the family of the outcome of the meeting “would have been to do that on the Monday”.
Hakeem died on the Sunday.
Birmingham Children’s Trust was formed six months after Hakeem’s death, following years of criticism of council-run services in the city.
The trial heard Heath – whose other three children were taken into care – failed to ensure her son’s asthma was properly treated and monitored.
She also admitted failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing her son to class A drugs before his death.
Take him home
Conditions at her home at Long Acre were described as “disgusting” by one witness who said Hakeem had said he had no bed, and slept on the sofa, while there was evidence Heath used an upstairs bedroom for sex work to fund her drug habit.
Teachers said Hakeem would often arrive late for school in an unwashed uniform, looking dirty, with uncut hair.
Heath’s friend, Chloe Cooper, said she offered to take him home with her the day before he died after being shocked at his home environment, but Heath refused.
The boy’s father was in prison at the time of Hakeem’s death, for an unrelated offence, the court heard.
Hakeem had been suffering from breathing difficulties and asthma since he was three years old and throughout his life authorities were concerned about his medical condition and how it was being mismanaged at home, West Midlands Police said.
He was admitted to a high dependency unit for four days in September 2017 – his third admission – due to his “life-threatening” condition, the court heard.
In a card written by Heath to her son after his death, she questioned why he had not stayed inside or woken her up, but the trial heard he may have struggled to rouse her after she had smoked drugs.
Det Insp Michelle Thurgood, who led the investigation, said his death was “untimely, tragic and preventable” with his mother failing in her duty of care to administer his medication.
“He was a young boy who should have been enjoying a carefree and happy childhood. I am saddened by what happened to him and the desperately unfortunate circumstances that caused his death,” she said.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Heath had been told by several medical professionals about the importance of managing her son’s asthma better, but pharmacy records showed that in the last two months of his life, Hakeem had been given only one third of the prescribed amount of preventer medication.
She also exposed him to known asthma triggers, like second-hand smoke, and toxicology evidence proved that Hakeem had inhaled tobacco smoke in the hours before his death and a hair sample showed he had also ingested heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis.
Georgina Davies from the CPS said: “This was a tragic case of a young boy who was let down by his mother who should have protected him.
“The terrible choices that Laura Heath repeatedly made led to the loss of Hakeem Hussain and I welcome the jury’s decision.”
After his death, staff and pupils at Nechells E-Act Academy had described Hakeem as a “beautiful little boy, a great friend to many staff and children with a wicked sense of humour and an infectious giggle”.
“He totally stole the show with his performance as the ‘Christmas Star’ in the year two nativity play with his clear speaking voice and stage presence,” the school said.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he delivered his lines with poignancy, grace and humour.
“The twinkle in his beautiful eyes was as bright as the stars in the sky, and our love for him will shine out forever, from all of his Nechells family.”
The NSPCC echoed criticisms that “opportunities were missed by local agencies to step in and protect Hakeem”.
“Suffering from severe asthma meant Hakeem Hussain needed an attentive and loving parent who was always alert to his wellbeing,” the spokesperson said.
“Tragically he was instead totally neglected by his mother as she lost herself consuming heroin and crack cocaine.”
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