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Religious Erith couple jailed after their five-month old baby dies of rickets
A devoutly religious Erith couple, who believed it was a "sin in the eyes of God" to seek help for their dying baby, have been jailed for gross negligence manslaughter.
Former nurse Nkosiyapha Kunene, 36, and his wife, Virginia Kunene, 32, of Carlton Road, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday (FEB 28) in front of Mr Justice Singh who described the case as "tragic".
Baby Ndingeko died on June 14, 2012 of florid rickets caused by severe Vitamin D deficiency after the couple refused medical treatment for him on a number of occasions because of their religious beliefs as Seventh Day Adventists.
Prosecutor Richard Whittam QC told the court how Virginia Kunene, a vegan, refused to attend important appointments at the Darent Valley Hospital and the couple did not seek help even when their son was dying.
He said: "On November 7 2011 she saw Dr MacDermott, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who made the following note: 'states she is unlikely to seek medical attention for her child if it became unwell, though cannot be sure of it, it would be her preference'.
"There has been a serious case review which includes Darent Valley where he was born, the social services which comes under Bexley and the police."
The court heard how Ndingeko was born on January 1 2012 at Darent Valley Hospital with a low birth weight and problems with breast feeding. He was discharged a few days later.
After initial meetings with midwives and health visitors, Virginia Kunene did not attend the eight-week check up on March 8 and neither were seen by health professionals until after his death three months later.
In mitigation for Nkosiyapha Kunene, Kerim Fuad QC told the court: "The death of his son is deeply ingrained on his soul.
"The word 'tragic' is often bandied about by barristers but in this case it fits the circumstances entirely.
"He had been an adult nurse at King's College Hospital and worked on a respiratory ward.
"He did make an error on June 14 when he prepared a solution of salt and water for his son because he thought he was low in energy.”
'She was in thrall to her husband'
In mitigation on behalf of Virginia Kunene, Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC said: "She was in thrall to her husband both culturally and emotionally and he was becoming a significant member of the church, the Seventh Day Adventists.
"She gave birth in hospital despite a preference for a home birth.
"An X-ray of the child after birth did not show the condition florid rickets and a blood rest did not show it.
"The risks should have been made clear to her in the neonatal unit.
"She did fall pregnant subsequently, before she was charged and sadly miscarried.
"She did not want to return to Darent Valley for the birth - which sadly did not happen. No one can criticise her rejecting somewhere which had let her down so badly."
Both defendants pleaded guilty to gross negligence manslaughter.
'A sin in the eyes of God'
On sentencing Mr Justice Singh said: "This is in any view a tragic case.
"They are a dedicated and humble couple.
“Importantly, Mr Kunene accepts, as he said in interview, he realised when he returned from work that day that Ndingeko might die and decided not to call for medical assistance.
"On that basis he accepts that he is guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.
“He appreciated this was something serious and that his son might be close to death.
“Mr Kunene accepts that he advised his wife that it would be a sin in the eyes of God to call for medical assistance as he had made a vow that he would await guidance from God before doing so.
“I have taken into account Professor Nussey’s evidence that both the Darent Valley Hospital and Northumberland Medical Centre played a part in failing properly to advise the Defendants and to prescribe vitamin D supplements.
“The necessity and use of that supplement (which are suitable for vegans and all the more important as Mrs Kunene is of African origin) was never explained to either of the defendants.
“Ndingeko’s vitamin D deficiency was not diagnosed in the early days after his birth and before he was discharged from the neo‐natal unit.
"It is hoped all necessary enquiries will have been made by those authorities to establish everything was done to protect Ndingeko's life that reasonably could have been done."
Virginia Kunene was sentenced to two years and three months in prison and Nkosiyapha Kunene was sentenced to three years.
Response from Bexley's Local Safeguarding Board
A spokesman for Bexley's Local Safeguarding Board said:"Bexley’s Local Safeguarding Children Board wishes to express its sympathy to Child F’s family.
"The safeguarding and protection of Bexley’s children and young people is a priority for agencies involved in their welfare.
"It is a responsibility each agency takes very seriously.
"A serious case review has been completed by Bexley’s Local Safeguarding Children Board in line with the government’s ‘Working Together to safeguard children 2013’ guidance.
"The review report provides a sound analysis of what happened in the case and makes recommendations for action and learning.
"The review findings have been actioned by the agencies involved and progress is closely monitored by the Local Safeguarding Children Board.
"The overview report is published on bexleylscb.org.uk"
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