Drug addict mother whose asthmatic son died ‘gasping for air’ jailed for 20 years for manslaughter
Laura Heath was convicted of the gross negligence manslaughter of her 7-year-old son Hakeem Hussain
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A mum who fatally neglected her asthmatic son who died alone and “gasping for air” in a garden has been jailed for 20 years.
Drug addict Laura Heath was told her “deplorable parenting” had led to her son’s death as she was sentenced at Coventry Crown Court.
Heath had been found guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of her son Hakeem Hussain, 7, who died in a freezing garden after an asthma attack.
Social services were aware of Hakeem and a serious case review is set to be published within weeks.
A nurse had warned a child protection meeting just two days before his death that Hakeem “could die at the weekend” .
Heath deliberately “prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine” prior to the “needless, premature” death of Hakeem Hussain from an asthma attack on Sunday, 26 November, 2017, prosecutors said.
Heath, formerly of Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham, was convicted on Friday of gross negligence manslaughter of “frail” Hakeem, who died at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying.
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.
The court also heard the youngster lived in squalid conditions, and was often taken to school in an unwashed uniform.
‘His death was needless’
Passing sentence on Laura Heath, Mr Justice Dove said the death of Hakeem Hussain in November 2017 was the result of her “catastrophic and deplorable” parenting.
The judge told 40-year-old Heath, who was ordered to serve two-thirds of her 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”.
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.
“We can only imagine the pain and fear that must have blighted the end of his young life. For anyone, let alone a child, this was a shockingly terrible way for him to die.
“How could it possibly be that this could happen? The truth is, in short, is that Hakeem died as a result of your deplorable negligence.
“He died as a result of your catastrophic and deplorable parenting.
“From the early spring of 2017 your parenting of Hakeem entered a drug-fuelled downward spiral into squalor, chaos and tragedy.“It is clear to me from the evidence that this was a truly exceptional and reprehensible breach of duty.
“Your failure to manage Hakeem’s asthma was persistent and continuous and caused him obvious distress in the day-by-day deterioration of his condition.
“His medication regime was ignored and neglected and he was exposed at home to triggers in a dirty, smoky and cold environment.
“The victim was a young child and moreover you were his mother. You were the person who first and foremost had a responsibility for his welfare.
“He was entitled to rely upon you as his adult caregiver, to take care of him and nurture him - especially protecting his health.
“You betrayed the trust of all children who have to place their trust in their parents to do the best for them and you catastrophically failed to act as a responsible mother.
“All of these offences were committed while you were under the influence or indeed in the thrall of drugs, in particular heroin and crack cocaine.
“Your addiction no doubt led to you prioritising your drug use over almost everything else in your life.
“You should have followed Hakeem’s advice and stopped taking drugs. You didn’t.”
Hakeem’s safety was scored as ‘zero out of 10’
Before sentencing, defence QC Isabella Forshall said Heath’s level of drug addiction amounted to a recognised mental condition.
Heath had formed her habit in her teenage years, was receiving treatment by 2002 and was a diagnosed and registered heroin addict at the time of Hakeem’s death.
Heath had admitted four counts of child cruelty before trial, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing Hakeem to class A drugs.
At a child protection conference on 24 November, 2017, just two days before his fatal collapse, a school nurse told the meeting “he could die at the weekend”.
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.
Neelam Ahmed, the family outreach lead at the school, said: “There were no safety or protective factors and Hakeem was at significant risk of harm.”
Despite those votes, and a low score from the social worker, the meeting ended with agreement the social worker would speak to Heath on Monday – by which time Hakeem had died.
A serious case review into all agencies’ contact with the youngster and his mother, before his death, is set to be published within weeks.
But following the trial, the head of Birmingham Children’s Trust, which took over child social services in early 2018, said there were “clear missed opportunities” in social services’ handling of the case.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Suffering from severe asthma meant Hakeem Hussain needed an attentive and loving parent who was always alert to his wellbeing.
“Tragically he was instead totally neglected by his mother as she lost herself consuming heroin and crack cocaine.
“It appears opportunities were missed by local agencies to step in and protect Hakeem, with the full details due to be revealed when the Child Safeguarding Practice Review is published in the next few weeks.”
Heath’s home was ‘disgusting’
Jurors heard how Heath had lived at Long Acre since 2013, with one visitor describing conditions as “disgusting”.
The same 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.
Heath recently started staying with a friend, Timothy Busk who lived in a flat in Cook Street, a short walk away, with one friend describing it as being “foggy and smoky” inside, and a “mess”.
While there that night, Heath would later tell police 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.
At 7.37am on Sunday November 26, Heath was woken by Mr Busk – who had found Hakeem dead in the garden and carried the youngster’s gaunt body to the sofa.
She called 999, later telling police in interview: “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 – going downstairs to investigate – saw nothing in the darkness.
Jurors heard Hakeem’s father – who attended for much of the trial – was in prison at the time of the boy’s death, for an unrelated offence.
‘His friends will remember him with love’
Teachers said Hakeem turned up to school often late – when he was taken at all – in unwashed uniform, dirty, and his “mop” of black hair, uncut.
Despite the squalor of home life, teachers said Hakeem was “bubbly”, “bright” and a keen student, who enjoyed reading.
Hakeem’s headteacher, David Crumps paid tribute to him, saying: “The news of Hakeem’s death shocked our community five years ago - he was a friendly, polite little boy who will forever be remembered for his gentle nature.”
He added: “His friends will remember him with love and great fondness and he is greatly missed.”
Detective Inspector Michelle Thurgood who led the investigation said: “Hakeem’s death was untimely, tragic and preventable.
“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.
“His mother had a duty of care to manage the administration of his asthma medication. Her life and home was chaotic and this had a detrimental impact on poor little Hakeem.
“My thoughts remain with his loved ones and I hope the court outcome offers some comfort.”