A County Durham couple who tormented children by starving them, feeding them soap, pushing them into boiling hot showers and physically abusing them have been found guilty of multiple counts of child abuse.
Cheryl Pickles, 35, and Andrew Hadwin, 39, malnourished the children until they were so hungry they walked four miles to scavenge through supermarket bins at 4am.
When the children eventually reported the abuse, the couple proceeded to forge letters which they pretended were from the children in an attempt to frame them as liars.
The letters, written in a childish scrawl, said: ‘We are sorry, we told lies,’ and went on to explain that they had made up the allegations against the pair.
However, an expert revealed them to be fakes.
Hadwin and Pickles, of Fishburn, County Durham (Near Sedgefield), were ultimately convicted of a prolonged campaign of child abuse by a jury at Teesside Crown Court after a lengthy trial.
During the proceedings, jurors heard of the horrific campaign of abuse committed by the pair, including dangling one terrified child over a motorway bridge.
They will be sentenced in April and have been told to expect lengthy prison terms.
The abuse came to light in 2018 when one of the children confided what had happened to a trusted adult. Police were informed and an investigation by Durham Constabulary was launched.
During the inquiry, which spanned four years and involved more than 150 witnesses, detectives found that Hadwin and Pickles repeatedly abused the children by making them eat soap, locking them in cupboards, forcing them into boiling hot showers and baths – sometimes submerging their heads under the water – and withholding access to food.
The children would often have to scavenge for scraps to eat, and on one occasion were found at 4am walking alone to a supermarket four miles away in search of food
The pair would also order takeaways and make the children watch them eat while they were forced to stand in stress positions for long periods of time.
Hadwin and Pickles were charged with multiple offences of child neglect and sexual activity with a child, and one count of perverting the course of justice over the forged letter.
Hadwin was also charged with three counts of rape in relation to non-recent abuse of another child which happened when she was a girl.
The pair denied all charges, resulting in a seven-week trial at Teesside Crown Court.
During the trial, the court heard from medical experts who described how the children regularly suffered from painful injuries. One of the children was even left with life-limiting injuries as a result of the abuse.
They also heard how the pair wrote letters, which were given to police, claiming to be from the children in which they apologised for lying and were sorry, and made false allegations of sexual assault by professionals supporting them.
However, a handwriting expert confirmed the writing was not that of a child, and found the letters had actually been written in a notebook found at the couple’s home.
After three days of deliberations, the jury found Hadwin guilty of three counts of rape, seven counts of neglect, and one count of perverting the course of justice. He was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.
Pickles was found guilty of five counts of child cruelty and one of perverting the course of justice. She was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.
The pair were remanded in custody to be sentenced on Friday, April 28, at the same court.
After the verdict, Detective Inspector Tonya Cook, who led the investigation, said: ‘This was a distressing case in which all witnesses, partners and the police have shown high levels of professionalism to ensure justice is achieved for these children.
‘It has also shown the commitment by Durham Constabulary to keeping those in our communities safe and to fully hear the voices of children when speaking up against those around them.’
Detective Constable Kat Pudney, of Durham Constabulary’s Safeguarding Unit, the investigating officer, said: ‘This was an extremely complex and distressing investigation for all involved, the likes of which I have never encountered during my time as a police officer.
‘Hadwin and Pickles subjected several vulnerable children to multiple forms of abuse, robbing them of their childhood, and undoubtedly leaving them with psychological wounds which they may never truly recover from.
‘I want to highlight how incredibly brave these children have been throughout this lengthy investigation – their strength to stand up to their abusers must be commended.
‘One of Hadwin’s victims is now a young woman. She has shown incredible bravery in reliving her ordeal many years later. I hope she finds some comfort that her attacker has now been convicted and remanded.
‘Hadwin and Pickles have lied to police and other professionals, and attempted to blame others throughout this investigation, in an attempt to divert the attention away from themselves.
‘I am delighted that the jury have returned these verdicts, ultimately protecting further children from falling victim to their manipulative and abhorrent behaviour.
‘I hope this result will allow the children to close this chapter of their lives and start their healing journey.’
She added: ‘The safeguarding and wellbeing of children is everyone’s business – all children deserve to be safe, protected and loved.
‘If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please speak out. Your actions could save a life.’