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13th Jun 2023

Judge tells jury in harrowing Alfie Steele trial they will never have to sit on a case again

Steve Hopkins

Alfie’s mum and boyfriend will be jailed Thursday after being convicted over Alfie’s death

A mum and her boyfriend have been found guilty of killing her nine-year-old son in the bath following a campaign of “sinister” punishment that left him with dozens of injuries.

Carla Scott, 35, and Dirk Howell, 41, killed Alfie Steele after months of harrowing abuse during lockdown at his home in Droitwich, Worcestershire.

The defenceless schoolboy died after his lifeless body was pulled from a bath having suffered more than 50 injuries at the hands of the couple in February 2021.

A court heard Alfie had been tortured and beaten to death after being subjected to a “cruel and sinister” regime of punishment at the property on Vashon Drive.

Carla Scott, 35, and Dirk Howell, 41

Alfie had been whipped with belts and flip-flops as well as being “dunked” in cold baths and was also made to stand outside at night and have water thrown over him.

The “physical and psychological” abuse which led to his murder was able to continue despite Alfie being under a social services protection plan. Legal discussions had also been ongoing to remove him from the house but it proved too late as he was eventually killed.

On Tuesday, Howell, who has spent more than half of his life in prison, was found guilty of murder following a six-week trial at Coventry Crown Court.

Scott was cleared of murder but found guilty of manslaughter by a majority verdict following more than ten hours of deliberations.

Judge Mark Wall KC thanked the jury and told them they would never have to sit on a case again.

Both defendants will be sentenced on Thursday.

The court heard how the cruel pair 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.”

This included holding Alfie under cold water in the bath for a prolonged amount of time whenever they believed he was lying.

Medical experts said bruises suggested he had been “manhandled” and other marks on his buttocks were from being kicked by an adult who “had lost control.”

Michelle Heeley KC said Alfie died after being “beaten and deliberately put in a cold bath” and he had been “made to endure a life that no child should lead”.

She added: “Alfie had not simply fallen asleep in a comfortable bath.

“He had been deliberately and repeatedly assaulted, beaten, and put into and held under a cold bath as a punishment.

“That unlawful course of conduct, that unnecessary punishment, was carried out jointly by Carla Scott and Dirk Howell.

“It was their actions that led to his death”. Jurors sitting on the trial were played harrowing footage during the case – including of Alfie screaming and begging to be let in after being locked outside his house. The chilling clip captured Alfie crying for help repeatedly shouting: “Let me in, let me in” 18 months before he was found dead in the bath.

Other footage showed Scott lying to police who were called to the “dishevelled” house telling them Alfie had fallen asleep after banging his head in the bath. She can also be seen telling cops a “fantasy story” as she phoned her boyfriend pretending to not know where he was.

On the living room wall in the background are the haunting words: “Family, where life begins.”

Scott initially denied Howell had been at the home but later changed her account admitting her boyfriend of two years had been there.

Further disturbing footage included a 999 call from neighbour Gemma Allcott who reported: “It sounds like my neighbours are doing something bad to their kid in the bath. “Like they are really hurting them.” The 999 call Scott made to request an ambulance at 2.30pm on 18th February, 2021 was also played to the court.

She can be heard telling operators she could “feel a rattle” on her son’s chest and added: “He’s not breathing, but he keeps making noises.”

When the call handler asks “What noises?”

Scott replies: “Lots of gargling noises.” Police arrived at the property to find Alfie not breathing and cold to the touch just six minutes after Scott made the call. Meanwhile Howell fled the house and police body-cam footage captured him being arrested at Droitwich Railway Station trying to board a train.

Alfie was later pronounced dead at Worcester Royal hospital and his injuries were later found to have been caused by “direct pressure” which left him “susceptible to drowning whilst unconscious.”

The court heard Scott had Alfie with a man from a previous relationship and she started dating Howell in July 2019 and got engaged six months later.

Neighbours raised concerns with the local authorities “within a short period of time of these two getting together”.

Alfie had been under a social services protection plan and legal discussions had taken place on whether to remove him from Scott’s care.

It came after teachers raised concerns that Alfie was “constantly hungry” at school in the months before his death Howell, of Newtown, Birmingham told the court he had not killed Alfie and only fled the house because his “head was a mess” and he didn’t want to be “around that situation.”

In her evidence, Scott denied covering up her sons death and told jurors she did not smack Alfie, starve him or give him cold baths as punishment.

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