April 2022

Drug addict mum jailed for 20 years for manslaughter after neglecting ‘beautiful little boy’

A mum whose crack cocaine and heroin addiction led to her neglecting her severely asthmatic son when he needed her the most has started a 20-year prison term.

Laura Heath was sentenced to two decades in jail at Coventry Crown Court.

The 40-year-old fatally neglected her son, Hakeem Hussain, who died from an asthma attack at a home in Nechells in November 2017.

Heath, admitted four counts of child cruelty including two counts of ‘wilfully neglecting her son by failing to provide proper medical supervision in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health’, and two offences of ‘wilfully ill-treating Hakeem by exposing him to heroin and crack cocaine.

But she had denied charge of gross negligence manslaughter. However, a jury took six hours and 20 minutes to find her guilty following a month-long trial at Coventry Crown Court.

The asthma-suffering seven-year-old died alone, freezing and ‘gasping for air’ in a garden – two days after social services had voted to act to protect him but decided to ‘wait until after the weekend’. 

An image revealed during the trial showed how Heath had even used foil and an elastic band to rig one of her son’s blue inhalers to smoke crack, fuelling a £55-a-day habit. 

Justice Dove sentenced her to 20 years and told Heath she would spend two-thirds of the term in custody before being eligible for release.

He explained he had uplifted the sentence above the normal brackets to reflect the overall criminality, including the child cruelty offences.

Heath burst into tears as her punishment was announced while a young male in the public gallery reacted aggressively and had to be restrained before being ejected from the courthouse, it was reported.

Paying tribute to Hakeem, Justice Dove said: “It’s clear in his short life he had been an inspiration of happiness and affection for the people who knew him and were fortunate to spend time with him.”

Speaking about how his young life was cut short, he said: “The truth is in short that Hakeem died as a result of your deplorable negligence in caring for him as his mum. He died as a result of your catastrophic and deplorable parenting.”

The court had heard that Hakeem had severe asthma and Heath had neglected his condition throughout the last year of his life, in 2017, as she prioritised her spiralling drug addiction.

The little boy slept on sofa as she used the only bed to fund help fund her habit through sex work. She also stole and borrowed money from friends and family under false pretences.

She also disengaged with and lied to social services and school staff who became increasingly concerned for Hakeem’s welfare.

Another little life lost to appalling social services failings

A drug addict mother has been found guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of her asthma-suffering seven-year-old son after he died alone and ‘gasping for air’ in a garden – two days after social services had voted to act to protect him but decided to ‘wait until after the weekend’. 

Laura Heath, 40, deliberately ‘prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine’ prior to the ‘needless, premature’ death of ‘frail’ Hakeem Hussain from an asthma attack on Sunday November 26 2017, prosecutors had told Coventry Crown Court.

An image revealed during the trial showed how Heath had even used foil and an elastic band to rig one of her son’s blue inhalers to smoke crack, fuelling a £55-a-day habit. 

Heath, formerly of Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham, was convicted today of gross negligence manslaughter of Hakeem, who died at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying. 

She admitted four counts of child cruelty before trial, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing him to class A drugs.

Hakeem’s death came just months before Birmingham Children’s Trust took over child social services in early 2018, with responsibility transferred from the council’s failing child social services department after years of poor performance dating back to 2008. 

Those failures were placed in sharp focus by high-profile child deaths, such as those of Khyra Ishaq in 2008, Keanu Williams in 2011, and Keegan Downer in 2015. 

Social services in Birmingham were aware of Hakeem before his death, and it emerged at trial how at a child protection conference on Friday November 24, 2017 – just two days before his fatal collapse – a school nurse told the meeting ‘he could die at the weekend from asthma’. 

But the meeting ended with an agreement that the family’s social worker would speak to Heath on the Monday, detailing the meeting’s outcome – by which time Hakeem was dead.

In her evidence at the trial, school nurse Melanie Richards said she told the meeting ‘he (Hakeem) could die at the weekend from asthma’. She scored Hakeem’s safety as ‘zero’ out of 10.

Hakeem had been one of four children Heath had, but his three half-siblings were all removed from her care.

Iain Butlin Moran, who chaired the conference, told the trial that social worker Stuart Sanders had been due to speak to Heath about the meeting’s outcome, and to encourage her to ‘work with social services’, but he added that ‘standard practice would have been to do that on the Monday’. 

Neelam Ahmed, family outreach worker at Hakeem’s school, also told jurors how she had also voted at that meeting ‘to take Hakeem immediately in to care’.

A serious case review is now under way into all agencies’ contact with Hakeem and his family, to be published within weeks.

Jurors heard how Heath had lived at Long Acre since 2013, with one visitor describing conditions as ‘disgusting’.

The same witness told how Hakeem said he had no bed, sleeping instead on the sofa, while there was evidence Heath used an upstairs bedroom for sex work to fund her habit with a basket of condoms next to the mattress.

Heath recently started staying with a friend, Timothy Busk who lived in a flat in Cook Street, a short walk away, with one friend describing it as being ‘foggy and smoky’ inside, and a ‘mess’.

While there that night, Heath would later tell police she smoked three bags of heroin – two before Hakeem went to bed at 10.30pm – and one afterwards, leaving her in a drug-induced sleep.

At 7.37am on Sunday November 26, Heath was woken by Mr Busk – who had found Hakeem dead in the garden and carried the youngster’s gaunt body to the sofa.

She called 999, later telling police in interview: ‘Hakeem was freezing and his lips were blue.

‘Hakeem would go out when he was unwell and must have fallen asleep (when outside).

‘I just suspect he didn’t wake me up, took himself to get fresh air and then probably fell asleep.’

In the early hours, a neighbour had heard tapping at his window but – going downstairs to investigate – saw nothing in the darkness.

Heath did not give evidence in her defence, with prosecutors saying it showed she was ‘unable to hear the truth’.

Jurors heard Hakeem’s father – who attended for much of the trial – was in prison at the time of the boy’s death, for an unrelated offence, and that Heath had previously had other children taken into care.

Teachers said Hakeem turned up to school often late – when he was taken at all – in unwashed uniform, dirty, and his ‘mop’ of black hair, uncut.

Despite the squalor of home life, teachers said Hakeem was ‘bubbly’, ‘bright’ and a keen student, who enjoyed reading.

Jurors also heard how Heath’s friend Chloe Cooper, disgusted by conditions she witnessed at the boy’s home the day before his death, offered to take him home with her ‘but she (Heath) refused’, she said.

Prosecutors said Heath should have been well aware of Hakeem’s spiralling health problems.

Hakeem was admitted with breathing difficulties to Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s high dependency unit for four days, in September 2017, receiving treatment for his ‘life-threatening’ condition.

It was his third hospital admission.

At the opening of the trial, the Crown said Heath ‘failed to administer’ any ‘preventer’ asthma medication in the two days before he died, and did not have access to a spacer device, used to get more drugs into a child’s lungs.

Police searches later found part of a spacer amid the squalor of mouldy food, over-filled ashtrays, and drugs paraphernalia in Long Acre.

Heath will be sentenced on Thursday.