Stepfather guilty of murdering toddler by bashing head against fireplace and lying about it for 50 years
- Credit: Archant
A Great Yarmouth stepfather who swung a toddler by the ankles and bashed his head against a fireplace then lied about it for almost 50 years has been convicted of murder.
David Dearlove, of Wolseley Road, was seen attacking 19-month-old Paul Booth in 1968 by the little boy’s brother Peter, then aged just three, when he crept downstairs for a drink.
The 71-year-old denied killing the toddler at the family home in Haverton Hill, Stockton, telling a jury at Teesside Crown Court that the boy had suffered the fatal head injury by falling out of bed.
There was no visible reaction from the defendant when the guilty verdict was delivered, but there were gasps from the public gallery where members of his family were sitting.
Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, told the court that a mandatory life sentence would follow, with a minimum jail term to be set.
He said aggravating factors were the vulnerability of the victim, the infliction of physical suffering and the fact the stepfather was in a position of trust.
Tim Roberts QC, defending, said the judge should sentence on the basis there was no intention to kill.
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He said: “We do submit that 50 years of blameless character since 1968 is a matter to which the court can, in these particular circumstances, attach considerable weight.”
Mr Justice Males said he would sentence Dearlove, who was also convicted of three child cruelty charges, later on Friday.
He thanked the jury for their hard work and the quality of some of the questions they asked during the trial.
Paul died in hospital on the same night Peter witnessed him being attacked.
He never regained consciousness after suffering a fractured skull and died within four hours.
A police inquiry was launched at the time after bruises and burns were found on the boy, but Dearlove was never prosecuted.
That changed in 2015 when Peter Booth, incensed after seeing a photo on Facebook of his little brother sitting on Dearlove’s knee, went to the police.
It led to the former ICI-worker being arrested at home in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and being questioned in Middlesbrough.
Dearlove was 21 when he moved in with Carol Booth, now deceased, and her three children, and told the jury he liked them but did not love them.
She went on have a baby son by him, born three months after Paul died.
The couple split in 1970 and he never saw Peter again until Mr Booth faced him in court and told the jury what he saw.
Mr Booth and his sister Stephanie also told the jury Dearlove had been physically abusive towards them when they were small children.
Paul had a series of injuries of different ages on his body when he died.
A month before, concerns were raised by his nursery about bruises on his body and police and childcare specialists made inquiries but did not take action against the couple.
At the time, Dearlove told the authorities those injuries were caused by Paul pulling a motorbike over in the back yard.
On the night Dearlove killed Paul, he was alone in the room with the child.
He claimed the toddler had collapsed and went with Mrs Booth in the ambulance to the hospital, returning home some time later while the toddler remained critically ill.
He heard in a phone call that Paul was dead. An hour and a quarter after hearing the news, he told the jury, he went to bed.
Dearlove showed little emotion when he was cross-examined by Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, about that night.
Mr Wright asked: “The child you say you cared about and liked, a baby, had died in your home that night ... it must have been terrible.”
Dearlove said: “I cannot remember what my feelings were.”
Mr Wright said: “Think back, this happy little baby you had been tossing up and down by the fire earlier in the evening, you found him with a fatal injury, and the woman you loved - Carol - had just lost her son. Was that a bit upsetting?”
Dearlove replied: “It was probably upsetting, yes, but I cannot remember.”
In graphic evidence, a baby doll was marked up with the different injury sites and shown to the jury.
Home Office pathologist Dr Mark Egan then hit the doll’s head on a hard surface to show how the skull fracture could have been caused.
Dearlove, who had no previous convictions, moved to London after his split with Mrs Booth, and started a new life.
He married, had two daughters and is now a grandfather.
An NSPCC spokesman said: “This awful crime robbed a defenceless child of his life almost 50 years ago - and Dearlove probably thought he’d long got away with his actions.”
Murdered Paul would have celebrated 50th this year
Paul Booth’s family said he would have celebrated his 50th birthday this year but instead he lies in an unmarked grave which they cannot find.
In a statement released outside court, they said: “Thinking about this makes us sad, as Paul would have been a man, no doubt married and more than likely with children of his own.
“However, sadly Paul was not given the opportunity to live his life due to the cruel and wicked actions of David Dearlove.
“This was a man who entered Paul’s life and was supposedly to act as a father figure to Paul.
“A man, who was supposed to care for him and look after him.
“Instead of doing this he ended Paul’s life in the most violent way.
“The actions of David Dearlove on October 1 1968 not only physically killed Paul but also destroyed his memory.
“He was buried into an unmarked grave the location of which remains unknown and he was not spoken about for many years.
“However, we now believe as a family that this court case has shown everyone that Paul did live a life and that his memory will never be forgotten.
“Naturally we are delighted as a family that justice has now been done, even if it did take 47 years to achieve it.
“David Dearlove is now behind bars.
“This has been a long journey to get to this point and we would like to thank Cleveland Police and those that assisted in bringing the case to court.
“We now hope to move on with our lives and with justice having been served, hope that Paul can now rest in peace.”
Outside court, Detective Inspector Mark Dimelow said: “The inquiry has been challenging due to its historic nature, however, it has shown the value of reporting of such incidents, no matter the passage of time.
“I want to pay tribute to Paul’s family and other witnesses who provided such an emotive testimony and I praise their bravery in having to relive events from 50 years ago.”