Methadone beaker parents guilty of manslaughter
- 18 January 2013
- From the section Derby
The parents of a toddler who died after drinking methadone have been found guilty of his manslaughter.
Shaun Binfield, 45, and Sally Dent, 33, of Belper, Derbyshire, had both denied the charges and were convicted after a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
Two-year-old Riley Pettipierre died in March 2012 after drinking Dent's prescription methadone which had been poured into a child's drinking beaker.
The pair were remanded into custody and will be sentenced on 19 February.
Dent was also found guilty of one charge of child cruelty.
During the trial, the court heard the cup of methadone was left on some bedroom drawers in "easy reach" of Dent, who had a history of drug use going back many years and was prescribed the drug to try to rid her of the habit.
During her defence, Dent described how she came to put the methadone in the child's beaker.
She said: "I was just thinking of somewhere safe to put it - because the lid was so tight I knew I wouldn't spill it."
Dent, who has her son's name tattooed on her hand, told the court she had been addicted to heroin since she was 16.
The prosecution said leaving the methadone in a child's beaker where Riley could easily reach it amounted to "grave negligence" as the child would have thought it was juice.
When paramedics arrived at the family home on 13 March, they found Riley lifeless. His heart had stopped beating and his lips were blue, the court heard.
He was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
A post-mortem examination showed Riley had a fatal amount of methadone in his blood, stomach and urine.
He is believed to have consumed between 10 and 20ml of methadone.
The couple originally told police Riley must have climbed on top of a wardrobe in the bedroom where the methadone was usually stored in a locked, wooden box.
'Culture of neglect'
When prosecution barrister Yvonne Coen QC said to Dent that she "was not being a good mother," Dent replied: "I did everything in my power to keep Riley safe."
She went on to admit that it had not been "a good idea to take drugs in the house".
The court was told that police found evidence of heroin and cannabis hidden around the house and scientific tests showed traces of both drugs in strands of Riley's hair.
Ms Coen said it was highly likely Riley had consumed heroin and cocaine in the months leading up to his death.
She said: "Far from being a tragic one-off, it would seem there was something of a culture of neglect in this household concerning drugs.
"It can't be said either parent deliberately gave them to Riley, but he did come into contact with a cocktail of potentially lethal drugs. It was an obvious risk with very grave consequences."
The court was told that on the morning of Riley's death, Binfield, who was watching television in another room, let his son go back into the bedroom unsupervised, knowing the methadone was within his reach and knowing Dent was sleeping off the drugs she had taken the night before.
Binfield repeatedly told jurors he did not register that the beaker was in the bedroom.
He said he put the beaker of methadone on a CD rack that was on top of a chest of drawers so that Dent could drink it during the night if she needed to.
He said a cup containing the drug was sometimes kept on top of the wardrobe in their bedroom but had been moved on that occasion so it was more convenient for Dent, something which had not happened before.
Binfield said he forgot to move the cup out of harm's reach because he became preoccupied with putting out the family's waste bins and the childcare routine.
He said he would have moved the methadone "if alarm bells had rung", adding: "My son would still be here now."
When the jury returned its verdict, Judge John Milmo QC thanked them for their work on a "distressing case".
"The court is grateful to you and the public should be grateful to you as well, to take on such an emotionally charged case," he said.