A former care worker has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years for murdering a one-year-old boy she had hoped to adopt.
Laura Castle, 38, was found guilty at Preston Crown Court on Tuesday 17 May of killing Leiland-James Corkill, who died of catastrophic head injuries at her home in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in January 2021.
She was also sentenced to 21 months for a child cruelty charge, which will be served concurrently, meaning she will not be eligible for parole for 17 years.
If she is ever released from prison, she will remain on licence and subject to recall for the rest of her life.
When being sentenced today, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker told her: “Precisely what took place on 6 January may never be known as even now I do not consider you told the jury the full circumstances leading up to the death of Leiland-James.
“I consider your account significantly underplays the extent and degree of violence you inflicted.”
The 38-year-old said she had shaken the child after he had not stopped crying and his head struck the arm-rest of the sofa before he fell off her knee on to the floor.
She had originally claimed he had fallen off the sofa first, but she changed her version of events on the day the jury was sworn in for her trial.
‘Evil took his last breath here on earth’
Leiland-James’s birth mother Laura Corkill described Castle as a “monster” in a letter to Mr Justice Baker ahead of the sentencing.
He was taken into care soon after she gave birth to him in December 2019, but Ms Corkill said she stayed in frequent contact with his foster mother before his placement for potential adoption with the Castle couple.
She wrote: “A monster that robbed Leiland-James at only 12 months old of his life, robbed me, his brother, sisters and my family of one day opening the door to the wonderful young man that I know he would have become.
“I just exist to get justice for my son Leiland-James and for all my children.
“My beautiful blue-eyed baby, love saw his first breath, evil took his last breath here on earth, Mammy was not ready to say goodbye, I will never be ready to say goodbye.”
Leiland-James had been placed with Laura and her husband Scott Castle by authorities four months before he died.
He was a “looked-after child” who was taken into care when he was born and had been approved to live with his prospective adoptive parents from August 2020.
Mrs Castle rang for an ambulance on 6 January last year and reported the child had fallen off the sofa, hurt his head and was finding it hard to breathe.
But hospital medics shared concerns as the extent of his injuries did not fit with her account.
Leiland-James died the following day.
Scott Castle, 35, was found not guilty of allowing Leiland-James’ death and was also acquitted of child cruelty.
He said he never had any concerns that anything bad was going to happen with the child, adding that he trusted his wife.
Foster mother Charlotte Day, who looked after the child up to August 2020, said the Castles “should have been his forever happy family”.
She too had been left heartbroken at the loss of a “beautiful boy with the most contagious laugh”.
Detective Superintendent Dave Pattinson, who led the investigation, said it was an “horrific set of circumstances” and obvious to medical responders at the scene a fall from the sofa “didn’t add up with the nature of the injuries”.
He said only Castle knew what happened that morning and had “never actually told anyone the truth”, adding she was “horrible human being” and a “manipulative liar”.
Cumbria County Council said an independent review into the case was expected to conclude in July.