Drug addict mum convicted of manslaughter after asthmatic son, 7, died 'gasping for air'

22 April 2022, 13:41 | Updated: 22 April 2022, 14:10

Seven-year-old Hakeem Hussain's mother Laura Heath (right) has been found guilty of manslaughter.
Seven-year-old Hakeem Hussain's mother Laura Heath (right) has been found guilty of manslaughter. Picture: West Midlands Police

By Sophie Barnett

A drug addict mother has been convicted of manslaughter for fatally neglecting her asthmatic son who died alone and "gasping for air".

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Hakeem Hussain was just seven years old when he died in Nechells, Birmingham on November 26, 2017.

The "friendly and polite" schoolboy, who suffered from severe asthma, died alone in a garden without his inhalers, Coventry Crown Court heard.

His drug addict mother, Laura Heath, deliberately "prioritised her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine" prior to the "needless, premature" death of her son, prosecutors said.

Heath, formerly of Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham, was convicted on Friday of gross negligence manslaughter of "frail" Hakeem, who died at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying.

The 40-year-old had admitted four counts of child cruelty before trial, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing Hakeem to class A drugs.

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CPS outline Hakeem Hussain neglect after Laura Heath conviction

On the day of Hakeem's death, officers responded to reports of a cardiac arrest at the home of a friend where Heath had been staying.

When officers arrived, Heath said Hakeem had gone outside for some fresh air and fell asleep.

Tragically nothing could be done to save him, and a post-mortem concluded he died of acute exacerbation of asthma.

An image seen by jurors during the trial showed how Heath had even used foil and an elastic band to rig one of her son's blue inhalers to smoke crack, fuelling a £55-a-day habit.

A serious case review into all agencies' contact with Hakeem and his mother will be published within weeks.

Social services in Birmingham were aware of Hakeem before his death, and it emerged at Heath's trial that at a child protection conference on November 24, 2017, just two days before his fatal collapse, a school nurse told the meeting "he could die at the weekend".

Health, education and social workers had voted to act to protect Hakeem during the conference.

But the meeting ended with an agreement that the family's social worker would speak to Heath on the Monday, detailing the meeting's outcome - by which time Hakeem was dead.

In her evidence at the trial, school nurse Melanie Richards said she told the meeting "he (Hakeem) could die at the weekend from asthma".

Neelam Ahmed, family outreach worker at Hakeem's school, also told jurors how she had also voted at that meeting "to take Hakeem immediately in to care".

Following the trial, the head of Birmingham Children's Trust, Andy Couldrick, which took over child social services in early 2018, said there were "clear missed opportunities" in social services' handling of the case.

David Crumps, Hakeem's headteacher, said the news of the youngsters death "shocked our community five years ago".

"He was a friendly, polite little boy who will forever be remembered for his gentle nature," Mr Crumps said.

"His friends will remember him with love and great fondness and he is greatly missed.”

Detective Inspector Michelle Thurgood, who led the investigation, said: “Hakeem’s death was untimely, tragic and preventable.

“He was a young boy who should have been enjoying a carefree and happy childhood. I am saddened by what happened to him and the desperately unfortunate circumstances that caused his death.

“His mother had a duty of care to manage the administration of his asthma medication. Her life and home was chaotic and this had a detrimental impact on poor little Hakeem.

“My thoughts remain with his loved ones and I hope the court outcome offers some comfort.”

Heath will be sentenced on 28 April.