A woman has been jailed for a minimum of 18 years for the murder of a one-year-old boy she was hoping to adopt.
Leiland-James Corkill had been placed with Laura Castle, 38, and her 35-year-old husband Scott by authorities in Cumbria less than five months before his death from catastrophic head injuries.
The youngster was a “looked-after child” who was taken into care at birth before he was approved to live with his prospective adoptive parents in Barrow-in-Furness from August 2020.
Laura Castle rang for an ambulance on the morning of January 6 last year and reported that Leiland-James had fallen off the sofa, injured his head and was struggling to breathe.
The little boy died the following day as hospital medics raised concerns over the defendant’s account.
Laura Castle maintained the death was a tragic accident until the day the jury was sworn in last month for her trial at Preston Crown Court.
She entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter and went on to say that she had shaken Leiland-James because he would not stop crying, and his head hit the armrest of the sofa before he fell off her knee on to the floor.
However, medical experts told the court that the degree of force required to cause his injuries would have been “severe” and likely to be a combination of shaking and an impact with a solid surface.
Prosecutor Michael Brady QC said it was the Crown’s case that Castle killed the boy as she lost her temper and suggested she smashed the back of his head against a piece of furniture.
Jurors convicted her of murder and a separate offence of child cruelty.
Scott Castle was acquitted of allowing Leiland-James’s death and child cruelty.
When detectives examined the defendants’ mobile phones following their arrest they found text messages which were derogatory towards Leiland-James.
Laura Castle wrote that the youngster was a “proper nob head”, “shit bag” and “top twat”, while her husband said he was a “dick baby” and a “toss bag”.
The Castles had been selected by an adoption panel following 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 that she did not love Leiland-James and was struggling to bond with him.
The possibility of removing the youngster from their care was later canvassed, but Laura Castle said her extended family loved him so he was “not going anywhere”.
I consider that your account significantly underplays the extent and degree of violence which you inflicted upon Leiland-JamesMr Justice Baker, to Laura Castle
Sentencing her to life imprisonment, Mr Justice Baker said it was “nothing less than a tragedy” that she did not return Leiland-James to the local authority when those discussions took place.
He told Castle: “Precisely what took place on the morning of 6 January 2021 may never be known, as even now I do not consider that you told the jury the full circumstances leading to the death of Leiland-James.
“I consider that your account significantly underplays the extent and degree of violence which you inflicted upon Leiland-James that morning, which of necessity must have involved either very severe or considerable impact and oscillation forces to have caused the internal injuries, whilst some of the external injuries were consistent with slapping, pinching and prodding.”
He said she had committed a “significant abuse of trust” as a carer for a looked after child and had caused “dreadful emotional upset” to Leiland-James’s birth mother and his previous foster parents.
The boy’s biological mother, Laura Corkill, branded Castle a “monster” in a letter to the judge, while his previous foster mother Charlotte Day said she was “heartbroken” at learning of the abuse Leiland-James suffered.
David McLachlan QC, defending, said Castle was in the dock “alone and broken” and with “no support whatsoever”.
He said: “Her relationship with Scott Castle is likely to come to an end.
“She is isolated and ostracised in prison due to the verdict of the jury who found she had in fact murdered Leiland-James. Now she must pay the price of that act – an act which resulted in the death of a young baby who will remain an innocent party in these proceedings.”
An independent review into the adoption process is due to report back in July.
Detective Superintendent Dave Pattinson, of Cumbria Police, said: “Leiland-James Corkill died because of continuous, horrific abuse committed by the very person who should have cared for him.
“From the very start of this, Laura Castle has lied about her actions – she denied shaking Leiland-James to both police and medical professionals who were attempting to save his life. It is clear that even now, Laura Castle has never been truthful about her actions that morning of the 6 January – the actions which ultimately led to Leiland-James’s death.
“The horrific text messages she sent show her true nature. She spoke of a little boy in the most despicable of terms, the same child she hoped to adopt on a permanent basis.”