Sadistic foster mother sentenced to 14 years in jail
· Three children suffered physical and mental abuse
· Judge criticises inaction by welfare professionals
A sadistic foster mother who subjected three children in her care to horrifying physical and mental abuse over two decades was jailed for 14 years yesterday.
Judge Simon Darwall-Smith told Eunice Spry, 62, that it was the worst case he had come across in his career.
The judge said: "Frankly, it's difficult for anyone to understand how any human being could have even contemplated what you did, let alone with the regularity and premeditation you employed."
Bristol crown court heard that Spry beat the children, two girls and a boy, with sticks and metal bars, scrubbed their skin with sandpaper, and forced them to eat lard, bleach, vomit and even their own faeces.
She treated the children as if they were her slaves, ordering one of them to stay in a wheelchair for four years even though she could walk, so Spry could claim benefits for her.
Spry, a Jehovah's Witness and said to be a pillar of her local community, would punish the children because she thought they were possessed by the devil, and once kept two of them imprisoned, naked and starving, in a room for a month. She denied the claims made against her and insisted the only physical punishment she ever used was "a smack on the bottom".
But a jury convicted her last month of 26 charges, including unlawful wounding, cruelty to a person under 16, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, perverting the course of justice, and witness intimidation. Spry was impassive as the judge passed sentence.
The judge also ordered her to pay costs of £80,000, which he said would mean she would have to sell at least one of her two properties in Gloucestershire.
He told her: "You were careful to carry out what can be described as sadistic torture without being found out. If it were solely my decision, you would be facing a sentence from which you would not be released."
Judge Darwall-Smith went on to criticise welfare professionals who had failed to pick up on the abuse of the children concerned. "I would like to think if these offences had occurred today they would have come to light very much earlier by intervention of the caring services. Anyone who was at any time concerned with the welfare of these victims completely failed to pick up that something was wrong. Anybody seeing them should have realised this was a family that needed looking into."
Following Spry's conviction it was claimed that welfare professionals had missed a string of chances to raise concerns. Among those who saw the children were doctors, a psychiatrist and a dentist who treated one of the youngsters six times after she suffered broken teeth.
Reports of concerns over the children also reached social workers several times. The concerns were investigated but no further action was taken.
Reviews into the way Spry was able to mistreat and, at times, torture the three children are under way, and new systems have already been introduced that are designed to pick up such abuse.
Nigel Mitchell, for Spry, said that despite the brutality and pain she had inflicted on the children, there had been genuine moments of happiness and love shown towards them. He also said Spry had needed protection in prison following her convictions.
After the verdict Spry's foster daughter Alloma Gilbert, now 21, who has waived her right to anonymity, said: "I was told I was evil scum and any day armageddon would come and I would burn because I was a sinner." Her most vivid memory of the torture is the stick Spry would ram down her throat to stop her screaming.
Ms Gilbert, who was fostered at the age of six, added: "It had a two-inch brown bloodstained end after years of forcing it down my throat. She would take me to the barn to do it. I learned not to wriggle but just to endure the pain. She'd hold it there and carry on hitting. I was always black and blue.
"If I'd been naughty she'd use a metal crowbar on me, beating the soles of my feet so the bruises wouldn't be seen - breaking my toes. If I lied, she poured washing-up liquid down my throat. My lips were constantly swollen because she'd punch me when I was so frightened I couldn't answer her."
The abuse went unnoticed partly because Spry took the children out of school and educated them at home. Her crimes came to light two years ago when Spry's adopted daughter, known as victim A, escaped and confided in a family friend, who took her to the police.