Jordan Burling: The teenager left to waste away

By Tom Airey
BBC News

image copyrightWest Yorkshire Police
image captionJordan Burling, pictured in 2013, died three years later weighing under six stone (37kg)

A teenager was so emaciated when he died that his appearance was compared to that of a World War Two concentration camp victim. Why did his mother and grandmother, who have been jailed for his manslaughter, fail to call for help until it was too late?

Jordan Burling weighed under six stone (37kg) when he died, having wasted away due to extreme malnutrition.

His life ended on a makeshift bed in the lounge of the family home, where he had been confined for some months.

It wasn't the first tragedy at the house in Butterbowl Garth in Farnley, Leeds.

Jordan's grandfather, Herbert Cranston, took his own life in a bedroom in 2006. In another, Jordan's mother Dawn Cranston gave birth alone.

When she realised the baby was unresponsive, she wrapped his remains in plastic bags and hid them in a rucksack in a wardrobe, where they were not found until after Jordan's death in June 2016.

Dr Cleo Van Velsen, a consultant psychiatrist who assessed Dawn, told the trial the house was "sealed off" and the family had made a "psychic retreat into a cave" to protect themselves emotionally.

"You pay a price for that, for not connecting with the world; they reinforced each other's behaviour rather than challenged each other."

image captionJordan was confined to the lounge for the final months of his life after he became immobile

Dawn, a shelf-stacker at Poundland, moved into her mother Denise Cranston's home with her children, Jordan and Abigail, in 2002.

The trial heard the family rarely sat together to eat, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve aside, with the general rule being "if you're hungry, make yourself a meal".

Eighteen-year-old Jordan favoured microwave food: spaghetti bolognese, pizzas and sticky ribs, along with milkshakes and imported American sweets.

The lounge was cluttered with shoeboxes of Converse trainers Dawn used to sell on eBay. Abigail, who was convicted of causing or allowing the death of her brother, stored many of her possessions there despite living nearby, and visited the home frequently.

image copyrightWest Yorkshire Police handout
image captionThe living room of the house where Jordan was found by medics was cluttered with Dawn's shoeboxes and Abigail's possessions

Neighbours described the family as "strange and reclusive".

"I saw [Jordan] very occasionally, I never saw him out on his own or with friends," said resident, Liam Morgan.

"He was a little chubby lad, very quiet - he didn't want to interact with anybody."

Social services became involved with the family in 2001, when a health visitor felt Dawn and Jordan's father Steven Burling were "struggling and need parental support".

In 2002, a primary school report stated there was a "general neglect of Jordan's basic needs", with the young boy lacking toilet training, having black teeth, and few language skills.

Not long after, the family was evicted from their home over rent arrears and the couple split up - sparking the move to Butterbowl Garth.

image captionJordan, his sister Abigail and mother Dawn moved into Denise Cranston's home in 2002

It was around this time that Dawn, unaware she was pregnant, gave birth in her son's bedroom.

She told the courtroom she "panicked" when she went into labour and decided not to call for help as she "didn't want to worry" anyone.

Dawn said she "tried everything" for up to an hour, including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but there "were no signs of life at all".

She then placed the body in the bag behind jigsaws and board games at the top of a wardrobe, where it remained for 14 years.

Dr Van Velsen told the jury Dawn's behaviour was consistent with a dissociative disorder called depersonalisation - a defence mechanism characterised by a sense of disconnect from the world and your body to cope with acute anxiety or trauma.

Her defence barrister claimed her life had been shaped by several traumatic incidents - she was bullied in school, the family home was repeatedly targeted by gangs, and it had the shadow of her father's suicide hanging over it.

image copyrightWest Yorkshire Police
image captionJordan was a big fan of WWE wrestling and would stay up to watch live events being screened during the night

Jordan also suffered at the hands of his peers, with Dawn removing him from secondary school after only a couple of terms and telling Leeds City Council she would home-school him.

This, the prosecution said, was when the then-12-year-old became "increasingly anonymous" to education and social services.

His mother told the court she bought textbooks, a laptop and printer; researched teaching methods, and took Jordan to the National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford.

This continued until he was 16, when he expressed an interest in going to college, but he hadn't sat any exams.

His hobbies were that of a typical teenage boy. He enjoyed going to HMV to buy video games and DVDs. On his walls were posters of Top Gear's The Stig, characters from the Final Fantasy computer game franchise and Chelsea footballers.

One of his biggest obsessions was WWE wrestling, and he, Dawn and Abigail stayed up most of the night watching live events beamed from the United States.

He was described by his family as "independent" and "stubborn" and had seen himself as the "man of the house" when he turned 18 on 4 July 2015.

image copyrightWest Yorkshire Police
image captionDawn Cranston, 45, Denise Cranston, 70 and Abigail Burling, 25, all had a part to play

But two months later Jordan was seen "looking pale" and covered with a bed sheet on a chair in the lounge by a council housing department employee.

It was at this point Steven made regular contact with Dawn via text, urging her to take their son to see a doctor.

Poundland colleagues said Dawn, who was jailed for four years. claimed she had taken him to the doctors and they "couldn't work out what was wrong", when in reality he hadn't seen a GP for six years.

She told the court he wouldn't have seen a doctor even if one had been called due to an incident when he been turned away for arriving late for an appointment.

In her defence, Denise - who was jailed for three years - said she feared her grandson would lash out if she called a medic.

She told police, "he was an adult, it was his choice".

image copyrightBBC Worldwide/Taylor Herring PR
image captionJordan was an avid gamer and collected DVDs, with posters on his bedroom wall including Top Gear's The Stig and characters from the Final Fantasy computer game series

Duty of care was a key argument in the trial, with the defence saying 18 was a "magic number" - the point at which someone can refuse medical treatment.

The prosecution argued "age did not come into it" and Denise and Dawn retained a duty of care due to Jordan's worsening condition and vulnerability.

In the final months of his life, they cleaned him in the lounge and treated his worsening bedsores by washing them with salt water and covering them with sanitary pads.

Dawn agreed it was like caring for a baby again and changed his adult nappy twice a day.

image copyrightWest Yorkshire Police handout
image captionDawn Cranston took this picture of her son on 20 May 2016, just over a month before his death

She slept downstairs on the sofa beside Jordan, who lay on a mattress on top of an inflatable bed.

His mother denied there were fewer and fewer nutrients entering his body at this point, but Jordan's weight was dropping alarmingly.

Meals were eaten in front of the TV on his lap, although his mother said she couldn't be sure how much he had eaten as there was a bin at the foot of the sofa.

Dawn eventually called 999 on 30 June when Jordan's breathing became shallow. He died in the room he had become confined to.

A dietician said Jordan's body mass index (BMI) was the lowest she had ever recorded.

image captionChild protection expert Dr Bernard Gallagher said the family clearly slipped through the net in terms of agency support

Dr Van Velsen said Dawn's depersonalisation disorder might have caused her to fail to "manage a situation in a way that was healthy".

It could explain the ways she handled both the birth of her baby and Jordan's death, which was recorded as acute bronchopneumonia, resulting from his malnutrition, immobility and infected bed sores.

The situation could have been exacerbated by the lack of agency support - something child protection expert, Dr Bernard Gallagher, said should have been "more long-term and more for forceful".

But prosecutor Nicholas Lumley told the trial: "There was no other reason for his dying, no natural or other illness, apart from the conditions created for him by the accused.

"Jordan's neglect and maltreatment went on and on and on."

This story was originally published on 10 July and has been updated to reflect sentencing.

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