39 days after being returned to their custody, Finley Boden was murdered on Christmas Day, 2020. He sustained 130 wounds.
On Friday, Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden are scheduled to be sentenced.
The documents are important because they informed the crucial hearing regarding Finley’s future, which was presided over by two family magistrates.
The submissions assist in establishing what transpired between Finley’s removal from his parents a few days after his birth on February 15 and the decision to return him to their full-time care by November 23.
After the birth of the child, social workers from Derbyshire County Council decided to remove him from his Chesterfield-based parents. The authority believed that he was likely to experience “significant harm” at home, which is the legal threshold for care cases.
According to them, Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden lived in squalor; their residence was unclean and reeked of cannabis. They characterized the terraced house as “extremely filthy” and “occasionally hazardous, with feces on the floor.”
Social workers also warned of the possibility of domestic violence, as the police had previously been called during a dispute and Stephen Boden had been convicted of domestic violence against an ex-partner in the past. Both parents smoked “between medium and high” amounts of cannabis.
During the subsequent six months, however, the couple convinced social workers that they had made positive changes, aided by Covid restrictions that limited their physical interactions with others.
During the spring lockdown of 2020, social workers did not routinely enter residences. In Finley’s case, his mother instead sent photographs of her spotless and organized terraced home.
By the summer, certain Covid restrictions had been lifted, and Finley’s parents could once again meet him in person. Lynn Williams, a social worker, monitored and assessed participants to help them become better parents.
We have her court report for the October 1 hearing.
In it, she mentions that on one occasion when the weather was balmy, “Shannon Marsden made sure Finley was in the shade.” The social worker also observed that the child’s mother held his hand while he was in the pram, which she described as “a natural response from a caring parent.”
She stated that Stephen Boden engaged with his son “by conversing with him and making him smile.”
In August, Ms Williams said she visited the couple’s home and saw a well-stocked fridge and clean bathroom. She returned within a month and found the home still neat and the parents keen to maintain it.
However, Ms. Williams’ positive report was marred by Children’s Services’ drug testing of both parents. Marsden informed social workers that she quit using cannabis in October 2019. But tests on her hair revealed that this was not the case from February to August 2020. Tests revealed that Boden had also used cannabinoids.
In documents submitted to the court for the 1 October hearing, the local authority stated that Finley should progressively return to his parents’ care through a “transition plan” lasting approximately four months.
It was proposed that Finley would initially reside with his guardians and only see his parents during the day – at first for an hour and a half, gradually increasing to five hours. Then he would be permitted to stay Saturday night.
But Marsden and Boden desired Finley’s return more urgently. Boden stated in his statement for the October hearing, “Shannon and I have worked very hard to make changes.” Marsden admitted that she had been a cannabis user. But stated that she had been “provided with the motivation to quit completely.”
In care cases like Finley’s, the voice of the child’s guardian can be among the most persuasive. Their job at Cafcass, the independent Children and Families Court Advisory Service, is to advocate for the child’s best interests.
Amanda O’Rourke, Finley’s guardian, had only seen him once via a WhatsApp video call while he was with his attendants. In her report to the court, she described him as a “smiler” who liked to “blow raspberries”
She acknowledged the parents’ history of squalor, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Her report stated that she concurred in principle with a transition plan, but that it should be implemented much more quickly because the parents had “clearly made and sustained positive changes”
Ms. O’Rourke advised the magistrates that he return to full-time care within six to eight weeks, half the local authority’s request.
Cafcass issued the following statement: “It cannot be determined whether an extended transition plan would have prevented Finley’s death. His parents’ deception about their love for him killed him.
Two magistrates, Kathy Gallimore, and Susan Burns, assisted by a legal advisor, made the final determination. Because magistrates are not legal experts, this is the case.
The local government’s attorney argued that the Cafcass guardian’s plan would send Finley home “too soon.” According to him, Covid had disrupted the baby’s regular contact with his parents, and this had to be re-established. Additionally, he stated that the parents should be examined for drugs because they were “dishonest” about their cannabis use.
However, Finley’s Cafcass guardian’s attorney stated that a protracted “rehabilitation plan” would not be in his best interests. She stated that she was “neutral” on the issue of substance testing.
The court’s legal counsel said drug testing may be ordered if it’s “necessary, imperative, and crucial to the case’s administration.”
Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Gallimore supported the Cafcass guardian’s view in their judgment that an eight-week transition period was “reasonable and proportionate” and would safeguard Finley’s welfare. They did not order additional substance screenings for his parents.
There is no indication that the magistrates committed a legal error.
And later, when the Supreme Court consented to release these records, Justice Nathalie Lieven described the family court’s decision as “reasonable.”
“Having read the papers here, I sympathize with the magistrates’ decision,” she stated.
Toby Perkins, a Labour representative for Chesterfield, is now pressing for a new investigation into the children’s services in Derbyshire. He also asserts that the fact that magistrates heard this case is “extremely significant.”
“It is reasonable to question whether the necessary care for Finley Boden’s safety was maintained throughout the entire process,” he told.
Derbyshire County Council has stated that the author of the independent safeguarding review commissioned by the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership into Finley’s death will consider the information in the documents “to assist in the formation of the partnership’s learning findings and recommendations.”
In a statement, it added, “We remain fully engaged with the statutory legal review process, which examines the role of all agencies following the death of a child.”