guilty plea | 

Mother is jailed after abandoning ‘vulnerable’ daughter (24) to die alone

Debbie Leitch died in August 2019 Photo: Lancashire Police / Family photo

Elly Blake© Evening Standard

A mother who left her “vulnerable” daughter to die alone in pain in her squalid bedroom has been jailed for nine years and seven months.

The emaciated body of 24-year-old Debbie Leitch, who was born with Down syndrome, was discovered at her family home in Blackpool, Lancashire, in August 2019.

Her mother Elaine Clarke, 49, who received weekly benefit payments of £215 to care for Miss Leitch, pleaded guilty in December to gross negligence manslaughter after she initially denied the offence.

The scene that greeted emergency services was “truly shocking” as her face was “completely encrusted with scabs and thickened skin, such that she was no longer recognisable as being a young female”, Preston Crown Court heard.

Ambulance crews found faeces on the floor, as well as maggots crawling in her room.

They spoke with Clarke, who said she knew Debbie had died around 8pm, but waited before calling 999.

A post-mortem examination gave the cause of death as severe emaciation and neglect with extensive and severe scabies skin infection.

The court heard that Debbie and Clarke had moved to Blackpool in 2016.

Two years later Debbie was diagnosed with eczema and Norwegian Scabies, for which she was prescribed medication.

Instructions were given to her mother as to how and when she needed to administer this.

In 2019, relatives visiting the address noticed Debbie had lost weight and her skin condition had worsened.

A family member visited the address in July 2019 and went into Debbie’s room.

She later told police the room smelt of filth, with plates of mouldy food on the floor.

A few weeks later the same family member returned to the property.

Debbie’s condition had worsened again, with the relative later telling police she appeared ‘half-dead’.

She told officers Debbie’s room resembled a horror movie, with the smell unbearable, including plates of rotting food and bags of dirty, soiled clothes.

She was so concerned she phoned Debbie’s doctor, as well as social services, for support.

A doctor later made a home visit and said he felt Clarke was supportive and had no safeguarding concerns.

Debbie was sat on the sofa and had been showered.

Social services attended the address twice on July 29, 2019, but were prevented from entering the property by a relative of Debbie’s.

On August 1, 2019, social services returned. Debbie was downstairs, waiting, while the worker visited her bedroom and noted nothing of concern.

Other visitors to the address in the weeks before Debbie’s death asked after her, but Clarke said she wasn’t well and they couldn’t see her.

The visitors said they could hear Debbie crying and calling for mummy. She was found dead days later.

Sentencing her on Thursday, Mrs Justice Yip said Miss Leitch’s condition had “deteriorated dramatically” in the months leading up to her death.

She told Clarke: “Nothing was done to halt her decline. Debbie was starved, her scabies was allowed to run out of control, she became more and more weakened until she died.

“In her last days, she was denied even the most basic care and dignity.

“Anyone entering her room and seeing her towards the end of her life could have been left with no doubt that her life was in real danger.

“One way or another, you ignored that risk and left Debbie to die in her squalid room.”

In 2016 when Miss Leitch lived in Leeds, she weighed 10st 1lb but she only weighed 3st 10lb at the time of her death, the court heard.

Detective chief inspector Lee Wilson, of Lancashire Police’s Force Major Investigation Team, said: “In my time working as a police officer, this remains one of the most difficult and tragic cases I have investigated.

“Debbie’s death was wholly avoidable. She should be alive and well, living a good and happy life today. That she isn’t lies firmly at the feet of the one person upon whom she relied – her mother, her paid carer.

“Today’s sentencing brings to the end a most tragic investigation and my thoughts remain with Debbie’s wider family, who I know miss her dearly.”


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