Mother and partner guilty of boy’s death after 50 injuries and cruel punishments

A mother and her partner have been found guilty in the tragic case of a nine-year-old boy who suffered 50 injuries before his death. Alfie Steele was subjected to a cruel punishment regime, which included repeated beatings and being held in a cold bath. Dirk Howell, 41 years old, was convicted of murder, while Carla Scott, 35 years old, was found guilty of manslaughter but acquitted of murder at Coventry Crown Court. Both defendants are now in custody awaiting sentencing.

Alfie’s injuries ranged from extensive bruising to indications of oxygen deprivation. The court heard that after Scott began a relationship with Howell, Alfie endured a life of abuse and cruelty, including beatings, cold water punishments, and other inhumane treatment. On February 18, 2021, Scott called emergency services to report her son was not breathing, claiming he had fallen asleep in the bath at their Droitwich, Worcestershire home.

When police arrived at 2.30pm, Howell was not present, and Scott claimed Alfie had been submerged and had previously hit his head. The boy was already lifeless, cold to touch, and not breathing just six minutes after the call. Throughout the trial, both defendants denied that Alfie had been forcibly submerged in the bath as a form of punishment before his death.

The six-week trial revealed that Scott and Howell, a career criminal, attempted to cover up Alfie’s murder by delaying the emergency call after the boy had either drowned, been asphyxiated, or suffered cardiac arrest. Alfie’s body temperature was recorded at 23C, and it is suspected that the couple may have placed him back in a warm bath to make his death appear accidental.

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Scott initially lied to the police, claiming she had last seen Howell a few days before Alfie’s death. However, CCTV footage showed him fleeing the house around the time of the emergency call. Howell was later arrested while attempting to board a train at Droitwich station.

The court heard that both Scott and Howell believed it was acceptable to hit Alfie with belts or heavy-duty flip-flops and subject him to other cruel punishments. These included submerging him in cold baths while naked or forcing him to stand outside during the night while cold water was poured over him. A recording made by a neighbour captured Alfie screaming “open the door” repeatedly after being locked out of the house.

Concerns regarding Alfie’s welfare had been raised with authorities on multiple occasions, involving both the police and social workers. In the year leading up to Alfie’s death, neighbours made several emergency calls. On April 4, 2020, neighbour Daniel Grindrod reported hearing “a child in distress.” The following day, neighbours Graham and Rosemary Willetts called to report “something very strange” about the house.

Social workers had implemented a protection plan prohibiting Howell from staying overnight at the house, but the couple consistently violated this rule. Social worker Hayley Waldron testified that in March 2020, there were legal discussions about removing Alfie from Scott’s care. However, as Scott appeared to be cooperating with social workers at the time, it was decided that the situation did not warrant such action. An independent child safeguarding practice review is currently underway to determine if more could have been done to protect Alfie.

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.

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