14 April 2023

‘Savage’ parents convicted of baby’s murder after boy returned to their care

14 April 2023

A cruel mother and father have been convicted of the “savage and brutal” Christmas Day murder of their baby son after burning and beating him “in repeated acts of severe violence” in the days before his death.

Stephen Boden, 30, and Shannon Marsden, 22, were convicted after a five-month trial at Derby Crown Court on Friday of killing 10-month-old Finley Boden in the winter 2020 Covid lockdown – 39 days after he was placed back into their care.

The verdicts came after the first trial, which started on November 4, 2022, had to be abandoned, with the new trial starting on November 14.

Trial judge Mrs Justice Tipples was on the verge of tears as she praised the “extremely impressive” jurors for their “dedication, commitment and patience”, adding “given the length of this case and the awful nature of the facts you have had to consider, I discharge you from jury service to life”.

At least four jurors were in tears after the unanimous verdicts, returned after more than 25 hours, while the defendants, by contrast, sat silent and unmoving, arms folded and looking on in the nearby dock.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said Finley’s death “in such brutal circumstances leaves many of us asking questions and we await the child safeguarding practice review to provide answers as soon as possible”.

Derbyshire County Council, whose social services team had contact with Finley prior to his abuse and death, said it was working with the independent Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership, which has commissioned a local child safeguarding practice review into the circumstances.

Child protection concerns meant Finley was removed from his parents’ care shortly after being born in February 2020.

Then at trial it emerged Finley was returned to Boden and Marsden’s care, in a legal bid supported by the couple, over a set eight-week period by a family court order, despite Derbyshire social services asking for a longer six-month transition.

Just weeks after the baby was back living with the couple, a social worker looked through the window to see Finley “lying on the sofa, by himself”, however the youngster remained in his parents’ care.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was “incomprehensible” that having sought to have their child returned to their care, Boden and Marsden then “treated him in this appalling manner”.

At trial Mary Prior KC, prosecuting, described how Finley suffered a catalogue of dreadful injuries, including 71 bruises, some up to two weeks old, over his body and 57 fractures, many inflicted in the short period before his fatal collapse.

Finley had fractures to his collarbones and thighs, while his pelvis had been broken in two places, possibly from sustained “kicking or stamping”, with injuries likened to a multi-storey fall.

He also had two burns on his left hand – one “from a hot, flat surface”, the other probably “from a cigarette lighter flame”.

I want to bounce him off the walls

Jurors heard Boden prioritised sourcing cash to buy and smoke cannabis over his son’s care and also had a violent temper, smashing a door at home.

Texting a drug dealer about Finley two days before his son’s death, he said: “I want to bounce him off the walls.”

Only hours after his son’s death, Boden was heard telling Marsden at hospital he was going to sell Finley’s pushchair “on eBay” – later telling police he only said this “in an effort to lighten the mood”.

Marsden seemed at times in fear of Boden and on December 21, 2020 sent a text reading “tell them he’ll kill me. He just tried… I will be dead. Not joking”.

Visiting Finley’s body in a hospital chapel of rest, she said: “His dad’s battered him to death. I didn’t protect him.”

But in the back of a police car hours after their son had died, they were both heard by officers chatting about Christmas dinner, while on Boxing Day, the couple were heard “laughing and joking” at a relative’s home.

Ms Prior said they “remained in a relationship… until they were charged”, breaching their own bail conditions to meet up, and were “in it together”, having repeatedly lied to social workers, police and family.

During their evidence the couple, though each denied any wrongdoing, were never explicit in blaming each other for the fatal injuries – multiple episodes of blunt force trauma.

In court, a video showed Finley playing happily, smiling and laughing, on October 25, 2020, and displaying none of the tell-tale signs of the serious injuries found at post-mortem.

But less than six weeks later, the previously healthy little boy was dead.

In court, photographs were shown of the couple’s cluttered home in Holland Road, Old Whittington, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and blood-stained items found by police inside, including a vomit and faeces-stained cot mattress cover, duvet cover, Mickey Mouse baby grow and a “Captain Cute” T-shirt.

It was “extremely dirty, smelly and very cluttered”, while a paramedic said it “smelt of cannabis”.

The couple’s home reflected a chaotic lifestyle and on the bedside table were empty cans of energy drinks, cannabis, cigarette butts – despite Boden’s claims he never smoked in front of Finley.

There were also bottles of liquid paracetamol which the couple used to treat Finley’s discomfort – symptoms of fractures and bruises all over his body – rather than taking him to a doctor.

On a nearby bedside stool was gone-off milk in a baby bottle, giving lie to Boden’s trial claims that Finley was feeding normally before his death.

In the couple’s bathroom, pictures also showed a bath tub in which two bin liners full of cannabis were found, as well as a blood-stained babygro.

“Self-centred” Boden later claimed to a relative the family dog may have “jumped on” Finley, causing multiple broken ribs, while allegedly blaming marks on Finley’s mouth on his son hitting himself “with a rattle”.

He told another relative the couple did not call an ambulance for an hour after Finley’s fatal collapse because he wanted to have a cannabis joint and hide the drugs stash, said Ms Prior.

When the couple were at a police custody suite on New Year’s Eve, Marsden told an officer “she wasn’t in the room when it happened, she was upstairs”, added the prosecutor.

“She said she should have looked after him and she failed.”

After his death, Boden allegedly later told a relative “Finley had been crying and crying, so in his words he, ‘shook him a little bit’,” Ms Prior said.

In evidence, social worker Emiley Hollindale, who worked with the family from January 2020 until shortly after Finley’s death in the December, wrote a report in which she recommended a longer transition because of concerns about Marsden and Boden’s parenting capabilities.

In evidence, she told how the authorities had had to monitor Boden and Marsden’s “significant” cannabis use, with Marsden smoking the drug while pregnant with Finley.

But despite concerns about parenting, drugs, the cluttered house and being “verbally abused” by the couple from their bedroom window, in August 2020 social services’ recommendation was still to return Finley to his parents’ care.

Risks of neglect, physical and emotional harm “had not been completely excluded”, Ms Hollindale said, which is why a longer transition period of six months had been asked for by social workers along with a 12-month supervision period.

But a ruling in the family court returned Finley over a shorter two-month transition, and with no mandatory drug testing requirement.

Footage was shown at trial of Marsden pushing Finley in his pushchair around Chesterfield town centre on Christmas Eve, and then later of Boden with the pram at a Tesco Express in Old Whittington, at 7.16pm.

It was the last time he was seen alive.

Boden, of Romford Way in Barrow Hill, Chesterfield, and Marsden, of no fixed address, will be sentenced on May 26.

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