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A mother who slowly starved her Down’s Syndrome daughter to death in a filthy bedroom covered in takeaway boxes and used diapers was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison.

Elaine Clarke, 49, ‘bought herself handbags and shoes,’ while daughter Debbie Leitch, 24, wasted away in a dark, feces-covered room that smelled of death.’

Leitch’s face was ‘completely encrusted with scabs and thickened skin, such that she was no longer recognizable as being a young female’ when she was discovered on August 29, 2019.

She was in such pain that police were initially unable to identify her sex when they discovered her body, which weighed only 3stone 10lb (23.5 kg).

Her death was caused by ‘severe emaciation and neglect with extensive and severe scabies skin infection,’ according to a post-mortem examination.

Clarke had been receiving weekly benefit payments of £215 to care for her daughter, but in December she pleaded guilty to gross negligence manslaughter after initially denying the charge.

She was sentenced to nine years and seven months in prison today at Preston Crown Court after admitting gross negligent manslaughter.

Leitch’s condition ‘deteriorated dramatically’ in the months leading up to her death, according to the court.

Prosecutor John Harrison QC described to the court the horrific conditions in which Debbie’s decomposing body was discovered when emergency services arrived.

‘Debbie was extremely emaciated, with a severe rash on the scalp, face, and soles of the feet,’ he said. The deceased’s jumper and trousers were filthy, and mites were discovered crawling on them. A urine-soiled nappy was discovered inside her pants.

‘A live maggot was discovered near the body.’ Bits of skin came away with her clothing as it was cut away from her body because it had adhered to her body.

‘Mites were found crawling all over her back. The trousers were covered in liquid feces. Debbie’s hair was falling out due to the scabies rash. Her face was covered with the rash.

‘Debbie’s ribs were visible through the skin. All of her limbs were wasted, and the rash was widespread on them. Her buttocks were completely covered in feces which extended down to the thighs.

‘As the body was examined, large areas of skin fell away from the body. More than 30 percent of her skin was covered in the rash, which was more severe in some parts of the body than others.’

Clarke’s niece, Sammy Mugridge, paid a visit to the house a month before Debbie died.

She found the daughter on a filthy mattress in a dark, musty room covered in takeaway boxes and dirty nappies.

She warned Clarke that if Debbie was not cared for, she would die, and she later reported her to social services.

‘I’ll never forget the last day I saw Debbie alive,’ Mugridge told the court. I knew she was ill and not feeling well, but the sight of her in the room will stay with me for the rest of my life.

‘The stench was unbelievable… I can only describe it as the stench of death.

‘Debbie was so skinny. Her hair had been hacked off her skin looked like raw flesh. It was like something out of a horror movie.’

A GP from Whitegate Health Centre arranged a home visit the same day after receiving a safeguarding report on July 26, a month before her death.

As a result, Clarke worked hard to clean the room and get her daughter into the shower.

Leitch, on the other hand, ‘screamed throughout the shower’ because the pain on her irritated skin ‘must have been excruciating,’ according to the court.

Clarke assured the doctor that she was using medication to treat her daughter’s skin infection.

The doctor scheduled a second visit for August 12, but when he arrived, he was unable to gain access to the property, and his attempts to schedule a follow-up were ignored.

Clarke presented her daughter to Blackpool Council social workers in a similar manner, telling them she was ‘doing really well, eating really well, and spending time downstairs.’

However, Leitch’s condition deteriorated, and she was heard crying and calling ‘mummy, mummy’ by a neighbor in the days leading up to her death, according to the court.

When Clarke finally dialed 999, it was discovered that Debbie had been dead for eight to 36 hours.

Clarke initially denied the wrongful death of her vulnerable daughter, but changed her plea to guilty in January, just ten days before the case was set to go to trial.

Her former partner, 45-year-old Robert Bruce of Rothwell in Leeds, was charged with allowing or causing the death of a vulnerable adult, but the charge was later dropped.

Judge Amanda Yip told the defendant during her sentencing today, ‘You are responsible for Debbie’s death.’ You were her mother, she lived with you, and you were paid to look after her.

‘At times, you have continued to minimize your responsibility… You claim to have done your best. You may be in denial, both to yourself and to others, but that is not true.

‘Not only did you not give it your all, but you must have done nothing to care for her.’

‘Instead, you simply abandoned her to die alone, in agony, without nourishment, in the most dreadful condition.’ The agony she must have felt is palpable.’

‘Debbie was starved, the scabies was allowed to run rampant, and she became increasingly weakened until she died,’ the judge continued. Sue was denied the most basic care and dignity in her final days.

‘Debbie was a happy child growing up, but I didn’t think she received the attention and affection she deserved.’

‘She adored horses and would frequently stand in front of the mirror brushing her long hair.’ All she desired was her mother’s love and affection. Sadly, Elaine never gave it to her.

‘Everything Debbie got seemed to be an afterthought.’ She was rarely taken out on social occasions and was frequently left at home when Elaine and Robert went out.

‘She wore Elaine’s clothes because she didn’t own any.’

‘Elaine has always been a selfish and lazy mother, only concerned with her own personal needs.’

‘She’d go out and buy herself handbags and shoes, but she was too lazy to get out of bed and care for her family.’ She completely neglected her children. 

‘Everyone tried to help Elaine, but she always refused, believing she knew better.’

‘Debbie didn’t seem to have a life. Her mother, the one person who should have cared for her, took it away from her.’

Clarke must serve at least two-thirds of her prison sentence before being eligible for release, after which she will be kept on probation.


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