Northumberland couple jailed after neglecting toddler

Nicola Armstrong and Lee Varley.
Nicola Armstrong and Lee Varley.

A mother and her partner who failed to seek medical treatment for a ‘severe and horrific’ burn on her toddler’s back have been jailed for 11 months.

Nicola Armstrong, 32, and Lee Varley, 27, of Longhirst Road, Pegswood, both pleaded guilty to a charge of wilfully neglecting the youngster, who is from the Amble area, but cannot be named for legal reasons.

The child's burnt back.

The child's burnt back.

On Tuesday, Newcastle Crown Court heard that the pair did not seek help for the boy, who was two-and-a-half at the time, subjecting him to ‘four days of untreated agony’.

The injury was sustained on April 9 last year, while Armstrong and her new boyfriend Varley were at an address in Hadston. Despite investigations, its cause is not known.

The child was eventually taken to hospital on April 13 after his father, Stephen Armstrong, discovered the extent of the burn, which measured 12cm by 13cm, and became concerned.

The injury was so serious, that the boy’s father and three nurses had to hold him down to be treated by medical staff, ‘such were his screams of pain’, Michael Hodson, prosecuting, said. The child was hospitalised for a week and was on painkillers for a number of days. Mr Hodson said that the boy’s treatment will last for two years, with scarring and restricted access to the sun.

The court heard how Armstrong lied to estranged husband Stephen, telling him by text that she had sought medical attention. She also gave the impression that the injury was not as severe as it was. She said she did this to stop social services stepping in.

Armstrong and Varley say the injury was caused by scalding water, after the tot fell into the bath, but this has been ruled out by experts.

The court also heard that the pair failed to seek medical attention for a number of other injuries, including bruising to the boy’s scrotum.

Sentencing the pair, Judge Robert Adams, said: “The child had very serious injuries, in particular the burn, which required treatment. You both lied and deceived for your own agenda, which caused prolonged suffering to the child and may have caused greater scarring.

“The extent of pain he must have suffered is hard to imagine and would have been extreme. This offence is far too serious to be anything other than a custodial sentence. I need to send out the message to people in your position that care for an injured child is provided at the earliest opportunity.”

The boy’s father said his young son’s screams in hospital while being treated for a serious burn injury will haunt him forever.

Stephen Armstrong relived the ordeal while reading an emotional victim impact statement at the crown court on Tuesday. He said that the actions of his estranged wife Nicola Armstrong and her boyfriend Lee Varley had ‘turned his world upside down’ and criticised the pair for their lies.

Stephen, who is a fisherman, said: “How can a mother of a two-year-old son not seek medical attention? It beggars belief. As a commercial fisherman, I have seen some serious injuries, but this is nothing to how I felt when I saw my son’s injuries. He is recovering well considering the horrifying injury, but he still has the scar and what has happened will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

In a statement from the boy’s grandparents, which was read out by Stephen’s brother Ian, the court heard how the tot had gone from a ‘sunny lad’ to a ‘scared and clingy child’.

The court heard how Stephen and Armstrong had separated after a marriage of some 10 years and had three children together. The child which suffered the burn is the youngest of the three.

At the time of the incident, the children were living with Nicola Armstrong and her new boyfriend Varley would stay at the house about three times a week. Varley was present on the day of the burn injury, the court was told. All three children now live with Stephen.

The court heard that on April 8, Armstrong had dropped the children off with Stephen, who noticed that his son had bruising to his ear and cheek. Armstrong said that the injuries had been caused at Wet ’n’ Wild.

A day later, Armstrong texted Stephen to say that the same child had had an accident. She said he had fallen in the bath and burnt his back, but gave the impression that the injury was not too serious and was unsure whether to take him to the doctors. Just over an hour later, she sent another text, saying that the child had been to the doctors and had been administered cream and cling film.

On April 10, she altered plans for the children to see their grandparents and did not tell his nan or grandad about the burn. She later said that the two older children could be picked up, but the injured youngster couldn’t, because ‘he was not well enough’.

The court heard that when Stephen arrived, Armstrong did not come out and pushed the two older children through the door, preventing Stephen from seeing his other son. “These were her efforts to cover up the serious back injury,” said Michael Hodson, prosecuting.

On April 11, Stephen wanted to see his son and hinted that he would contact social services if he did not get the chance. Armstrong dropped the child off later that day.

The court heard that when Stephen saw the burn, ‘it was much worse than he had been led to believe’, but was under the impression that his son had received medical attention. He also saw bruising to both cheeks of his child’s bottom, a cut to his eye and a bruise to his forehead.

On April 13, Stephen was so concerned about the burn, he took his son to the doctors and discovered there was no record of the child receiving professional treatment. The court heard that Armstrong admitted that she had lied because she did not want social services to get involved. A hospital examination showed the boy had other injuries, including a bruised scrotum.

Judge Adams criticised Armstrong and Varley for denying the child ‘appropriate medical attention that he clearly needed’, the lies told by both defendants and the deliberate concealment of the injuries.

He also slammed them for their ‘lack of remorse’, saying ‘if you were both remorseful, you would have been honest about the circumstances of how the child was injured’.

When he sentenced the pair to prison, Armstrong sobbed in the dock.

Prior to that, Peter Walsh, defending Armstrong, had said that before the burning incident, she had been regarded as an impeccable mother, but took the life-changing decision to end her relationship with Stephen and start one with Varley.

He said: “In the state of flux that existed, she made the terrible decision not to seek medical attention and that will haunt her for the rest of her life.”

Richard Bloomfield, defending Varley, said his client did not have parental responsibility for the child, but the court heard that Varley had administered some first aid after the burn.

He said the injury to the boy’s scrotum, which was the ‘worst of the other injuries’ had not been detected by a doctor on April 13, nor had it been seen by the boy’s father. He said it was only discovered by another doctor afterwards.

He added that Varley has been denied contact with his own child and this offence ‘will cause serious implications for years to come’ and he has conveyed remorse.

The court heard that Armstrong is pregnant with Varley’s baby, which is due in the summer, and she remains committed to him.

Following the incident, and prior to being jailed, Armstrong had twice-weekly supervised contact with her children.