January 2023

County Durham couple who forced children to scavenge for scraps and eat soap convicted

A County Durham couple have been convicted after subjecting children to prolonged physical and emotional abuse for several years.

An extensive police investigation was launched in 2018 when one of the children disclosed what happened to her to a trusted adult.

The investigation, which spanned four years and involved more than 150 witnesses found that Andrew Hadwin and Cheryl Pickles forced children to eat soap, locked them in cupboards, and forced them into boiling hot showers and baths.

The couple, from Bowburn, County Durham, would also withdraw their access to food, leaving the children to scavenge for scraps to eat.

On one occasion they were found at 4am walking along to a supermarket four miles away to find something to eat.

At the trial, the court heard from medical experts who described how the children regularly suffered injuries, one of whom was left with life-limiting injuries as a result of the couple’s abuse.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the pair would also order takeaways and make the children watch them eat while stood in stress positions for long periods of time.

Hadwin, 39, and Pickles, 35, were charged with multiple offences of child neglect and sexual activity with a child, and one count of perverting the course of justice.

Hadwin was also charged with three counts of rape in relation to non-recent abuse of another child which happened when she was young.

Both Hadwin and Pickles denied all charges, resulting in a seven-week trial.

They also heard how the pair wrote letters claiming to be from the children in which they apologised for lying and were sorry, while making false allegations of sexual assault by professionals working to support them.

However, a handwriting expert was able to confirm that the writing was not that of a child, and the letter had been written in a notebook found at the couple’s home.

It took the jury three days to find Hadwin guilty of three counts of rape, seven counts of neglect, and one count of perverting the course of justice.

He was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.

Pickles was found guilty of five counts of child cruelty and one of perverting the course of justice, but was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.

The pair will be sentenced on Friday 28 April at Teesside Crown Court. Until then, they have been remanded in custody.