Shocking pictures show how a mother “used her seven-year-old son’s asthma pump to smoke drugs” before he was found dead, a court heard.
Hakeem Hussain was found by paramedics in the garden of a house on Cook Street, Birmingham, on 26 November 2017 after he suffered an asthma attack.
The temperature outside at the time was near freezing, at 2 or 3C, and Hakeem was only wearing a top and pajama bottoms, the jury was told.
His mother, Laura Heath, 40, has now been found guilty of fatally neglecting her son after he died alone and “gasping for air”. She was convicted at Coventry Crown Court on Friday of gross negligence manslaughter of “frail” Hakeem – having previously admitted to four counts of child cruelty before the trial.
Pictures shared with The Independentand which were shown to the jury in Coventry Crown Court during the trial, show Laura Heath and Hakeem’s home full of rubbish and clutter.
Prosecution argued that the photos taken by West Midlands Police show how Hakeem’s mother “used his blue inhalers to smoke drugs”.
Describing the images, prosecuting lawyer Matthew Brook said: “Blue inhalers with foil over them.
“Her use of asthma equipment to smoke drugs, you might think, is a metaphor for her neglect of Hakeem.”
Prosecutors argued that at the time of Hakeem’s death “sourcing heroin and crack cocaine” had become his mother’s “first priority in life.”
The court heard that Laura Heath and Hakeem had temporarily moved from a house on Long Acre to a house on Cook Street in the days before Hakeem’s death, with Heath going back and forth between the properties.
Jurors were shown pictures of both properties to illustrate how Hakeem and his mother were living at the time.
They heard how Chloe Cooper, a friend of Laura Heath, had gone round to the Cook Street address at around 1.20am on 25 November 2017 to meet up with Heath. She had been “shocked” by the scene she found there, describing it as “not clean” and smelling of “raw smoke”.
Ms Cooper carried Hakeem to the Long Acre property with Heath, the court heard, but she found the other home to be worse than Cook Street.
Ms Cooper told the court that in the past Laura Heath’s homes had been “decent and nice”, adding that she was a “fabulous cook.”
However she described the property at Long Acre, saying: “It wasn’t home at all for her or Hakeem. It was just bags and bags. As soon as you walked in. The kitchen was disgusting. The front room wasn’t nice. It wasn’t the way I knew Laura lived.”
Ms Cooper said that Hakeem didn’t have a bedroom but slept on the sofa.
One of Hakeem’s primary school teachers, Neelam Kumari, told the court she thought the seven-year-old had been “neglected” by his mother. Asked about his appearance at school, Ms Kumari said: “He was neglected. Dirty, overgrown hair, dirty clothes. You could see from his hands that he had not had a bath in I do not know how many days.
“He was not very well looked after, physical health-wise.” She added that his asthma had been getting worse “day by day”.
A teacher at the school, Hannah Fennell, said Hakeem’s uniform and bag had smelled of cigarettes and that she had asked a colleague at the time: “If his bag smells like that what did his house smell like?”
She testified that her jumper had smelled of “stale urine”.
A child protection meeting with Hakeem’s teachers and his social worker had taken place just two days before he was found dead, the court heard.
At the meeting, the school nurse had warned that Hakeem was at risk of dying and that he should be taken away from his mother immediately. The nurse had said that the boy “could die at the weekend”.
But the panel decided that, though Hakeem was at serious risk, he should not be removed from his mother’s care just yet. Instead it was agreed that the family’s social worker would speak to Hakeem’s mother Laura Heath on the Monday, by which time the seven-year-old was dead.
A serious case review into all agencies’ contact with Hakeem Hussain and his mother will now be carried out in the next few weeks.
After the trial, Birmingham’s child prosecution services chief said that there were “clear missed opportunities” by social workers ahead of Hakeem’s death. Andy Couldrick said that the child protection conference “should have happened earlier” and there were “some clear missed opportunities” in the case.
He added: “I think that, for too long, social workers worked in what they believed was partnership with the mother, and didn’t understand the amount of disguise and deception in regards to her substance use, in particular, and Hakeem, and who had an additional area of vulnerability because of his asthma.”
On 26 November 2017, Hakeem Hussain “died alone” from a severe asthma attack outside the Cook street property after he had gone outside during the night to get some air and ease his asthma, the jury was told.
Lawyers told the court that “Hakeem had gone to bed around 10pm the previous evening.”
“The defendant says she joined him in the same bed an hour or two later after she had smoked heroin in the living room… Usually when he had difficulty breathing he would wake his mother up,” lawyer Matthew Brook added.
“The evidence shows on this occasion his mother had not come to his aid and sadly Hakeem’s lifeless body was found in the garden… there was no sign of his asthma medication being with him.”