- Duncan Leatherdale
- BBC News
Leland James Corkill was 13 months old when he was murdered by Laura Cassel, the woman who wanted to adopt him as her child.
After the woman was convicted of murder, here are the details of the tragedy:
Leland’s start to life has not been a happy one since birth as he was taken into the care of Cumbria County Council just two days after his birth on December 21, 2019 and placed with another family until until an adoptive family is finally found.
Charlotte Day, the lady who was given custody of the baby for the first eight months of his short life, said Leland James was truly a “happy, joyful child”.
He likes to jump in the gaming chair and likes to be hugged and carried.
“But he was crying when we put him in his place at lunchtime because he was very aware of his daily routine.”
He started crying and slowly began to lose weight, which eventually led to a diagnosis of gastric stricture, a narrowing of the small intestine that prevents milk and food from reaching the stomach.
He underwent surgery and regained his health and began to grow normally and become a healthy old boy.
There was apparently good news in May 2020 when a suitable adoptive family was found in Barrow, an industrial town on the Cumbria coast.
Scott and Laura Castle wanted to have a baby soon after they met on Christmas Eve in 2005.
But it wasn’t easy and Laura’s fertility issues made her depressed and she quit her job at a nursing home.
The couple had been considering adoption for a long time and officially started the process in 2019, when they finally got the call that they had found a possible son, Leland James.
All members of the Castle family have undergone interviews, visits and training, their families and friends have been studied by social workers and all have passed the tests.
Day said she was overjoyed when they came to visit her with baby Leland in July.
The following month, the baby moved in with the Kassels, and there were high hopes that the eight-month-old had found his permanent family. But those hopes didn’t last forever.
The couple said they suffered a lot because Leland James cried a lot, especially at night, and couldn’t build a relationship with the baby.
As her husband, Castle, told Preston Crown Court, “I didn’t think he liked us.”
Laura Castle did most of the parenting because her husband worked night shifts in a factory.
And in the weeks since Leland James arrived, she was sending several messages complaining about their would-be son and saying she was trying hard to stop herself from hitting him, but maybe she wouldn’t stop. be not a day.
In court, the couple described the child in strong terms which were not literally what was happening, with Laura claiming the whipping to the child’s back was equivalent to a single blow to the leg or hand meant to shock and intimidate him, not hurt him.
Castle used terms such as “devil’s seed” to try to add some humor to the story.
They said they intended to raise the child as their parents did and used corporal punishment even though they agreed with Cumbria County Council rules which do not condone corporal punishment of children.
The wife said she had tried the therapeutic method imposed by the council, but had not always been successful.
Social workers are aware of the problem of family-child bonds.
“Fall off the couch”
In November, concerns were raised when Castle said she was not in love with Leland James, and in December they noted that the couple “were not happy with everything the child was doing”, but there was no concern for the safety of the child, as she did not appear on her body showed signs of bruises or suspicious marks.
While it wasn’t all bad, the family said they were also having good days, but with every step forward the couple felt like they were two steps back, they told jurors .
They discussed ending the adoption process, but the couple said they honestly couldn’t put the baby back and their family members had really fallen in love with the baby.
Leland’s first birthday was celebrated with joy, Christmas came four days later and the family took hilarious photos of them all jubilant and festive.
She still received letters from Laura Castle to her husband complaining of her inability to cope and criticizing the child’s temper, and he too would reply in similar terms, saying that his wife was not bad and that the boy was the one who ruined everything.
On January 6, Castle came home after 6 a.m. and fell asleep wearing a mask and earplugs.
It was not two hours after he fell asleep that his wife woke him up with the child’s body in her hands.
She said he fell off the couch, lost consciousness, slowed down and his limbs were shaking.
The same story was repeated to paramedics who rushed home, to doctors at Furness General Hospital and then to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital where Leland James was taken for emergency treatment.
No one believed his story.
X-rays showed severe brain damage, swelling and bleeding, and the 13-month-old was pronounced dead around 3am on January 7.
Laura Castle repeated the allegation that the child fell off the couch to police, but by then her lies had been cleared up by the findings of pathologists who examined Leland James.
His little body showed many signs of “shaken baby” syndrome (when a parent cries nonstop, shakes him vigorously to punish or calm him down, causing a concussion, or when the baby is hit on the head even with harmless object, such as a pillow).
It is now called “traumatic head injury”.
He had significant brain and eye bleeding, spinal damage and a skin tag on his neck.
Due to his age and size, shaking alone is not likely to cause these injuries, possibly banging his head against furniture, for example.
On the day her trial was due to begin, Laura Castle admitted manslaughter, saying she wanted “justice” for her young son.
She said she shook Leland to keep him from crying, that she was tired of his screaming and noise, and that he hit his head against the arm of the sofa.
Prosecutors said what happened was even more gruesome as neighbors heard a loud thump but no baby cries.
He added that Laura Castle lost her temper when the child spat a biscuit from her mouth, so she lifted him up and hit his head hard against a piece of furniture.
Laura Castle admitted killing him but denied intending to harm or kill him.
Her lawyers argued that she lost her mind at the time and cradled her baby to scare and calm him down, but she never wanted what happened.
They said she would forever be known as an unwitting child killer, but shouldn’t be classed as a murderer.
The jury disagreed and found her guilty of one count of murder and one count of abuse against Leland, but found her not guilty of two other counts of child cruelty.
The court found her husband innocent of causing or permitting her death and of two counts of child cruelty.
Husband broke down in tears as he told court he was ‘sad and devastated’ to hear his wife confess to the murder, after it was hidden from her what happened until she was convicted of manslaughter.
“She’s the love of my life and I never thought she would lie to me,” he said, wiping tears from his face, his wife sobbing loudly in the dock a short distance from him.
Social workers had concerns about the Castle family’s continued adoption of the child, and a review was scheduled for early January, but Leland James was killed before that day.
Cambria County Council said independent safeguards are being reviewed and the results of the review are expected to be published this summer.
There will be many questions to answer, including was anyone able to do anything to stop what happened?
Whatever the answer, according to Ms Castle’s solicitor David MacLachlan QC, baby Leland deserved the chance to live, which was taken away from him by the woman who wanted to raise him.