A YOUNG boy died having been “repeatedly assaulted” and “held” in a cold bath as punishment by his mum and her fiancé, a court has heard.
Alfie Steele, 9, who was covered in bruises, had been subjected to a cruel and “sinister” regime by his mum, Carla Scott, and her partner, Dirk Howell, the court was told.
Both are accused of the little boy’s murder.
Opening the case on Tuesday at Coventry Crown Court, Michelle Heeley KC, prosecuting, said “both thought it was acceptable” to hit Alfie with “belts, or a slider, like a heavy-duty flip flop, and use other more sinister forms of punishment”.
These alleged methods included “dunking” him “in cold baths whilst naked” or forcing Alfie to “stand outside, in the middle of the night and have cold water” thrown over him.
She added: “Alfie died as a result of the deliberate and unlawful actions of Carla Scott and Dirk Howell and, together, they are guilty of his murder.”
Alfie had 50 injuries all over his body – only a handful, medical experts would say, likely down to normal childhood bumps and scrapes, added Ms Heeley.
‘HELD UNDER WATER’
Among his wounds, some abrasions on the left side of his face were allegedly caused by “direct pressure”, with jurors told they would “hear evidence about him being held under water”.
The Crown’s KC said Scott had Alfie during a previous relationship – in which children’s services was involved – with the boy’s father, and which broke up in 2017.
Scott, 35, was “no stranger to social services and knew what was expected of her in terms of co-operating with them”.
In July 2019 she started dating 41-year-old Howell and within six months they became engaged, though they had made no plans for a wedding.
The relationship was “not a happy one” for Alfie, added Ms Heeley, with family and neighbours raising with the authorities “concerns within a short period of time of these two getting together”.
Ms Heeley said: “Dirk Howell believed in discipline, on the face of it not a bad thing when bringing up young children, but whereas you might think of discipline as being the naughty step, or having set bed times, for Dirk Howell discipline was far more physical and psychological.
“The prosecution will call evidence from neighbours who, on occasions, saw a child standing outside the house begging to be let in, with both defendants refusing them entry.”
Among them, the Crown said, were witnesses who saw Howell shouting and swearing “in the street”, “whilst Carla Scott let it happen”.
Ms Heeley said Scott put “her loyalty to her partner above” all other considerations.
Social services again became involved, with Howell banned from staying at the home overnight, however Scott allegedly “flouted this rule, wilfully and continuously”.
“Carla Scott clearly knew what he was like, but let him stay anyway,” said Ms Heeley.
She said Alfie “suffered assaults and cruelty, by being beaten, assaulted, punished with cold water and made to endure a life that no child should lead”.
On the day of Alfie’s death, February 18, 2021, Scott rang 999 at 2.24pm, claiming “Alfie had fallen asleep in the bath”.
When two police officers arrived, at 2.30pm, Howell was not at the house.
Scott told the officers, who had some medical training, she had found the boy “submerged”, adding he had previously “hit his head”.
“Police noted that Alfie was lifeless already, he was not breathing and he was cold to the touch, so already cold, just six minutes after that 999 call,” Ms Heeley said.
When asked by police, who noted “lumps and bruising” on his face, how long it had been since she found Alfie, Scott first replied “about an hour ago”, but then said “it was 10 minutes ago”.
During CPR, paramedics also noticed water coming out of Alfie’s mouth, although it is not known whether it got inside before or after death.
Alfie was taken to Worcester Royal Hospital, but despite medics’ best efforts he was pronounced dead at 3.55pm.
A post-mortem examination concluded the cause of his death was “unascertained”.
‘BRUISES ALL OVER HIS BODY’
Ms Heeley said: “He didn’t die of natural causes, he had bruises all over his body, and signs that he had been deprived of oxygen.
“The prosecution case is that these defendants are responsible for his unlawful death.”
Ms Heeley said Scott had claimed to police officers at her home that she had last seen Howell “a couple of days ago”.
“That was a lie. In the first moments when her child was dead her first thought was to lie,” she said, adding Scott “lied to protect him”.
Howell, who the prosecution said had stayed overnight at the address, was in fact seen by a police officer “by chance” in a nearby street at 2.30pm, just six minutes after Scott’s 999 call.
“CCTV footage recovered from houses around the area showed Howell going from Vashon Drive to Droitwich railway station, where he was seen running, not away from the trains, but towards them,” said Ms Heeley.
“In fact he tried to open the door of a stationary train, but at that stage police officers who were by now looking for him, arrested him.
“There is no dispute he tried to hide the fact he had been at the house at the time Alfie died and Carla Scott lied to help him.
“What were they both trying to hide at that point? Their guilt. They knew what they had done and Dirk Howell’s first instinct was to run.”
Jurors were told Howell, of Princip Street, Birmingham, had admitted cruelty offences against other children before the trial, but denies murder, manslaughter, cruelty or causing or allowing the death of Alfie.
Scott, of Vashon Drive, Droitwich, also denies murder, manslaughter, causing or allowing the death of Alfie and child cruelty offences against her son and other children.
The trial continues.