The birth mum of a one-year-old boy murdered by the woman hoping to adopt him said it “breaks” her to know she will never see his face again.
Laura Castle, 38, was jailed for life with a minimum of 18 years after being convicted of murdering Leiland-James Corkill.
Leiland-James was placed with Castle and her husband Scott Castle, 35, by authorities in Cumbria less than five months before his death from catastrophic head injuries.
Castle was told by a judge at her sentencing hearing she may never be freed.
The youngster was a “looked-after child” who was taken into care at birth and was in the care of foster parents until he was eight months old. He was approved to live with his prospective adoptive parents from August 2020.
A series of texts between Castle and her husband showed the tot being described in derogatory terms, with Castle also saying that she had “leathered” him.
Footage of Castle’s police interviews shows her lying to the cops about what happened in a bid to cover up her actions.
What happened to Leiland-James?
Laura Castle rang for an ambulance on the morning of 6 January last year and reported Leiland-James had fallen off the sofa, injured his head and was struggling to breathe.
However, hospital medics raised concerns as the extent of his injuries did not match her account.
Leiland-James died the following day as Laura Castle maintained to police, as well as family and friends, that the death was a tragic accident while her husband, a night shift worker, was asleep.
She stuck to her story until the day the jury was sworn in last month for her trial at Preston Crown Court when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Her new version of events was she had shaken Leiland-James after he had not stopped crying at breakfast and his head hit the arm-rest of the sofa before he fell off her knee on to the floor.
Medical experts told the court though that the degree of force required to cause Leiland-James’ injuries would have been “severe” and likely to be a combination of shaking and an impact with a solid surface.
Prosecutor Michael Brady QC said it was the Crown’s case she killed the boy as she lost her temper and suggested she smashed the back of his head against a piece of furniture.
Former care worker Laura Castle denied intending to kill Leiland-James or seriously harm him but jurors took just two-and-half hours to convict her of murder.
She was also convicted of child cruelty against Leiland-James.
Scott Castle, was found not guilty of allowing Leiland-James’ death. He was also cleared of child cruelty.
He said he never had any concerns that anything bad was going to happen with the boy and he trusted his wife.
The Castles had been selected by an adoption panel following an application process overseen by Cumbria Children’s Services Department, the court heard.
What did Leiland-James’ birth mum say?
The boy’s biological mother, Laura Corkill, branded Castle a “monster” in a letter to the judge, while his previous foster mother Charlotte Day said she was “heartbroken” at learning of the abuse Leiland-James suffered.
In a statement read out to the court, Ms Corkill said she’d been broken by his death and she believed it wouldn’t have happened if he was with her.
She said: “I have felt hurt and broken at what has happened.
“It breaks me to know I’ll never see his face again. When I first found out about Leiland-James’s death, I stayed up crying for days.
“When I heard he had died I stopped eating and stopped caring for myself.
“No one ever thinks they will lose a child. I was looking forward to letters and updates about his life.
“I was told he would be safe and would have a good life. I was fine with that. I believe this would never have happened if he was with me.
“My hopes and dreams were for him to grow up safe, healthy and happy.”
What was said in the sentencing hearing?
Sentencing her to life imprisonment, Mr Justice Baker said it was “nothing less than a tragedy” that she did not return Leiland-James to the local authority when those discussions took place.
He told Castle: “Precisely what took place on the morning of 6 January 2021 may never be known, as even now I do not consider that you told the jury the full circumstances leading to the death of Leiland-James.
“I consider that your account significantly underplays the extent and degree of violence which you inflicted upon Leiland-James that morning, which of necessity must have involved either very severe or considerable impact and oscillation forces to have caused the internal injuries, whilst some of the external injuries were consistent with slapping, pinching and prodding.”
He said she had committed a “significant abuse of trust” as a carer for a looked after child and had caused “dreadful emotional upset” to Leiland-James’s birth mother and his previous foster parents.
David McLachlan QC, defending, said Castle was in the dock “alone and broken” and with “no support whatsoever”.
He said: “Her relationship with Scott Castle is likely to come to an end.
“She is isolated and ostracised in prison due to the verdict of the jury who found she had in fact murdered Leiland-James. Now she must pay the price of that act – an act which resulted in the death of a young baby who will remain an innocent party in these proceedings.”
What did Castle say in the police interview?
In footage of her police interview Castle can be seen shamelessly lying to cops.
The footage from her police interviews shows Castle sobbing as she lied to officers about how Leiland-James’ Corkill died.
She is heard saying: “I tried to put the wipes back in the coffee table drawer so I’m leaning over and I stood up like that...and he fell on the floor.
“I didn’t put him on the sofa, I was just frightened because I didn’t have hold of him. “I picked him up...he was struggling, like gasping.”
A second clip showed Castle replying “no comment” to police as they quiz her over previous times she admitted “slapping” the baby.
Had concerns been raised?
In November 2020 concerns were raised that Laura Castle had said during a home visit she did not love Leiland-James and was struggling to bond with him.
The following month, the Castles were told by a senior social worker she would not support any application to formally adopt Leiland-James at that stage and recommended further therapeutic parenting sessions.
The possibility of removing Leiland-James from their care was canvassed, but Laura Castle said her extended family loved him so he was “not going anywhere”.
Concerns remained about the lack of emotional bond, the court heard, and a review by social services was set to take place in the new year.
When detectives examined the mobile phones of the defendants following their arrest they found text messages which were derogatory towards Leiland-James.
Laura Castle wrote the youngster was a “proper nob head”, “s**t bag” and “top twat”, while her husband said he was a “d**k baby”, “fat s**t” and “toss bag”.
Laura Castle said the texts reflected her “sense of humour” and should not be taken literally, while Scott Castle he was now “ashamed” at sending the messages but he did not mean malice and was trying to sympathise with his wife.
She messaged on several occasions she had “leathered” Leiland-James, although she told the jury that only meant smacking.
In one exchange in September 2020 she wrote: ”I’m seriously at my wits end, no-one tells you about all this s**t. I’m just an abusive parent so it seems.”
Scott Castle responded: “Your not an abusive parent, baby. Not at all. Don’t say that. I think he’s a little too f***ed up for us to handle.
“Let’s just call it quits. I don’t want you to have a mental break down. Your more important to me than him.”
What has Cumbria County Council said?
Cumbria County Council said an independent review is taking place into the case and is due to report back in July.
John Readman, the council’s executive director for people, said: “Adoption should have been a new beginning for Leiland.
“That was cruelly taken away from him by the person who should have cared for him and kept him safe.
“We are deeply sorry for Leiland’s death, it should not have happened.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with his birth family and all those who knew this little boy.
“Abuse of a child by adopters is almost unheard of and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this happening again, here or anywhere else.”