UK

Couple Jailed Over Death Of Toddler Riley Pettipierre Who Drank Mother's Methadone

19/02/2013 17:56 GMT

A couple whose two-year-old son died after drinking his mother's methadone have been jailed for his manslaughter.

Heroin addict Sally Dent and her partner, Shaun Binfield, were found guilty by a jury at Nottingham Crown Court last month over the death of Riley Pettipierre, who died after drinking the heroin substitute at the family's home last March.

riley pettipierre death

The judge told Shaun Binfield and Sally Dent they 'showed a reckless disregard' for Riley Pettipierre's safety

On Tuesday, the pair wept uncontrollably in the dock as Dent was sentenced to seven and a half years for her son's manslaughter. Her partner and Riley's father Binfield was jailed for four years on the same charge.

The pair, who had denied the charges, were found guilty of manslaughter by a jury at Nottingham Crown Court last month.

Dent, 33, was also found guilty of a separate charge of cruelty to a child under the age of 16 for failing to keep methadone out of the reach of her child.

Sentencing the couple at the court, Judge John Milmo QC said: "You will both have his death on your consciences for the rest of your lives."

During the trial the jurors had heard that the green and yellow child's beaker had been placed on a chest of drawers in the couple's bedroom at the flat on 12 March so that Dent could easily drink the methadone if she needed it during the night.

On 13 March last year Dent awoke to find Riley's lifeless body next to her in the bed after he had drunk the heroin substitute from the cup.

Dent, who had been addicted to heroin since she was 16 and cocaine, called 999 but the toddler's heart had stopped beating and his lips were blue when the paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at hospital.

Post-mortem tests showed that Riley had enough methadone in his blood, stomach and urine to prove fatal.

He is believed to have consumed between 10ml and 20ml of the heroin substitute, the court heard. Traces of cocaine were also found in his hair.

The trial had heard that Dent had been prescribed methadone to help her get rid of her heroin addiction but had struggled to kick the drug.

The judge accepted Binfield's culpability in Riley's manslaughter was less than his partner's but condemned the couple for failing to move the cup out of the toddler's reach.

Mr Milmo said: "You both knew the beaker was in a place to which he had access. Ms Dent showed a reckless disregard for the child's safety by asking Shaun Binfield to move it.

"But you, Mr Binfield, didn't bother to check the next morning whether there was methadone still in the cup at the side of the bed.

"You had the last opportunity to protect your son and you failed in that duty. There was no excuse for leaving it where Riley could get to it."

The judge said he had taken into consideration that the family had ensured the physical safety of their child by installing safety gates around their home and that witnesses during the trial had spoke of a well-cared for and clean home.

But Mr Milmo added: "If one parent is addicted to Class A drugs, there must be a risk to a child."

In mitigation, Dent's barrister Simon Clarke said the family had tried to minimise Riley's exposure to the drug by installing child-proof gates around their home and ensuring Binfield looked after the children in a different room while Dent took her drugs in the kitchen.

He said Ms Dent would be "punished for the rest of her life" for failing to move the cup.

Defending Binfield, Paul Mann asked the judge to bear in mind the 45-year-old's personal loss when sentencing him.

He said that Binfield had tried to persuade Ms Dent off the drugs during their relationship.

"Riley was a daddy's boy. They had a close bond. Mr Binfield has lost his son and his liberty," Mr Mann told the judge.

"I ask that you impose punishment measured with a degree of mercy."

Family and friends sobbed in the public gallery as the judge jailed Dent for seven and a half years for manslaughter. She was handed a three-year sentence to run concurrently for the second charge of cruelty to a child.

Binfield was jailed for four years for manslaughter as the judge said he was satisfied his culpability was less than Ms Dent's.

The pair were told they would serve half their sentences before been released on licence.

Commenting after the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Phil Cox, of the East Midlands Major Crime Unit, said: "The lengths of these sentences reflect the serious nature of the crime.

"Although I hope the sentencing reinforces the message that methadone is a highly dangerous drug which should always be kept locked away and well out of the reach of children, nothing can bring back little Riley.

"This was a tragic case which not only devastated Riley's family, it also shocked the community of Belper."

Derbyshire Safeguarding Children's Board said a serious case review would be published in the next few months.

Christine Cassell, chair of the board, said: "It's extremely upsetting and a terrible tragedy when a child dies - and particularly so in Riley's case.

"Even though his parents are responsible for Riley's death, we need to see if it could have been predicted or prevented by any of the agencies working with his family. That's why we have ordered an in-depth serious case review of the circumstances leading up to his death."