A COUPLE'S appalling neglect of their five children in a ‘filthy, stinking house’, went on for 'many years' despite teachers, social workers and health professionals knowing of their plight, a court heard on Friday.
It was only when the couple's youngest child, a three-year-old girl, was admitted to hospital with severe nappy rash that the scale of the neglect was realised by the care agencies.
Soon after the little girl went to hospital her two brothers, both aged four, were also admitted - and then urgent care proceedings were launched to remove all the couple's children from them.
The youngsters, aged from three to 14, were suffering from problems including malnutrition, lice and flea infestation and were grubby and smelly, Gloucester Crown Court was told.
One teacher had often been unable to bear the smell of one of the girls and had to walk away from her.
Two boys, aged four, were not potty trained and were still wearing nappies.
One headteacher even took to washing one of the girls' clothes herself at school because they smelt so badly.
When police went to arrest the parents at their home in the Stroud area of Gloucestershire, two months after the children had been removed, they were shocked at the state of the house, the court heard.
"The police found the home to be in a poor state with a strong smell of urine and upstairs was worse than downstairs," said prosecutor Kerry Barker.
"The children’s bedrooms stank of urine and animal faeces. Dirty clothing was still lying around on the floors. The kitchen was dirty and smelled of stale food and the house was generally grimy and dirty.
"The officers were shocked that children had been allowed to live in those conditions and, of course, that was two months after the children had been removed."
Yet for years beforehand the smelly, lice-ridden, undernourished state of the children had been obvious to teachers and medical professionals who repeatedly contacted the parents to voice their concerns, said Mr Barker.
The situation dragged on because the mother, particularly, failed to engage with the agencies and did not keep appointments with doctors and social workers.
She would get angry and hostile when professionals contacted her about their concerns for the children.
The couple pleaded guilty to five charges of neglect of the children between July 2007 and December 2012.
Mr Barker said the couple also have four older children and had been charged with neglect of them but the prosecution had decided not to proceed with those charges.
The female defendant is the mother of all nine children but her husband is the father of only the three youngest although he had taken on the responsibility of parenting the older siblings, Mr Barker explained.
The couple had begun living together in 2007.
"One of the most significant features of the case is how the children have thrived and their health has improved dramatically having been placed in the care of others such as foster carers," added Mr Barker.
Mr Barker told how one of the couple's daughters, aged 12, stank so much at school that other pupils could not tolerate the smell and she had to be isolated.
She frequently ‘had an unpleasant overpowering smell through poor hygiene and dirty clothes’.
She was socially isolated because other children could not tolerate the smell and also suffered with head lice infestations which were clearly visible to other students.
"These issues were raised with the mother on a number of occasions and the girl had to be sent home. The school's increasing concerns were put in a letter to the mother from the head teacher in June 2010," he added.
On some occasions the girl's teacher had to walk away from her because he could not stand the smell. Yet the mother claimed she and her husband could not smell anything.
The mother had failed to keep appointments with a paediatrician to treat her for incontinence and this led to urinary tract infections, said Mr Barker.
The girl had poor vision and was struggling at school because the mother had not taken her to the opticians to get a new prescription.
Mr Barker added that one of the couple's daughter's, now aged eight, caused concern at a local infants school where it was noticed she was sore from scratching head lice and her clothes were dirty and inappropriate for the weather.
The mother became 'very angry' when contacted by the head teacher - and she and her husband claimed to a social worker that they were being 'got at’.
"Sadly things did not change and the head teacher had to resort to things like washing the little girl's clothes whilst she was at school,” added Mr Barker.
“Eventually the mother gave permission to the head teacher to comb the girl's hair to try to eradicate the lice."
The court heard that a paediatrician later found evidence of ‘both physical and emotional harm and neglect which are likely to be impacting on the girl's learning and social development’.
According to Mr Barker, she was underweight and inadequately nourished - she had nutritional iron and Vitamin D deficiency.
Both the four year old boys taken into hospital in 2012 were suffering from problems including developmental delay, severe Vitamin D deficiency with thinning bones, severe iron deficiency and chronic head lice infestation,
Although aged four, they were still in nappies and not potty trained, the court heard.
The youngest daughter, whose severe nappy rash led to the plight of the children at last being fully appreciated, had severe iron deficiency anaemia, low weight and short stature for her age, head lice and unnatural sleepiness, Mr Barker added.
"She had dirty nails. She smelled. She had scabs on top of her head and the hair was missing from those areas. She had rampant head lice and scratch marks on her back and arms. Enamel was missing from her teeth which were brown and discoloured," he said.
She was in such a bad way she could barely stand to be measured and was 'distressed on weight bearing'.
Mr Barker told the court that when the mother was questioned by police she refused for an hour to answer questions and then denied neglect and said she loved the children and cared for them to the best of her ability.
She had treated head lice with mayonnaise - a tip she learned from her mother, she stated.
"She asserted that the children had been fed properly and that they kept the house clean,” said Mr Barker.
"Her husband described a daily cleaning regime and bathing the children also daily. He’d asserted they had proper meals and he could not account for their iron and Vitamin D deficiencies."
Mr Barker said sentencing guidelines indicated the couple should be jailed for between five and nine years each.
However Judge Jamie Tabor QC did not sentence the pair after defence solicitor Steve Young, for the mother, submitted that a pre-sentence report on her from a probation officer was unfair and biased against her.
He said the probation officer had told the mother she would be recommending a suspended sentence - but had then not done so.
The judge adjourned the case until Wednesday, May 28 to give the probation officer a chance to respond.
The couple has been bailed until then.