Febuary 2006

Father gets life for baby murder

A father who battered and burnt his son to death has been given a life sentence after being convicted of murder.

Paul O’Neil, 33, from Newcastle, held the face of his three-month-old son Aaron against a gas fire and later fractured his skull with a head blow.

O’Neil, of Banbury Road, Kenton, was told he must serve at least 22 years.

An independent report criticised agencies involved, saying information sharing was insufficient and procedures were not always followed.

Aaron’s mother Jodie Taylor, 21, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years after admitting cruelty by failing to provide adequate medical attention.

O’Neil was also given sentences of 14 years for causing grievous bodily harm and five years for cruelty, with all the sentences to be served concurrently.

He had admitted cruelty, but denied murder and five GBH charges, between November 2004 and February 2005.

The jury heard how Aaron was beaten and burned so badly that he died 92 days after he was born.

They returned a guilty verdict on the charges of murder and of inflicting the burns to Aaron’s face and hands.

The court heard Taylor was “trapped” in a relationship with the domineering O’Neil and was afraid to report what he had done.

Following Aaron’s death, the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) commissioned independent expert Catherine Weightman to investigate the case.

Her findings were published on Friday and found information sharing was insufficient to provide a full picture of the family history and risk to the child.

Details were held by health and social services which identified the father as a violent individual who presented a risk to women and children.

Agencies were aware of the mother’s history of childhood abuse and recent offending history.

The report said: “Collectively, these records should have provided all professionals working with these parents with a clear profile of potential risk, parenting capacity and ability to protect a child.”

The report said analysis of risk was limited across agencies, engagement of professionals was not strongly maintained and the parents’ co-operation was superficial or, in the case of the father, non-existent.

It said this led to a withdrawal of the social worker and to a ‘lack of persistence’ in the health visitor’s attempts to see the child.

Newcastle City Council executive director of children’s services and the chair of the LSCB Catherine Fitt said: “We cannot be inside people’s homes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but we must take responsibility for doing everything in our power to ensure that children in Newcastle are safe.”

Labour MP for Newcastle North Doug Henderson said he had written to the Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt calling for an external inquiry.

He said: “I have asked the Secretary of State to examine whether the agencies involved in Newcastle had applied the recommendations of the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie and the subsequent provisions of the 2004 Children’s Act, and if not, why not?”