Heroin-addict mother, 40, jailed for 20 years over death of son
Heroin-addict mother, 40, is jailed for 20 years over gross negligence manslaughter of seven-year-old asthmatic son who died ‘gasping for air’ in garden
- Laura Heath was been found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter of her seven-year-old son Hakeem
- Jailed for 20 years at Coventry Crown Court where judge said she was an ‘abject failure’ of a mother
- Hakeem died from an asthma attack at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying
- Heath, 40, deliberately ‘prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine’ and flat was thick with smoke
- Social services in Birmingham were aware of Hakeem before his death but failed to step in to rescue him
A feckless heroin addict and ‘abject failure’ of a mother who used her severely asthmatic son’s inhaler case to smoke crack was jailed for 20 years today after the poor little boy died alone and ‘gasping for air’ in the garden.
Passing sentence on Laura Heath, Mr Justice Dove said the death of Hakeem Hussain in November 2017 in Birmingham was the result of her ‘catastrophic and deplorable’ parenting – in yet another child cruelty case to shame British social services.
Heath had even used foil and an elastic band to rig one of her son’s blue inhalers to smoke crack, fuelling a £55-a-day habit.
Hakeem, aged just seven, died less than 48 hours after social workers failed to act on a school nurse’s plea to immediately remove the boy from Laura Heath’s care before the weekend he died because his life was in danger.
His ‘freezing’ body was discovered clutching a leaf outside a decrepit flat where he was staying with his mother and which visitors said had been dense with smoke as Heath smoked heroin and crack cocaine in his presence.
Today the judge told 40-year-old Heath, who was ordered to serve two-thirds of her 20-year sentence before becoming eligible for parole, that the death had occurred after her life ‘entered a drug-fuelled downward spiral into squalor, chaos and tragedy’.
Laura Heath, 40, deliberately ‘prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine’ prior to the ‘needless, premature’ death of Hakeem Hussain from an asthma attack on Sunday November 26 2017. She has been jailed for 20 years
An image seen by jurors during the Coventry Crown Court trial showed how Heath had even used foil and an elastic band to rig one of her son’s blue inhalers to smoke crack, fuelling a £55-a-day habit
Two ambulances and a paramedic rushed to the scene at 7.30am on November 26, 2017, but Hakeem had suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be saved. He died gasping in the garden
Hakeem develops asthma symptoms and goes on to be hospitalised three times.
He also moves into the Long Acre property, described by one visitor as having ‘disgusting’ conditions.
The witness told how Hakeem said he had no bed, sleeping 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
On November 24, a school nurse told a child protection conference that Hakeem ‘could die at the weekend from asthma’.
Nurse Melanie Richards, as well as a family outreach worker at Hakeem’s Nechells Primary School who was also in the meeting, scored Hakeem’s safety as ‘zero’ out of 10.
The meeting ended with agreement the social worker would speak to Heath on Monday – by which time Hakeem had died.
On November 26 Hakeem’s freezing body is found outside the Cook Street flat just after 7.30am.
On December 11, Dr Roger Malcomson, a consultant paediatric pathologist, conducted an autopsy on at Coventry Mortuary, finding that Hakeem’s lungs were ‘hyperexpanded.’
He told the trial: ‘Hakeem’s lungs were so hyperexpanded that the lungs overlapped the heart which is not normal. The lungs were in a different position compared to that of a normal person.’
In April, a new organisation, Birmingham Children’s Trust, takes over child social services
April 22: Heath is convicted of Hakeem’s manslaughter at Coventry Crown Court.
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.’
A jury of 10 women and two men found Heath guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence a day after the mother and stepfather of five-year-old Logan Mwangi were convicted of his murder alongside a 14-year-old youth in South Wales.
In that case, jurors were told social services missed at least four chances to intervene, while the teenage defendant’s foster carers told how their warnings that the boy had a fascination with killing had fallen on deaf ears.
Hakeem was found dead in a garden early on a Sunday morning in November 2017, after seeking fresh air to ease his breathing – and having been unable to wake mother Laura Heath from her drug-induced slumber.
In a prophetic intervention, just two days earlier nurse Melanie Richards told a child protection conference arranged to discuss Hakeem’s plight that he ‘could die at the weekend’.
The school’s family outreach lead backed the nurse’s position but although the serious risk to Hakeem was recognised, he was not removed and instead was made subject to a Child Protection Plan – with social workers planning to step up intervention efforts on the Monday.
Jurors in Coventry heard that when Heath was telephoned with the outcome of that child protection meeting, which she declined to attend, she blithely texted a friend: ‘Hakeem is on child protection… neglect… hey ho.’
Heath’s guilty verdict came just four months after the same courtroom heard how the stepmother and father of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes were able to torture and kill the six-year-old after fooling social workers.
In the latest case to shame children’s services in England:
- Hakeem’s ‘freezing’ body was discovered clutching a leaf outside a flat which visitors said had been dense with smoke as Heath smoked heroin and crack cocaine in his presence.
- Heath hid her drug addiction from a social worker allocated to her after Hakeem’s school made a referral six months before the boy’s death.
- Heath’s mother told of her ‘incredible anger’ at social workers and teachers for failing to alert her to the boy’s plight – and professionals’ eagerness to ‘believe what they want to hear’ from failed parents.
- The head of Birmingham’s Children’s Trust admitted there were ‘clear missed opportunities’ by social workers and that the conference ‘should have happened earlier’.
Heath, formerly of Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter of ‘frail’ Hakeem, who died at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying (pictured: Rooms in the Long Acre property)
She had admitted four counts of child cruelty before trial, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing Hakeem to class A drugs (pictured left: The living room at the Long Acre property. Right: The bathroom)
The jury has been told the gas and electric were turned off at her ‘chaotic’ and ‘messy’ home in Long Acre, Nechells, resulting in her going to stay at an address in nearby Cook Street where Hakeem died
How same council’s failures contributed to deaths of three OTHER children – as Hakeem becomes latest in heartbreaking list of kids let down by social services
Hakeem’s death came just months before Birmingham Children’s Trust took over child social services in early 2018.
Responsibility was transferred from the council’s failing child social services department after years of poor performance dating back to 2008.
Those failures were placed in sharp focus by high-profile child deaths, such as those of Khyra Ishaq in 2008, Keanu Williams in 2011, and Keegan Downer in 2015.
2008: Khyra Ishaq
Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq was starved to death
Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq was starved to death by her mother and stepfather after social workers missed opportunities because they were said to be more interested in their careers.
Khyra had been monitored and visited by at least nine social workers, education officers, teachers and police, but information was not acted upon and procedures were not followed.
She died of an infection in May 2008 following a ‘chilling’ punishment regime at her home in Handsworth, Birmingham.
Three social workers were disciplined after a report highlighted how some officials were more focused on ‘the rights of the adults’ and the ‘potential impact’ on their careers.
2011: Keanu Williams
Two-year-old Keanu Williams
Two-year-old Keanu Williams had been seen by health workers at least 12 times with signs of abuse such as head injuries and cuts.
But children’s services believed his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth when she said they were just bumps and bruises.
In reality, Shuttleworth, 25, had beaten her son and his body was found in January 2011 with 37 injuries including bite marks, a fractured skull and a tear in his stomach.
A report revealed Shuttleworth, jailed in June 2013, had been ‘surprised’ he wasn’t taken away from her at birth.
It said ‘staff were distracted by his mother’s needs rather than the child’s’.
At least three untrained workers – including a student on a work placement – were also put in charge of vital reviews.
2015: Keegan Downer
Kandyce Downer was jailed for life for the murder of 18-month-old Keegan Downer, who died at the family home in Birmingham on 5 September 2015.
Keegan had been repeatedly beaten and suffered more than 200 injuries. She had 153 scars on her body, including her face and neck.
Downer had been appointed Keegan’s guardian with the blessing of social services and six months after Keegan was put in Downer’s care, the systematic abuse began.
It was claimed Downer only wanted Keegan to rake in £125-a-week maintenance payments. She also secured a four-figure lump sum towards the cost of a new car for taking on the child, on top of her housing benefit and child support.
… and elsewhere: How social services missed multiple opportunities to save horrifically abused children
Logan Mwangi, murdered July 2021
Pictured: Logan Mwangi wearing his dinosaur pyjamas
Logan Mwangi never stood a chance as he was kept prisoner and tortured in his home, with social workers missing crucial opportunities to save the little boy before he was murdered by his mother, stepfather and a 14-year-old boy.
John Cole, 40, and Angharad Williamson, 31, of Sarn, Bridgend, and a teenage boy, who cannot be named because of his age, were convicted of murdering Logan at Cardiff Crown Court on April 21.
On the morning of July 31 2021, the once ‘smiling, cheerful little boy’, was found by police just 250 metres from his home submerged in the River Ogmore, wearing a pair of dinosaur pyjama bottoms and a Spider-Man top.
In the months and weeks leading up to his death, Logan had been ‘dehumanised’ by his family. His stammer worsened, becoming particularly bad around Cole, and he wet himself more frequently and began self-harming.
But in yet another astonishing failing by social services, workers missed at least two opportunities to rescue the schoolboy from the clutches of his parents, who ‘kept him prisoner’ in his dark bedroom – likened to a ‘dungeon’ – with a baby gate barring him from leaving after testing positive for coronavirus on July 20.
Star Hobson, murdered September 22, 2020
Star Hobson was only 16 months old when she was killed at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Star was murdered by her mother Frankie Smith’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill after suffering months of abuse in her home during the Covid lockdown last year.
Frankie Smith 20, was handed an eight-year sentence for allowing her daughter’s death. This was extended to 12 years in March for being too lenient.
Brockhill, 28, was convicted of murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years. No appeal was made against her sentence.
It was revealed that social services had missed five opportunities to stop her killers in the months before her death on September 22, 2020.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, murdered June 16, 2020
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, aged six, was murdered by his cruel stepmother Emma Tustin in June.
She was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 29 years and the boy’s father Thomas Hughes was jailed for 21 years for manslaughter.
The boy had been seen by social workers just two months before his death, but they concluded there were no safeguarding concerns.
In October 2019, Aileen Carabine, a special educational coordinator at Arthur’s school, said Arthur ‘deteriorated’ that month.
Kyrell Matthews, murdered October 20, 2019
Kyrell Matthews, aged two, was left with 41 rib fractures and internal injuries by the time of his death after weeks of cruelty at the hands of his mother Phylesia Shirley and her boyfriend Kemar Brown.
Brown was convicted of murder while Shirley was acquitted of murder but found guilty of the alternative charge of manslaughter.
They appeared alongside each other in the dock as Brown was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison while Shirley was jailed for 13 years.
The toddler, who was non-verbal, could be heard crying and screaming on distressing audio files taken from Shirley’s phone and played to jurors during the trial.
Brown and Shirley are understood to have been visited by social services at least once.
The three week trial heard how Hakeem had been identified as a child in need six months before his death, in the middle of a three-and-a-half month period where he was recorded absent from school 59 times without authorisation.
At one point in the months running up to his death, the helpless child was heard commenting that his jumper ‘smells of Charlie’ – a street name for cocaine.
The court heard Heath had repeatedly ignored medical instruction to help Hakeem manage his asthma, failing to ensure he used his preventative inhaler each day.
Expert witness Dr Peter Ehrardt, a retired consultant paediatrician, told the court there was no evidence that Hakeem’s asthma was uncontrollable, and said he would not have died if looked after properly.
The court heard Hakeem was hospitalised five times – three of those as an emergency patient – as his condition deteriorated.
Little more than 24 hours before he died, Heath, invited a friend to the flat they were staying at in Nechells, Birmingham, to ‘get smashed’. She had moved out of her own rented flat because the gas had been disconnected due to non-payment.
But the friend was so horrified by the condition of the rubbish-filled address she offered to take Hakeem back to her own address. Heath refused.
Police photographed drug paraphernalia and an overflowing ashtray amongst rubbish and half-eaten food on the living room table following Hakeem’s death early the following morning. When officers went to Heath’s own flat, they found rubbish piled up in a bedroom beside a sheetless mattress and a table littered with condoms, where Heath prostituted herself to earn drug cash.
Although the court heard Heath had a £55-a-day habit, the mother of four children by four men had once been earmarked as a university candidate by her form teacher at Byng Kendrick Central secondary school in Tile Cross, Birmingham.
A relative said she appeared to fall off the rails after her mother Valerie Drew separated from her alcoholic stepfather, who has since died.
Heath got a job at a local taxi office where she ‘began to attract the attention of men’ and by 15 she was a school truant and pregnant with her first child. The source said the father was a man three decades Heath’s senior, but police were never contacted about the relationship.
The pregnancy set a marker for a chaotic journey into an adulthood mired in prostitution and addictions to heroin and crack cocaine. By the time her eldest was six, he and his four-year-old sister were taken off Heath to be raised by their grandmother.
The source said Heath’s own father, a labourer, harboured a drug addiction of his own and had little to do with his daughter after leaving her mother when Heath was small.
Heath’s third child, a son aged 15, was placed with his Kurdish father after his birth, but Heath was adamant that she would retain custody of Hakeem, who’s Muslim father had been jailed for a for a particularly nasty sexual assault by the time she gave birth.
Following his release from prison, the couple were placed in a residential unit with Hakeem, where their parenting skills were monitored.
‘Social services decided that they had done enough to keep Hakeem’, Mrs Drew said.
‘That was another mistake.’ By then, Heath was telling friends she had converted to Islam, although she never wore a headscarf or attended the mosque.
Mrs Drew, 67, said she was ‘incredibly angry’ with social services and Hakeem’s school for ‘failing’ the boy.
The lollipop lady, also of Nechells, Birmingham, said: ‘Social services knew me because they’d been involved for years when I began guardian for Laura’s older children.
‘The school had my number. They knew where I lived – I’d had to pick Hakeem up in the past when Laura failed to collect him. Why didn’t any of them come and tell me there were concerns?
‘Hakeem was such a lovely little boy. We all feel as a family that we let him down, but social services and the school let him down the most.
‘I had no idea he was missing so much school time.’ Jurors heard Heath smoked heroin after putting Hakeem to bed for the final time.
Mr Brook told the jury that Heath’s ‘use of asthma equipment to smoke drugs is a metaphor for her neglect of her child, symbolising her prioritisation of her own needs over his safety.’ A neighbour heard tapping at his window in the early hours, but saw nothing in the darkness, the trial heard. Hakeem’s body, already stiff from rigor mortis, was found just after 7.30am later that morning by the 51-year-old council tenant Heath had befriended, Tim Busk. He would later be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and passed away three months ago.
But relatives told how they discovered his computer and other possessions had vanished in the days following Hakeem’s death.
Sister-in-law Carol Busk, 60, told the Mail: ‘We had no idea Heath and her son were basically living there.
‘Tim was already showing symptoms (of Alzheimer’s) by then and could just about make himself a cup of tea or beans on toast.
‘Heath took Tim’s money and his possessions to pay for her drugs. She was exploiting him and his illness for her own benefit.’ Heath had earlier pleaded guilty to four counts of child cruelty relating to neglect by failing to provide proper medical supervision, and ill-treatment by exposing Hakeem to drugs. She will be sentenced on all five counts next week.
Andy Couldrick, chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Trust, said: ‘There were some clear missed opportunities, (and) some of them are distressingly familiar in terms of other cases.’ He said social workers ‘didn’t understand the amount of disguise and deception’ Heath used to cover her addiction and said agencies failed to seek enough information from each other.
He added: ‘At the sharpest point was the child protection conference on Friday before the weekend of his death.
‘That conference should have happened earlier…it should have led to more immediate action.’
A serious case review examining the circumstances of Hakeem’s death is due to be published later this year.
Heath left her son to die alone in a freezing garden in Birmingham after he got out of bed to get some fresh air.
Jurors were told how she would ‘source heroin and crack cocaine’ as her ‘first priority in life’ ahead of the welfare of her young son.
Shocking images released by police showed how Heath had used Hakeem’s inhalers to smoke class A drugs from despite his breathing getting worse ‘day by day.’
Hakeem, who was suffering from uncontrolled asthma, was found in the garden at the at around 7.30am on November 26, 2017 but could not be saved by medics.
During the month-long trial, the court had heard how Hakeem’s death could have been completely avoided.
He was also made to sleep on a sofa in squalid conditions, while his jumper smelled of urine and his school uniform reeked of cigarettes.
Prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC said: ‘Hakeem found himself powerless in a perfect storm where he had not been given his preventer medication. His lungs were in a poor condition and he was being put into adverse environments – cold, smoky and dirty environments.
‘What chance did Hakeem have with his mother and her priorities? His death was avoidable. His death was a needless, premature death. Had it not been for her conduct Hakeem would still be alive. There can’t be a greater breach of parental duty than that.’
Hakeem was known to social services and was classed as ‘vulnerable’ due to concerns about ‘neglect, attendance issues and his home life’.
A child protection meeting was held two days before his death where a school nurse had warned Hakeem was at risk of dying and should be removed from his mum.
But it was decided he should not be removed from his Heath’s care despite his being as a ‘serious risk of harm.’
Following the meeting Heath messaged a friend saying: ‘Hakeem is on child protection… neglect… hey ho… gonna do what I gotta do.’
Prosecutors said Heath mismanaged Hakeem’s asthma as she disengaged with social workers and school staff during 2017.
She was accused of prioritising her spiralling drug habit over her son’s health, even resorting to sex work to fund it, the court heard.
The jury were told the gas and electric were turned off at her ‘chaotic’ and ‘messy’ home in Long Acre, Nechells, resulting in her going to stay at an address in nearby Cook Street where Hakeem died.
Heath had told police after her arrest that Hakeem would go outside for some fresh air if he was ever struggling with his breathing.
She said in her police interview after his death: ‘I had a funny feeling he had gone out in the night and fell asleep outside.’
Dr Roger Malcomson a consultant paediatric pathologist who conducted an autopsy on Hakeem in December 11, 2017 at Coventry Mortuary, found that Hakeem’s lungs were ‘hyperexpanded.’
He told the court during trial: ‘Hakeem’s lungs were so hyperexpanded that the lungs overlapped the heart which is not normal.
‘The lungs were in a different position compared to that of a normal person.’
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