Couple kept seven kids with 35 dogs in 'shocking, repugnant' house filled with rotting food and animal faeces

7 November 2022, 19:38

Gemma Brogan, 41, and Christopher Bennett, 35, were jailed
Gemma Brogan, 41, and Christopher Bennett, 35, were jailed. Picture: Sussex Police

By Kit Heren

A couple have been jailed for six years each after keeping seven children in "shocking" and "repugnant" conditions in their home, which was strewn with rotting food and animal faeces.

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Christopher Bennett, 35, and Gemma Brogan, 41, were sentenced after pleading guilty at Lewes Crown Court to seven counts of child neglect on Monday. They also admitted animal cruelty after being prosecuted by the RSPCA.

Bennett and Brogan were being paid £7,000 a month in benefits. Brogan cried as the judge, Stephen Mooney, said it was "impossible for any person to comprehend the enormity" of their failings.

Police were called to the defendants' address in Eastbourne, East Sussex, on June 14 2021, to a report of a domestic incident when officers found the seven children and the 35 dogs.

One of the dogs after being rescued
One of the dogs after being rescued. Picture: RSPCA

Police said they struggled to breathe, such was the stench when they entered the house. Officers said that it was "impossible" to describe the "full extent of degradation and filth these vulnerable children had to endure" in "one of the most awful addresses" they had ever seen.

Social services said all of the children had rotten teeth, and one needed a general anaesthetic so 13 teeth could be removed.

Another child didn't know how to read or write. "She...didn't know days of the week or months of the year," a carer said. "They discouraged her from going to school saying it would make her anxious and she would find it too hard. She looked after the younger ones."

Dogs in the house
Dogs in the house. Picture: Sussex Police

Detective Constable Fiona Ashcroft, of Sussex Police, said: "Upon entering the address, our officers were shocked about the state of the property and had major concerns for the welfare of all the children.

"The stench as you entered the hallway hit officers hard; they were not able to breath normally due to the stench.

"The state of the whole house was shocking and repugnant; it was cluttered and was strewn with discarded clothing, litter, rotting food and animal faeces.

"It looked as if it had been filthy for a number of years.

"There was a deafening sound of dogs yapping and barking coming from the room in front of the hallway.

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"When the door to the living room was opened, officers were shocked to see dozens of dogs climbing over each other to try and reach the open door.

"All the dogs looked malnourished and skinny. Their fur was greasy, matted and covered in each other's faeces.

"In amongst the filth and melee of dogs, officers removed a sleeping child from the sofa, who was dressed in just a soiled nappy and had dogs jumping all over them.

"All seven children, then aged between four and 17, were immediately taken into emergency protection and, following partnership working with the local authority children's services, they were subsequently rehoused.

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"The four youngest children are now living with supportive families and are learning all the principle social, mobility and life skills that our society hinges on.

"This was a particularly dreadful example of child neglect. The address is a three-bedroom property which had 10 occupants and 35 dogs crammed in.

"It is impossible to paint an accurate picture of the full extent of degradation and filth these vulnerable children had to endure. It is unequivocally one of the most awful addresses I have ever been in."

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The RSPCA removed the 36 dogs, which have been rehomed, and a dead dog.

For the animal cruelty offences, Brogan was sentenced to an 18-week prison sentence suspended for two years.

She was given a five-year ban for all animals, 30 rehabilitation activity days and 100 hours' community service work.

Bennett was sentenced to 18 weeks' imprisonment and was disqualified indefinitely from keeping all animals.