A tragedy waiting to happen.
That is how prosecutors described the “tragic” and “astonishing” neglect of a two-year-old girl who died after drinking methadone from a child’s cup.
Toddler Sophie Jones collapsed and died after being rushed to hospital from her home in Jameson Street, Blackpool, when she drank the heroin substitute from a Tom and Jerry beaker.
Her mother Michelle King had been stockpiling her prescribed methadone in the cup, which little Sophie may have mistaken for her favourite beaker.
And a court heard that in the final hour before an ambulance was called for the youngster, King and her partner Barry Jones carried out a ‘clean up operation’ to rid the home of evidence of drug use and lay a false trail to suggest she may have drunk cider.
Today, as they each begin jail sentences of eight years, prosecutors described the case as one of gross neglect by two defendants who showed an “utter disregard” for Sophie’s safety, while a judge told the pair they cared about drugs more than the safety of their daughter.
Preston Crown Court was told that less than a teaspoon of methadone could be fatal for a child. The Tom and Jerry beaker discovered in the back yard by police contained 60 teaspoons of the drug.
The judge, Mrs Justice Carr, told the parents their actions were “astonishing” and “incredible”.
“Sophie died because of the criminal carelessness and neglect of both of you,” she said.
“This was a household where both of you put your drug habits first and your child’s health and safety second. You loved your drugs more.”
King, 30, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and child neglect. Jones, 42, had denied the two charges but was convicted by a jury following a trial.
The judge added: “Sophie died after drinking your methadone from a Tom and Jerry beaker into which, astonishingly, it was your habit Michelle King to decant your prescribed methadone and which beaker was left within Sophie’s reach at home.
“This fact is all the more incredible in light of the evidence that another identical Tom and Jerry beaker, used by Sophie at night in your communal bedroom, was Sophie’s favourite beaker.
“All this was so despite the fact that you were advised repeatedly of the dangers of methadone and he need to keep it away from children”.
Wendy Lloyd, Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West, said: “This is a tragic case involving the death of a young child due to the gross negligence of her parents. “While they were supposed to be responsible for her care and wellbeing, they instead put her in direct danger with fatal consequences.
“They showed utter disregard for her safety when they left Sophie unsupervised long enough for her to drink from a child’s cup which they were well aware contained methadone.
“From the evidence that was gathered during the police investigation it is clear that due to the chaotic lifestyles of the defendants, and their frequent use of drugs, that this was a tragedy waiting to happen.”
Simon Medland, prosecuting, said it was the Crown’s case that both parents were equally culpable for Sophie’s death.
The house was dirty and disorganised, described as “not fit for parenthood” by the judge.
On the afternoon of March 4 this year, Jones’ mum Jean had urged him to call an ambulance when she noticed Sophie fall twice and that she seemed groggy. Jones later falsely claimed to have taken his daughter to a walk-in centre.
A 999 call was made to the emergency services late that night. But before that the parents had tried to lay a false trail.
Mr Medland said: “When Sophie must have been obviously very seriously ill, both defendants, we submit, took part in a clean-up to get rid of evidence of neglect and evidence of controlled drugs.”
Then when the child was at hospital, effectively dead, said the prosecution, King sent Jones text messages, including one which read: “Don’t tip meth out. Hide it”.
King had been on a methadone prescription, but had been stockpiling the liquid to sell it – even on the day of the tragedy.
The prosecution said it would never be known how Sophie managed got hold of the methadone.
Following her death, hair samples showed she had also been exposed to heroin and cocaine.
The parents were both long term drug addicts and had been through rehab.
Methadone would have been prescribed in child proof bottles, with advice on safe storage.
The pair would have known how toxic it was, the court was told.
Paul Reid, defending King, said: “She is unable to explain the precise circumstances in which her precious daughter Sophie had access to the methadone which took her life.
“Sophie’s death was the result of a discreet act of gross negligence, not directly as a result of a continuing course of conduct.”
Mr Reid said that Jones had arranged through a third party for her to sell methadone and buy heroin. The drug would have been mostly for him, but she used some too, it was claimed.
He added: “She had wanted to free herself of her heroin addiction, but he didn’t. He preferred to be addicted to heroin. She felt she could not say no.”
Jones claimed during his trial that he did everything he could to save Sophie when he realised something was wrong.
Stuart Denney, defending Jones, said: “On any view, the cause of the risk must principally lie at the door of the co-accused. It was her methadone, it was she who put methadone into the beakers and it was her who had immediate control over where exactly the beakers were put.”
Mr Denney added “There was nothing which would have caused an alert parent to realise the child was dying from methadone poisoning.
“He had got himself into such a state that his ability to provide parenting was severely comprised”.
The judge described the household as “not fit for parenthood”. It was dirty, with five cats and filled with drug paraphernalia. Traces of cocaine were found on the teats of dummies.
Mrs Justice Carr also said of Sophie “She was a vulnerable young child. She had only her parents to protect her”.