AN EVIL stepdad beat a five-year-old boy to death with such ferocious violence he looked like a car crash victim, an inquest has heard.
Days later James Roberts joked with the boy’s mother: “We should kill a kid more often” as they lapped up gifts and money from wellwishers.
Roberts beat Leon Jayet-Cole and other children in the house up to four times a week after moving in with their mother Emma, a coroner heard.
Their natural father Michael Cole suspected abuse and warned social services.
But a damning coroner’s verdict today found social workers, police and health officials failed to stop it.
It came at the end of a long-running inquest that began in 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Little Leon, who was on the autistic spectrum, died in hospital in May 2015.
A day earlier Roberts called an ambulance claiming he found him pale and not breathing.
He told police he had heard a bang while he was on the phone to Leon’s mother and went to check on him a few minutes later.
But a post-mortem revealed 44 injuries, including severe blunt force head trauma, a broken jaw, spinal bleeding and a broken foot.
Doctors told the inquest his head injuries were more typically seen in car crash victims or people who fall from a height above 20 metres (66ft).
Police found a fresh hole in the plasterboard in the hall, which was probably made by Leon’s head.
Roberts explained it with an unlikely story about “a dog’s bum” in his police interview and also lied about the cause of his own hand injury.
Detectives suspected him of murder and planted a recording device in the home, the inquest heard.
On June 1, four days after Leon died, Roberts and Emma were heard talking about the gifts and money they had received.
Roberts said the “new stuff” was incredible and added: “We should kill a kid more often.”
He was also recorded saying he and Emma should “do something cool for the kids”, such as going to Fiji.
Roberts was probably on drugs when he made the admission “in jest”, said Det Sgt Chris Power.
Investigators believe Roberts beat the children for three years in a chaotic home environment in which he and his wife regularly used drugs.
Traces of heroin and methamphetamine were found in Leon’s hair – indicating he had ingested the drugs in his last months.
Roberts was charged with murder but dodged justice when he died in jail in June 2016 while awaiting trial.
Leon’s mother Emma Jayet was accused of lying to police and social workers when she gave evidence to the inquest in 2019.
She said she never saw Roberts hit her children in the three years they lived together, and would have left him if she suspected he might hurt them.
But the coroner heard social workers had twice forced her to take a child to hospital with “horrific” bruising after she had refused to seek medical help.
Just days before Leon’s fatal head injury he suffered a broken foot caused by stomping.
Emma claimed she didn’t notice any swelling and he seemed normal.
Roberts died in jail while awaiting trial for murder[/caption]
In earlier evidence, Leon’s dad Michael Cole said he had repeatedly warned social workers the kids were in danger.
He said the children seemed scared of their stepdad and were “utterly miserable”.
After he filed a complaint to social services, Roberts texted him threatening to kill him and his partner and rape her autistic son.
In a damning verdict, coroner Brigitte Windley ruled police, doctors and child protection staff failed to protect Leon and his siblings.
She said they did not share information or link the mounting evidence of abuse, despite the “enormous resources” devoted to the family.
She said: “The risk of violence in this case went undetected until Leon was killed.”
The coroner was also damning about Leon’s mother, ruling that she probably gave false statements to authorities.
She said: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Emma knew or suspected that James had been harming the boys, and that from time to time she covered for him.”
And gullible social workers swallowed the lies “when any objective analysis would have indicated that caution and scepticism were required”.
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After today’s verdict, Michael said he was hurt the Christchurch health board appeared to be “passing the buck”, and he had no faith the Ministry for Children would make improvements.
“Try to put yourself there,” he told Stuff.co.nz.
“It was a nightmare knowing kids were in danger and just being ignored.
“They helped put him in the grave.”