A woman has been convicted of murdering a one-year-old boy she was hoping to adopt.
Leiland-James Corkill was placed with Laura Castle, 38, and her husband, Scott Castle, 35, by authorities in Cumbria less than five months before his death from catastrophic head injuries.
The boy was a “looked-after child” who was taken into care at birth before he was approved to live with his prospective adoptive parents from August 2020.
Laura Castle rang for an ambulance on the morning of January 6 last year and reported Leiland-James had fallen off the sofa, injured his head and was struggling to breathe. However, hospital medics raised concerns as the extent of his injuries did not match her account.
Leiland-James died the following day as Laura Castle maintained to police, as well as family and friends, that the death was an accident while her husband, a night-shift worker, was asleep. She stuck to her story until the day the jury was sworn in last month for her trial at Preston crown court when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Her new version of events was that she had shaken Leiland-James after he had not stopped crying at breakfast and his head hit the armrest of the sofa before he fell off her knee on to the floor.
Medical experts told the court the degree of force required to cause Leiland-James’ injuries would have been “severe” and likely to be a combination of shaking and an impact with a solid surface.
Michael Brady QC, prosecuting, said it was the crown’s case she killed the boy as she lost her temper and suggested she smashed the back of his head against a piece of furniture.
Laura Castle, a former care worker, denied intending to kill Leiland-James or seriously harm him. Jurors took just two and half hours on Tuesday to convict her of murder. She was also convicted of child cruelty against Leiland-James.
Scott Castle, who was a machinist at the defence firm BAE Systems but has since left, was found not guilty of allowing Leiland-James’ death. He was also cleared of child cruelty. He said he never had any concerns anything bad was going to happen with the boy and he trusted his wife.
The Castles had been selected by an adoption panel after an application process overseen by Cumbria children’s services department, the court heard.
In November 2020 concerns were raised that Laura Castle had said during a home visit she did not love Leiland-James and was struggling to bond with him. The following month, the Castles were told by a senior social worker she would not support any application to formally adopt Leiland-James at that stage and recommended further therapeutic parenting sessions.
The possibility of removing Leiland-James from their care was canvassed but Laura Castle said her extended family loved him so he was “not going anywhere”. Concerns remained about the lack of emotional bond, the court heard, and a review by social services was scheduled to take place in the new year.
When detectives examined the mobile phones of the defendants after their arrest they found text messages that were derogatory towards Leiland-James. Laura Castle said the texts reflected her “sense of humour” and should not be taken literally, while Scott Castle said he was now “ashamed” at sending the messages but he did not mean malice and was trying to sympathise with his wife.
She messaged on several occasions that she had “leathered” Leiland-James, although she told the jury that only meant smacking.
In one exchange in September 2020 she wrote: “I’m seriously at my wits end, no one tells you about all this shit. I’m just an abusive parent so it seems.”
Scott Castle responded: “Your not an abusive parent, baby. Not at all. Don’t say that. I think he’s a little too fucked up for us to handle.
“Let’s just call it quits. I don’t want you to have a mental break down. Your more important to me than him.”