A campaign to toughen child abuse sentences could help thousands of children in south west London.
Police in London and the south east dealt with 4,114 cases of child cruelty and neglect in 2017-18, a rise of more than 80% over five years.
A new Private Member’s Bill, dubbed ‘Tony’s Law’, seeks to bring the maximum sentence for child cruelty into line with murder.
The campaign was started by Paula Hudgell, 51, from Kent, after she adopted her four-year-old son Tony three years ago.
Tony, who starts school in September, endured horrific abuse at the hands of his birth parents Tony Smith and Jody Simpson.
In November 2014, aged just 41-days, Tony was admitted to hospital with multiple broken bones, organ failure, toxic shock syndrome and sepsis which later resulted in the amputation of his legs.
Paula and her husband Mark Hudgell, 54, began fostering Tony in February 2015.
Mrs Hudgell – pictured above with Tony – said: “I was told that Tony had some broken limbs and his legs were in a plaster cast, so I assumed that the bones would fix fairly quickly, but once I got to the hospital and saw this tiny little baby I realised more was going on.
“The nurse took me aside, and she started showing me pictures of Tony’s injuries and explaining what they were – I just burst into tears and said ‘I can’t look anymore’.”
The mother of eight said: “We didn’t think Tony would survive and the doctors were preparing to withdraw care, because his condition was very serious, but luckily he turned a corner and 48 hours after I met him he came home.”
Smith and Simpson were allowed supervised visits with Tony for several months in 2015.
The visits occurred for two hours, three times a week and left Mrs Hudgell deeply uncomfortable.
She said: “Tony didn’t cope with those at all and had night terrors which only stopped when the visits did.
“There were two stand-out incidents during the visits – one time Tony’s cast had been pulled and another time when he had a splint on, the splint had been broken.”
Despite this, CPS lawyers said they lacked enough evidence to charge Smith and Simpson.
It wasn’t until the Hudgells became Tony’s adoptive parents in March 2016 that they could present more evidence and charges were filed.
Simpson and Smith were tried at Maidstone Crown Court in February 2018 and were found guilty of neglect and child abuse.
Both were sentenced to the maximum 10 years in prison with a five year licence running concurrently.
Passing sentence, Judge Philip Statman said: “I cannot be sure which of you caused either, all or any of the injuries and the precise role each of you played.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say he was almost at the door of death.
“Who can a child of 41 days turn to other than those who brought him into the word and are meant to love him unconditionally?
“This did not happen in this case.”
Judge Statman told the court: “Tony’s adoptive family are stars. They are absolute stars.”
Mrs Hudgell explained: “Offences of murder, manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm with intent all carry maximum sentences of life imprisonment and I strongly believe the equivalent should apply when a child dies or is seriously harmed.
“My son Tony suffered life-threatening and life-changing injuries whereas his natural parents who inflicted them, while jailed for the maximum of 10 years, will only serve half their sentences as the law requires and be freed after five,” she added.
After appearing on ITV’s This Morning in June 2018, Mrs Hudgell contacted her MP Tom Tugendhat about a change to the law.
She secured more than 12,000 signatures from across the country and Mr Tugendhat presented it as a Private Member’s Bill in February, with the backing of 11 MPs.
Mr Tugendhat said: “We need to see those who commit these horrific crimes punished and for me, 10 years – less than you would get for GBH – is not enough.
“Tony Hudgell, who was so brutally attacked by his birth parents, was the most vulnerable there is.
“A baby at the mercy of two vicious thugs who had a duty to protect him – that’s why I want the law changed.”
Mrs Hudgell was delighted by the response to her petition and was touched to be invited to Parliament by Mr Tugendhat in February.
She said: “We were sitting in the gallery listening to Tom read the 10 Minute Bill and I didn’t know he was going to call it Tony’s Law, it never crossed my mind.
“And then to hear that was just incredible, we were all quite tearful – it was really nice.”