Toddler 'neglected before drowning'

A TODDLER drowned in a garden pond after suffering months of neglect by her parents, it has been claimed.Emily Wilkinson was just weeks away from her second birthday when she wandered off in the dark while her parents watched television following a lunch-time visit to a pub, Ipswich Crown Court was told yesterday.

A TODDLER drowned in a garden pond after suffering months of neglect by her parents, it has been claimed.

Emily Wilkinson was just weeks away from her second birthday when she wandered off in the dark while her parents watched television following a lunch-time visit to a pub, Ipswich Crown Court was told yesterday.

The little girl was found in the water by her father, Richard Wilkinson, after another child raised the alarm. He tried to resuscitate her, but she died several hours later in West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds.

Christopher Morgan, prosecuting, described Emily's death as "an act of gross negligence" by her parents, whom he said had "breached all duties and standard of care expected of them towards their little girl".

Richard Wilkinson, 41, and his wife, Karen 27, both of The Street, Brandon, have pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of their daughter on February 15, 2003. He has denied four further charges of child neglect, which have been admitted by his wife.

Outlining the background to the case, Mr Morgan portrayed Karen Wilkinson as a heavy cocaine user who was incapable of looking after herself let alone a child.

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He added the couple had regularly consumed alcohol and violent arguments had been a feature of their life together.

The court heard a year before Emily's death a neighbour who visited the Wilkinson's home in Bartlow, Cambridgeshire, had been shocked at their squalid living conditions and described the house as looking like a bomb had hit it.

Soiled nappies and excrement were lying around the house, bags of rubbish were piled up and broken windows were letting in a draught.

In August 2002 the couple were evicted from their home in Cambridgeshire and Karen Wilkinson and Emily moved to Suffolk to live with her mother in Evergreen Lane, Great Bradley.

A couple of months later they moved into a house across the road in Evergreen Lane belonging to an old friend.

"Karen and Emily slept on a mattress downstairs in a front room which was littered with used drink bottles and to make matters worse at some point Richard Wilkinson reappeared and moved in with them," said Mr Morgan.

On the day of Emily's death the Wilkinsons visited a pub at lunchtime and returned home, where they spent the afternoon watching television.

At about 4.30pm a child had run into the house shouting that Emily was in the water and Richard Wilkinson had rushed across the road into his mother-in-law's garden, where he found his daughter in the pond.

"It is clear that were totally oblivious to the fact that she had wandered off," said Mr Morgan.

During police interviews Karen Wilkinson admitted she had a major cocaine problem and used three to four grams of the drug a day.

She claimed Emily had been in the house with her and Richard Wilkinson, and that the first she had known that she had been missing was when another child had said she was in the pond.

Richard Wilkinson said he and his wife had had a difficult relationship because of her drug use and he had found it easier to live apart from her.

On February 15 he had watched television on their return from the pub and claimed Emily had been close by at all times. He added at some point she must have wandered off after other children left the front door open.

Mr Morgan said the jury would see a video of the route Emily would have taken to the pond and would have to decide whether just a few moments had passed between her wandering off and her parents noticing or whether her journey, through a heavy wooden gate, across the road and into her grandmother's fenced garden had taken much longer.

He asked the jury to look to the events leading up to February 15, 2003, and to decide whether the defendants were guilty of gross negligence of a criminal nature or an isolated lack of supervision that could happen to any parent.

"We say this wasn't a tragic accident. It was a result of neglect by these two individuals," said Mr Morgan.

The trial continues today.

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