Failure to close legal loophole allows child abuse couple to get off lightly

The government has been criticised for failing to close a legal
loophole that allowed a couple to escape with light sentences after
a catalogue of abuse against a toddler.

Paramedics found the toddler “limp and floppy” with burns to her
face and too many bruises to count.

The child, whose name and age cannot be revealed, had been kicked
in the stomach, had her feet stamped on and had cigarettes stumped
out on her face, Sheffield Crown Court heard last week.

But because Michelle Oates and Adam Duke, both from Rotherham,
never revealed which one was responsible for her injuries, both
could only be sentenced for a lesser charge of neglect. Oates was
jailed for 12 months and Duke for six months.

The legal loophole that allowed couples to avoid more serious
charges by refusing to take individual responsibility was partly
closed by the introduction in March of the Domestic Violence, Crime
and Victims Act 2004.

The act introduced a new offence of failing as a person responsible
for a child to take reasonable steps to protect them from
ill-treatment. However, it only applies if the victim dies.

Children’s charity the NSPCC and the Law Commission argued when the
bill was introduced that the government should have closed the
loophole fully to include children who had been seriously

NSPCC public policy lawyer Barbara Esam said: “We were very
vehement about wanting this new legislation to cover injury to
children and we are very disappointed that the Home Office did not
agree with us. In relation to serious injury, that loophole still
Association of Lawyers for Children executive member George Eddon
said it was fairly common for couples to escape more serious abuse
charges by denying responsibility.

“It is possible for parents to blame each other or to simply deny
all responsibility and there is very little that can be done.

“We would like to see the loophole closed. Parents and people who
are responsible for children have to be accountable for their

A Home Office spokesperson said it could not comment because of
rules which forbid statements during an election campaign.

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