Carer kept toddler in cage and starved boy so bad doctors thought he had cancer

A carer who kept one toddler in a cage and starved a four-year-old so badly doctors thought he had cancer has avoided jail.

Claire Boyle's abuse only came to light after the older boy squeezed through a window and escaped the flat wearing just his pyjamas in October 2018.

After being taken to hospital for a check-up, medics discovered so many bruises on the lad they thought he may have blood cancer or a blood clotting disorder, the Daily Record reports.

When police arrived at the home in Newmilns, Ayrshire to investigate, they found a two-year-old being kept in a homemade cage.

Boyle, 34, and co-accused partner Timothy Johnstone, 57, denied they'd done anything wrong, with Boyle claiming she'd trapped the toddler in the modified cot – which had a wooden frame strapped across the top – for his own protection.

But a sheriff saw through their lies and convicted them over the catalogue of abuse last month after a lengthy trial at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.

Sentencing had been deferred for background reports to be prepared, and at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on Thursday a sheriff ruled it was better for both Boyle and the public if she was spared prison.

Sheriff Michael Higgins pointed out the law states that judges should only jail criminals if there is no other appropriate sentence available.

The couple were placed on Community Payback Orders which will see them both supervised by social workers for 18 months, with Boyle having to complete 250 hours of unpaid work, and Johnstone needing to do 180 hours.

Boyle had two prior convictions for child neglect, including trying to sell a baby for £1 million on a Scots high street in 2015.

Giving evidence about the caged toddler during the trial, Police Constable Adam Peppard said: "[His] nappy was full and hanging low and he was upset.

"[He] was within the makeshift cot – the bottom of the cot had been removed and strapped to the top to stop the child getting out. It was turned into a very risky cage.

"She [Boyle] started blaming it on the other child. She said it was 'all his fault'.

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"She stated he was able to open the window and let himself out. She said her solution was to put things in front of the window and to put the base over the top of the cot."

Another officer said: "It looks like what I'd describe as belts from a dressing gown, tied to secure it.

"There's another one tied in place to hold the 'roof' on, for want of a better phrase."

The court also heard the older boy appeared extremely hungry when he was found and wolfed down five sandwiches, mince and tatties, and an apple.

Dr Christine Findlay, a consultant paediatrician with NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said: "That's not normal behaviour. That's a child who's hungry and took the opportunity to eat food when it's being presented to them."

She added the "number, size and pattern" of bruises he had left her "worried" and that there were "fingertip bruises" suggesting "a child having been grabbed."

The paediatrician said he had so many bruises doctors feared he may have an "underlying medical condition which predisposed the child to bleeding – a blood disorder, like haemophilia or leukaemia."

Dr Findlay said it was "unlikely" the bruises were caused by self-harming and said there were far more than she would expect as a result of "normal childhood play."

She said the "crusted" blood around his ears indicated "a blow to the ear", adding: "This is a child who has lots of signs of injuries."

She was also "concerned about his height and weight" and "his social and emotional development", adding: "I'd be concerned about the child's nutritional input."

The couple were cleared of claims they also neglected a baby, and a charge alleging they'd assaulted the older boy was withdrawn during the trial.

But Sheriff Higgins convicted Boyle of neglecting both the two-year-old and the four-year-old children, and Johnstone of neglecting the four-year-old alone.

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