drug addict whose seven-year-old son died alone from a needless asthma attack after she used his inhalers to smoke crack cocaine has been jailed for 20 years.
Laura Heath admitted child cruelty and was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter last week after jurors heard how Hakeem Hussain was found dead in a garden in Nechells, Birmingham.
A trial at Coventry Crown Court was told a school nurse had warned at a child protection conference that Hakeem “could die at the weekend” just two days before his death in the early hours of Sunday November 26, 2017.
Hakeem, who had been admitted to hospital due to asthma three times in the previous two years, is believed to have gone outside on his own as Heath deliberately “prioritised” her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, leaving him without an inhaler.
Heath, formerly of Long Acre, Nechells, was staying over at a friend’s flat when Hakeem was found dead at 7.37am.
She later told police she had smoked three bags of heroin – two before Hakeem went to bed at 10.30pm and one afterwards, leaving her in a drug-induced sleep.
Toxicology evidence put before the court proved Hakeem had inhaled tobacco smoke in the hours before his death, having also been exposed to heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis through second-hand smoke.
Passing sentence on Thursday, Mr Justice Dove told 40-year-old Heath that Hakeem’s death was the result of her “catastrophic and deplorable” parenting.
Heath’s life had “entered a drug-fuelled downward spiral into squalor, chaos and tragedy”, he said.
Ruling that Heath should serve two-thirds of her sentence before being eligible for parole, the judge told her: “When Hakeem Hussain died in the early hours of the morning he was only seven years old.
“It is clear that in his tragically short life he had been an inspiration of happiness and affection for people who knew him.
“All of that potential for a wonderful and fulfilling life was cut short, extinguished as he collapsed on his own suffocating, clutching a leaf in the garden.
“The truth is that Hakeem died as a result of your deplorable negligence. You had allowed your life to be completely overtaken by your addiction to heroin and cocaine. His death was needless, tragic and a result of your abject failure as his mother.”
Before sentencing, defence QC Isabella Forshall said Heath’s level of drug addiction amounted to a recognised mental condition.
Heath had formed her habit in her teenage years, was receiving treatment by 2002 and was a diagnosed and registered heroin addict at the time of Hakeem’s death.
Heath admitted four counts of child cruelty prior to the trial, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing Hakeem to class A drugs.
At the start of the trial, Crown counsel Matthew Brook said Hakeem had been repeatedly absent from school and had experienced three emergency admissions to hospital in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
After one of the admissions, the court heard, a paediatrician recorded that Hakeem had been in an “acute life-threatening” state linked to asthma.
Mr Brook told the court: “The defendant had a duty to ensure the welfare of her son.
“She knew that he was suffering from severe uncontrolled asthma. There was an obvious risk that Hakeem might die from such an attack if she did not manage his asthma in accordance with the medical advice she received.
“Instead, the defendant deliberately prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine and flouted the medical advice that she received that would have kept her son’s asthma under control.”
Mr Brook added: “Hakeem died as a result. He died alone in the early hours of the morning, sometime between midnight and about 6am.
“At some stage that night, Hakeem got out of bed and went outside, which he would do when his asthma was bad and he needed fresh air.
“Usually when he had difficulty breathing, he would wake his mother – indeed he had done so the previous night – and ask her to give him his inhaler.
“The evidence shows that on this occasion his mother had not come to his aid, and sadly his lifeless body was found in the garden outside the flat.
“Hakeem was clutching a leaf in his hand. There was no sign of his asthma medication being with him.”