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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Couple left boy, 12, home alone while they went on overseas holiday, Carlisle court told

A young boy was left home alone with just £20 and a few microwave meals while his mother and stepfather went on a week’s holiday to Spain, a court heard.

The boy was just 12 years old when the couple left him in charge of their home near Penrith, a jury at Carlisle Crown Court heard.

He found out they were going only a few days before they went and then only because he “sneaked a look” at his stepfather’s Facebook account and saw messages about the trip.

The boy was the first witness for the prosecution in a trial in which the man and woman - who are both in their 50s but cannot be named to protect the boy’s identity - are accused of child cruelty.

They have denied a charge which alleges that they “wilfully assaulted, ill treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed a child under 16 in a manner likely to cause the child unnecessary suffering or injury to health” - an offence which, the jury has been told, can cover “psychological suffering” just as well as other more physical forms of abuse.

Prosecuting barrister Tim Brennand told the jury in his opening speech that the couple had “abandoned” the boy and left him “unsupervised, with little money and little clear instruction” as to how to look after himself.

He said the prosecution did not blame them for wanting to go on holiday without the boy, just for leaving him to fend for himself.

“Busy parents sometimes need a break from the stress of everyday life,” he said. "It is the arrangements made to look after him that form the basis of this prosecution.”

He said it was “significant” that “no other adult or relative connected to them” had been asked to look after the boy in their absence.

“They seem to have been influenced by their own perception that he was mature for his age, capable and trustworthy,” he said.

Mr Brennand said the boy looked after himself for a couple of days, with just a family friend looking in occasionally to make sure he was all right, until his teachers called the police when he told them his parents were not at home to sign off his homework.

The police then contacted the couple in Spain but it was another four days before they came home.

“There may be reasons to explain the time it took them to return but it may be seen to be reflective of their attitude,” said Mr Brennand.

In evidence, given over a video link so that he did not have to go to court, the boy said he had found out about the couple’s proposed holiday by snooping at his stepfather’s Facebook messages.

When he tackled them about it they asked him if he would be all right on his own for a few days, he said.

He said they did not ask him if he wanted to go to Spain too, but if they had he would have said no.

Before they left they told him that if he needed anything he should call on a couple who had agreed to keep an eye on him.

He said he knew his mother had asked the woman “to check on me and make sure I was okay”.

Asked how he felt about being left alone, the boy replied: “Not fussed really. I’d be fine.”

The jury heard that when questioned by the police the couple denied that they had “abandoned” the boy.

The stepfather said he had checked the NSPCC guidelines and said they had made proper arrangements for a couple to look after him after their first choice was unable to do so.

The trial continues.

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