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Argus calls for public inquiry

The Brighton Evening Argus is running a vigorous campaign for a public inquiry into the town’s child cruelty scandal.

Three babies died and four other children lived in squalor while in the care of a 26-year-old Brighton woman and her 38-year-old common-law husband.

The couple were acquitted of murder last month, but the woman was jailed for two-and-a-half years for cruelty and the man was jailed for six years. He was convicted of neglect, threatening to kill a social worker and raping his two sisters.

The Argus reported that the neglect of the children had continued for five years despite 230 visits by health workers and countless checks by social services.

A report into the case has been produced by Brighton and Hove Area Child Protection Committee – but only a summary of it has been made public to protect the identities of the surviving children.

The Argus is leading calls for a public inquiry, and editor Simon Bradshaw has written to all 78 Brighton and Hove councillors asking for their support.

So far, the Argus has reported, 51 councillors have replied and 41 of them back a public inquiry, seven are against and three are undecided.

Mr Bradshaw has made it clear that the Argus campaign is not to find scapegoats, but to determine why the neglect was allowed to continue for so long and whether the babies’ lives could have been saved.

The dead baby boys, aged five weeks, six weeks and 17 months, were probably smothered, expert witnesses told the court.

The court heard that the woman told police her husband had killed the babies with pillows because they were crying and “deserved” it. The trial Judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to show both adults were in the room at the time of the deaths. He directed the jury to return not guilty verdicts to the murder charges after telling them that if the babies were murdered there was no evidence to say which of the parents – if either – was guilty. It was better to acquit both than to convict an innocent person.

Sussex Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse has said he believes there should be a new offence of joint enterprise which would make parents or guardians culpable even if only one committed the crime.

Home Secretary Jack Straw is looking into the case and the full Brighton and Hove Council will debate it on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive by reporter Phil Mills, it was the Argus which revealed that the woman in the case – who is due to be freed later this month because of the time she served in jail on remand – is now 14 weeks pregnant. This will be her eighth child. The father is believed to be a man she met in a bail hostel before last month’s trial.

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