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Social workers unanimously voted to separate a frail seven-year-old boy from his drug-addicted mother, but he died alone and “breathless” in a garden that same weekend, two days after they decided to “leave him until Monday.”
The alert, at a child protection conference on Friday afternoon, was not immediately acted upon, and by early Sunday morning, November 26, 2017, Hakeem Hussain had died of an asthma attack.
Incapable’ Laura Heath, 40, deliberately ‘prioritized her heroin and crack addiction’ before ‘unnecessary and premature’ death, Crown QC Jonas Hankin told Coventry Crown Court.
An image revealed during the trial showed how Heath even used tin foil and a rubber band to manipulate one of her son’s blue inhalers to smoke crack, fueling a £55-a-day habit.
Heath, formerly of Nechells, Birmingham, was convicted today of the grossly negligent homicide of Hakeem, who died at a friend’s house where her mother was staying. She admitted to four counts of child cruelty before trial, including lack of proper medical supervision and exposure to class A drugs.
Hakeem’s death came just months before Birmingham Children’s Trust took over children’s social services in early 2018, with responsibility transferred from the council’s bankrupt department of children’s social services after years of poor performance. dating back to 2008.
Those failures were highlighted by the high-profile deaths of children, such as those of Khyra Ishaq in 2008, Keanu Williams in 2011 and Keegan Downer in 2015.
Social services in Birmingham knew about Hakeem before his death, and the trial learned how at a child protection conference on Friday, November 24, 2017, just two days before his fatal collapse, a school nurse told the meeting. that ‘I could die in the weekend from asthma’.
But the meeting ended with an agreement that the family’s social worker would speak to Heath on Monday, detailing the outcome of the meeting, by which time Hakeem was dead.
In her trial statement, school nurse Melanie Richards said she told the meeting that “he (Hakeem) could die over the weekend from asthma.” She rated Hakeem’s safety ‘zero’ out of 10.
Hakeem had been one of Heath’s four children, but his three half-siblings were removed from his care.
Iain Butlin Moran, who chaired the conference, told the trial that social worker Stuart Sanders should speak to Heath about the outcome of the meeting and encourage her to ‘work with social services’, but added that ‘standard practice would have been to do that on Monday.
Neelam Ahmed, a family outreach worker at Hakeem’s school, also told the jury that she, too, had voted at that meeting “for Hakeem to take over immediately.”
Writing after today’s verdict, Children’s Commissioner for England Rachel de Souza said: ‘Another devastating case. For Hakeem and the other children who have needlessly lost their lives, saying it won’t happen again isn’t enough. We must not tolerate the same common places, we need actions that comply so that it cannot.
‘This case raises more questions about the safety of children in Birmingham. I will raise my concerns directly with the Department of Education and the Birmingham Children’s Services Trust.’
In a statement, released in December 2017, the staff and children of Nechells Primary Academy paid tribute: “Hakeem was a very beautiful boy, a great friend to many of the staff and children, with a wicked sense of humor and a contagious laugh.
“He was a warm and generous-hearted soul who was talented in many areas of the curriculum, but especially music and the arts.
“He totally stole the show with his performance as the Christmas star in Year 2’s Christmas play with his clear voice and stage presence.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he delivered his lines with poignant grace and humor.
“The twinkle in his beautiful eyes was as bright as the stars in the sky, and our love for him will shine forever, from all of his Nechells family.”
Detective Inspector Michelle Thurgood
Following the verdict, Detective Inspector Michelle Thurgood of West Midlands Police, who led the investigation, said: “Hakeem’s death was premature, tragic and preventable.”
“He was a child who should have enjoyed a happy and carefree childhood.”
She added: ‘His mother had a duty of care to administer her asthma medication.
“Her life and his home were chaotic and this had a detrimental impact on poor Hakeem.
“My thoughts remain with her loved ones and I hope the court outcome offers some comfort.”
Georgina Davies of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This was a tragic case of a child being let down by his mother, who should have protected him.”
“The terrible decisions that Laura Heath repeatedly made led to the loss of Hakeem Hussain and I appreciate the jury’s decision.
‘My deepest condolences to Hakeem’s family. I hope today’s verdict gives you some comfort that Heath has been held accountable for Hakeem’s death.
The same witness recounted how Hakeem said he had no bed but slept on the couch, while there was evidence Heath used an upstairs bedroom for sex work to finance his habit with a basket of condoms next to the mattress.
Heath recently began staying with a friend, Timothy Busk, who lived in an apartment on Cook Street, a short walk away, with a friend describing it as “foggy and smoky” inside, and a “mess.”
While she was there that night, Heath would later tell police that she smoked three bags of heroin, two before Hakeem went to bed at 10:30 p.m. m., and one after her, leaving her in a drug-induced sleep.
At 7:37 a.m. on Sunday, November 26, Busk woke Heath, who had found Hakeem dead in the garden and carried the young man’s emaciated body to the sofa.
She called 999 and later told police in the interview: ‘Hakeem was freezing and his lips were blue.
‘Hakeem would go out when he wasn’t feeling well and he must have fallen asleep (when he was out).
I just suspect he didn’t wake me up, he went to get some fresh air and then probably fell asleep.
Earlier in the morning, a neighbor had heard knocking on his window but, going downstairs to investigate, he saw nothing in the dark.
Heath gave no evidence in her defense, which prosecutors said showed she was “unable to hear the truth.”
Jurors heard that Hakeem’s father, who was in attendance for much of the trial, was in prison at the time of the boy’s death, for an unrelated crime, and that Heath had previously had other children in his care.
Teachers said Hakeem was often late for school, when he was taken away, with his uniform unwashed, dirty, and his black ‘hair’ uncut.
Despite the misery of home life, teachers said Hakeem was ‘bubbly’, ‘bright’ and an enthusiastic student who enjoyed reading.
The jury also heard how Heath’s friend Chloe Cooper, disgusted by the conditions she witnessed in the boy’s home the day before his death, offered to take him home with her “but she (Heath) refused,” it said. .
Prosecutors said Heath should have been aware of Hakeem’s growing health problems.