Two parents who “worked together” to murder their “perfect” 10-month-old son have been jailed for life after what a judge called “unimaginable cruelty”.
Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden – described as “monsters” by a relative – inflicted “vicious and repeated assaults” on their son, Finley Boden, in the space of just over a month in their filthy home near Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
Finley fatally collapsed on Christmas Day 2020 and was found to have 130 separate injuries at the time of his death, as well as diseases including sepsis and pneumonia.
The injuries included a broken pelvis, broken shoulder, fractured shinbone, fractured collarbones, several fractured ribs and four separate thighbone fractures, as well as 71 bruises and other burns, with his blood, vomit and faeces found on his clothes and body.
Handing Marsden and Boden life sentences with respective minimum terms of 27 and 29 years at Derby Crown Court on Friday, Mrs Justice Amanda Tipples said the pair were “persuasive and accomplished liars” who “brutally assaulted” their son.
She said: “You both knew that Finley was very seriously ill and dying… yet you deliberately failed to seek any medical help for him and you made sure that he was not seen by anyone that could have rescued him and taken him away from your care.
“He was subject to repeated abuse on multiple occasions. Once the injuries had been inflicted, Finley’s daily experience was one of considerable pain, distress and suffering.
“It was obvious to both of you by December 16 that Finley was very seriously injured, and he was utterly miserable.
“He was no longer able to sit up and play with his toys. He was unable to feed himself.”
She added: “By the evening of December 23 he was plainly dying. There was nothing subtle about this at all. It was plainly obvious to both of you.”
Immediately before she passed the sentence, the judge said: “Neither of you have shown any remorse at all for what you have done.”
The pair showed no emotion and remained silent during sentencing, while family members wept in the public gallery as the judge detailed the horrific abuse they inflicted on Finley.
Finley was exposed to what prosecutor Mary Prior KC told Friday’s hearing were “vicious and repeated assaults” at the family home in Holland Road, Old Whittington, near Chesterfield, that culminated in his “savage and prolonged” murder.
She said during the trial that the broken pelvis was possibly from sustained “kicking or stamping”, with injuries likened to a multi-storey fall.
He also had two burns on his left hand – one “from a hot, flat surface”, the other probably “from a cigarette lighter flame”.
Despite the fact that Finley’s pain “would have been obvious”, Mrs Prior said, his parents only gave him Calpol for pain relief and claimed that their son “always had crackly ribs”.
As their son’s condition deteriorated, Boden, 30, and Marsden, 22, hid him from social workers and family members for the last month of his life despite them making several attempts to see him, with Mrs Prior saying the pair told a “series of persistent lies”.
A social worker visited the family home on November 19 and noticed Finley had a 4cm bump on his head, which Marsden claimed was due to him hitting his head on a toy, an explanation that was accepted by social services.
But he was then seen to be bruised during a visit on November 27 – the last time social services saw Finley alive, despite several attempts – with family photos taken two days later showing bruising to Finley’s left cheek, ear and scalp.
This, the trial was told, was the first evidence of non-accidental injuries inflicted on Finley.
Mrs Prior told the trial: “His parents worked together to hide the injuries, to keep prying eyes away, to avoid social services, the health visitor and the police for their own self-centred reasons.”
He was last seen alive at 7.16pm on Christmas Eve on the CCTV of a Tesco Express.
Boden, who has 22 previous convictions for 33 offences, and Marsden, who has no previous convictions, also arranged several cannabis deals in the days before Finley’s death, with Boden texting a dealer two days earlier stating he wanted to “bounce [Finley] off the walls”.
Finley was taken into care days after he was born but had been returned to his parents’ full-time care in November after a Family Court order was made in October 2020.
Details of the ruling, disclosed to the PA news agency, BBC and Telegraph last week, showed that magistrates said he should be given back to them within eight weeks and without them being drug tested.
That was despite Derbyshire County Council telling the Family Court they had “some concerns” over Boden and Marsden’s cannabis use, asking the court for a four-month transition period in order to have “complete confidence” in their parenting abilities.
But the Family Court heard from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service how the risk of harm posed to Finley by his parents was not unmanageable and did not require him to be placed out of their care “in the foreseeable future”.
The Family Court was shown images of a tidy family home and also told by Marsden: “I love [Finley] and the prospect of [him] returning to my care has made me incredibly happy.”
Boden said: “Shannon and I have worked really hard to make changes. We have been totally focused upon having [Finley] return to our care.”
A social worker described Finley as “a smiler” who “likes to blow raspberries”, with his parents describing him as “perfect” and a “cuddly, chunky munchkin”.
It convinced two magistrates that a shorter transition was “reasonable and proportionate” and drug testing was “beneficial, [but] it is not necessary”.
But the jury at Derby Crown Court saw images taken during the murder investigation of a house covered in dirt and clutter, including cannabis paraphernalia in the same room as gone-off baby formula.
Police found blood-stained items including a vomit and faeces-stained cot mattress cover, duvet cover, Mickey Mouse baby grow and a “Captain Cute” T-shirt.
After Finley’s death, the pair were seen laughing and joking in a taxi and asking what food would be served at a family Christmas gathering.
In the hospital ward, Boden was heard by a nurse saying he would sell Finley’s pram on eBay and allegedly later told a relative “Finley had been crying and crying, so in his words he, ‘shook him a little bit’,” Mrs Prior said.
Giving evidence, Boden, of Romford Way, Barrow Hill, near Chesterfield, claimed that he never “deliberately” hurt his son and his injuries – multiple episodes of blunt force trauma – may have been caused by him rocking Finley too hard, the family dog jumping on him or the baby hitting himself with toys.
Though neither explicitly blamed the other during their evidence, the pair both denied wrongdoing despite being the only people to see Finley due to the Covid lockdown.
While the judge accepted that Marsden, of no fixed abode, was the victim of domestic abuse, she said arguments were a “regular feature” of their relationship, adding that Boden says smoked cannabis from the age of nine and Marsden was drinking from the same age and smoking cannabis from the age of 10.
But while she said Boden could be “uncontrollably and aggressively angry”, she said Marsden was “quite capable of standing your own ground in arguments” and said: “You both still did nothing to help Finley. Rather, you continued to leave him to suffer.”
Speaking in her defence on Friday, her barrister, Andrew Vout KC, said that her feelings for Boden “ultimately overrode all else” and that she was in his “thrall”.
When she visited Finley’s body in a hospital chapel of rest, Marsden said: “His dad’s battered him to death. I didn’t protect him.”