A children’s agency which was involved in the decision to hand Finley Boden back to his parents weeks before they murdered him has said that “everyone involved” thought the pair had changed.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) also said that “no-one could have predicted” Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden would murder their 10-month-old son after he returned to their care.
Finley fatally collapsed on Christmas Day 2020, just over a month after he returned to his parents’ home in Old Whittington, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, after a Family Court ordered his return on October 1 that year.
Court documents, released after an application to the courts by the PA news agency and others, show that Finley was ordered to be returned within eight weeks despite Derbyshire County Council asking for a four-month transition to address “some concerns” it had over Marsden and Boden’s parenting and use of cannabis.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Cafcass said: “Our first thoughts are with those who knew Finley and especially those who loved him and are affected terribly by what happened to him.
“The details of the trial will have renewed their trauma and distress at his loss.
“On the basis of what was known at the time and during the proceedings, including the efforts of the parents to persuade everyone involved that they loved Finley and had made changes so they could care for him, Finley’s social worker and guardian agreed that he could be placed in their care.
“Everyone involved believed that Finley’s parents had made and sustained the changes necessary to care for him safely.
“There was nothing to suggest at the time that they would be capable of such cruelty, let alone murder him.”
The Cafcass guardian represents the child in Family Court hearings and makes independent assessments as to what is best for them.
A transcript of the Family Court hearing has shown Finley’s Cafcass guardian was “not satisfied that that [four-month] transition plan is in the interests of [Finley] or necessary to be drawn out for such a long period”.
Instead, they advocated the child returning to their parents within eight weeks but asked for the case to return to court after a four-month extension to ensure the council was happy with Finley’s rehabilitation.
The court had also seen evidence of Marsden and Boden clearing up their home, and decreasing their use of cannabis in the weeks prior to the hearing, with social workers reporting “positive” interactions between the pair and their son in supervised contact sessions.
The lay magistrates later ruled that an eight-week transition period was “reasonable and proportionate” to rehabilitate Finley into his parents’ care.
Speaking on Tuesday, Cafcass said the guardian felt it was “imperative” that the court reviewed the arrangements once court proceedings had concluded.
They said: “It was her view that as long as everyone was agreed that his parents had made the necessary changes, that unification with his parents was in his long-term best interests and that there was ongoing oversight by the local authority, then prolonging the transition plan where he would pass backwards and forwards… was unnecessary and would be unsettling for him.
“It is not possible to say whether a longer transition plan would have prevented Finley’s death.
“What led to his death was the ability of his parents to deceive everyone involved about their love for him and their desire to care for him. This deception included their own extended family.
“No-one could have predicted from what was known at the time that they were capable of such cruelty or that there was a risk that they would intentionally hurt him, let alone murder him.”
The Family Court hearing also heard from the council about how the parents had lied about their use of cannabis.
The council said that while the pair were decreasing their usage, they should be made subject to regular drug testing as part of the transition to Finley returning to their care.
The Cafcass guardian remained neutral on the issue.
Magistrates later ruled that drug testing “may be beneficial, it is not necessary”, instead encouraging Boden and Marsden to engage with local drug recovery services.
Cannabis use later became a key theme of the criminal trial, with the jury hearing details of drug deals being made days before Finley’s death before unanimously convicting the pair of murder.
But the Cafcass spokesperson said that the guardian “shared the concerns” of Derbyshire County Council regarding drug use, but felt Finley could return to his parents if they continued to engage with professional services.
They said: “Finley’s guardian shared the concerns of the local authority about the parents’ use of cannabis and had previously advocated for testing.
“Her final view was based on the father’s positive engagement with the Probation Service and with the drug service.
“The local authority assessment showed that the parents had also made sustained improvements in the condition of their home.
“Prior to the hearing on October 1 2020, it was the guardian’s understanding that the local authority would be undertaking drug testing as part of their unification plan.
“At the court hearing, the local authority sought court orders for the testing. While the guardian was neutral on the issue of an order for drug testing at the hearing, she agreed that their use of cannabis should continue to be monitored as part of the transition plan and ongoing engagement with specialist drug services.”
Finley’s case is now subject to a serious case review, being led by the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership.
A spokesperson for the DDSCP said: “We are aware that the courts have approved the release of documents related to a Family Court hearing in the case of Finley Boden.
“Key partner agencies are currently involved in completing an independent Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review and these documents will be considered as part of that process.
“The Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership will publish the findings of the review in the latter part of 2023. This will include a full description of actions taken, along with evidence of the improvements to local safeguarding arrangements.”
Boden and Marsden will be sentenced on Friday.