Two parents who admitted neglect after their baby died were spared jail today after prosecutors said they could not prove their actions caused the tragedy.
Hunter White was just 18 days old when he was found lifeless by paramedics at a house in Kingsway Gardens, Hucknall, on 10 July 2020.
He had been in the care of his father Adam White, who was a frequent user of cannabis and may have been under the influence of the drug on the night of Hunter’s death.
Nottingham Crown Court heard White – who spent around £100-a-week on the class B drug – fell asleep while holding Hunter in his arms. When he woke up, he discovered Hunter had slipped out of his arms and was lying face down between himself and the arm of a chair.
He was unresponsive and had died having been unable to breathe due to positional asphyxia
Hunter’s mother Terri Walters – who had also taken drugs and left the baby in White’s care while she went upstairs to sleep – was arrested along with White.
White, 45, of Foxhill Road East, Carlton, pleaded guilty to cruelty of a child by way of neglect in September last year.
Walters, 32, of Kingsway Gardens, Hucknall, initially denied having any responsibility for the tragedy but changed her plea midway through a trial, also admitting to cruelty of a child by way of neglect in that she left their baby with White when it was not safe to do so.
Outlining the case at a previous hearing held on Monday (23 May 2022), prosecutor Luke Blackburn said Walters – who frequently used cocaine – “knew the extent” of White’s drug habit and should not have left him alone with their baby.
He added that by smoking cannabis that day, White had been “in no position” to look after Hunter.
Mr Blackburn said: “(White) did two things that put Hunter at risk. He failed to put Hunter back into his moses basket after his night-time feed and he fell asleep which enabled Hunter to come to harm.”
Both parents were back at the court today (Thursday 26 May) for sentencing, with the judge stating it was a difficult case for him to pass sentence on,.
Judge Gregory Dickinson QC said: “The prosecution do not say there is a causative link between the actions and inactions of the defendants and the death of a child. That’s to say the death was not caused by what they did.
“The charge in this case and the sentencing options do not fit easily at all in a case where an innocent baby has died.”
Addressing White directly, the judge added: “The prosecution puts its case as this: To some extent you were under the influence of cannabis. You had the drug in your system while Hunter was in your care.
“The prosecution is not able to advance a case as to when you last took cannabis or what effect, if anything, that had on you falling asleep with Hunter in your arms.
“I’m compelled to conclude it was a brief lapse of judgement when you fell asleep with the child in your arms. (But) I simply do not know to what extent, if at all, this was connected to your use of cannabis.”
The judge told Mr White that had he returned Hunter to the moses basket, his death would have been avoided.
“From your demeanour today and on every occasion I have seen you in this courtroom, I think you think of little else,” the judge said.
He added: “I’ve rarely seen anyone so wracked with guilt. I believe this will haunt you for a very, very long time.”
White was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 18 months. He must also carry out 120 hours unpaid work and 40 rehabilitation activity sessions.
Walters was handed a two-year community order, comprising a drug rehabilitation programme and 40 rehabilitation activity sessions.
Following today’s sentencing, Detective Sergeant Simon Harrison said: “This has been an incredibly tragic case and highlights the significant dangers and consequences of falling asleep with your baby in your arms, especially if you are under the influence of drugs.
“I hope that this case will send a powerful message to anyone who thinks about caring for a child while intoxicated. The consequences could be utterly devastating.”