Relatives of baby Finley Boden have described his parents as "monsters" and vowed to never forgive them, as his mother and father were jailed for at least 27 and 29 respectively for his murder.
Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden were both sentenced to life imprisonment at Derby Crown Court on Friday (26 May) - with minimum prison terms of 27 and 29 years - for what a prosecutor described as the “savage and prolonged” murder of their son, Finley Boden. They were earlier found guilty of his murder, on Christmas Day during the winter 2020 Covid lockdown, at trial.
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Ten-month-old Finley died just weeks after being returned to his parents’ care by a Family Court at their home in Holland Road, Old Whittington, near Chesterfield in Derbyshire.
The Derby Crown Court heard the couple burned and beat 10-month-old Finley “in repeated acts of severe violence” in the days before his death. Prosecutor Mary Prior KC said the infant suffered a catalogue of “appalling” injuries, including 71 bruises over his body and 57 fractures, many inflicted shortly before he died.
The Derbyshire Times reports a statement by Sarah Gamble, Boden’s sister, was also read out to the court: She described the parents as "monsters", and said: “I cannot comprehend how parents could murder him in such a horrific way – my bother and Shannon knew they had a supportive family.
“They could have approached any of us for help – instead they hid Finley away, subjecting him to the most horrific abuse," she wrote. “Finley would now be walking, talking and playing. It saddens me every day that I will never be able to see him progress into childhood... Finley’s short life must have been one of fear and pain – we will never forgive you. “
Andrew Vout KC, defending Marsden, told the court they should consider her as “the secondary party” to the murder. He read texts to the court sent by Marsden on 12 December to relatives expressing concerns for Finley’s welfare, and searches for emergency housing in Chesterfield.
Another member of the pair’s extended family described being “devastated” to learn on Christmas morning Finley had died, and devastated again to find out he had been killed by his parents. "When Finley died, part of us died as well".
“Learning of the details of Finley suffering has been heart-breaking – it will always haunt us," she said. Mrs Prior told the court Finley’s injuries would have meant both Boden and Marsden working together, with one of them stifling his cries as the other inflicted them.
He said: while it was plain that Miss Marsden’s feelings for Mr Boden ultimately overrode, she was "ill-equipped to deal with motherhood with an abusive partner".
“She was young, immature and had mental health difficulties of her own," he argued, and was "a victim herself of Mr Boden’s abuse in my submission is well made out on the evidence that we heard".
Simon Kealey KC, defending Boden, told the court “there was not a sadistic motivation to the murder of Finley". Mr Kealey said the parents had a “strong emotional affection” for Finley.
“This is not a case in which the parents sought the return of Finley in order to carry out his killing. The underlying motivation was to reunite his family," he said.
But Mrs Prior told the court the two parents had told “a series of persistent lies” to win back their son before his brutal murder. “The defendants plotted together to ensure that social care were not advised of any serious illness, came up with a plot to suggest that Finley had Covid… and agreed a history to explain how Finley was, and their movements on the day of his death."
New court documents released this week revealed Finley was returned to his parent’s full-time care despite a local authority having “some concerns” over their drug use and parenting ability.
Finley was removed from his parents' care in February 2020, days after he was born. Social workers from Derbyshire County Council had decided to initially take Finley away from his parents because they believed he was likely to suffer "significant harm" at home. They said Marsden and Boden's home smelled of cannabis, was "very unclean", and "at times hazardous, with faeces on the floor", the BBC reported.
The social workers also believed there was a risk of domestic violence, because Boden had a previous conviction against a former partner. But in October 2020, a family court ordered Finley Boden to be returned to Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden’s home within eight weeks.
The transcript of the family court hearing shows Derbyshire County Council asked the court for Finley to be returned to his parent’s full-time care very gradually over four months, initially spending most of his time with his carers.
The other parties involved asked for an eight-week transition, followed by a supervision period. Finley's guardian - appointed by Cafcass to represent the child's best interests - supported the shorter transition period, saying Marsden and Boden had "clearly made and sustained positive changes". New photos revealed their once dirty home clean and orderly.
The court agreed, and also stopped short of ordering the parents to be regularly drug tested - despite hair tests revealing they had lied to social services about ending their cannabis use.