A childminder has today been jailed for more than 12 years for the manslaughter of a nine-month-old baby.

Karen Foster, 62, admitted causing the death of Harlow Collinge on day three of her trial at Preston Crown Court last week.

Foster, of Walsden Grove, Burnley, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months behind bars by Mr Justice Cotter KC after pleading guilty to manslaughter having initially been charged with murder, admitting she violently shook Harlow causing catastrophic injuries.

She was labelled "pure evil" by Harlow's parents during the sentencing hearing at Preston Crown Court, having shown no remorse for her actions.

Harlow CollingeHarlow Collinge (Image: Family via GoFundMe)

Harlow, who was nine months old at the time of his death, was treated by emergency services when they were called to Mill Lane in Hapton on March 1, 2022, at around 1.20pm.

He suffered catastrophic injuries at the hands of Foster, who had shaken Harlow so forcefully he suffered a bleed on the brain.

He was described as a ‘funny, playful baby’ who ‘loved Peter Rabbit, milkshakes and pink wafer biscuits’ by a family friend.

Foster sat in the dock wearing all-black clothing while Harlow’s family packed the public gallery.

Karen FosterKaren Foster (Image: Lancashire Police)

The court heard from Anne Whyte KC, prosecuting, that on March 1 Foster was minding two children aged four and two, including Harlow, under 12 months old, a breach of Ofsted rules.

She said: "At around 11am Gemma Collinge dropped Harlow off at Foster's house. He was his usual happy self. He had a bottle and some breakfast and was in good spirits.

"He was placed in Foster's car as they were going to a local park. They drove to Towneley Park and returned home around 12.45pm.

"Within half an hour she was calling 999.

"Paramedics arrived and found Harlow lying on a double bed in Karen's bedroom. His skin was purple, he had no pulse, and his pupils were fixed."

Foster told staff at Royal Blackburn Hospital Harlow had been eating his dinner and collapsed.

She told a healthcare assistant he had been in his high chair eating pasta when he bolted upright and that she lifted him out and smacked him on his back.

A scan at Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, where Harlow was transferred to from Blackburn, showed bleeding had entered the space between Harlow's brain and skull.

There was also extensive swelling in his brain which was getting worse.

Consultants all agreed surgical intervention was not possible and he had sustained a catastrophic injury.

Ms Whyte continued: "Karen Foster was arrested on suspicion of causing Harlow grievous bodily harm. She was interviewed on March 2 and asked to describe what happened.

"She repeated her account about Harlow being in a high chair and making a choking noise, and she picked him up out of the chair and slapped him hard on the back.

"When police arrived, Harlow's blanket was in a travel cot and his dummy was on a bed, both in Foster's room."

Michelle Colbourne KC, for Foster, said in mitigation the offence was not pre-meditated and conceded nothing she could say would lessen the pain felt by Harlow's family.

In scathing personal statements, Harlow's mother and father spoke of the pain Foster's actions have caused them and their family.

Gemma Collinge, Harlow's mum, said: "Harlow was enjoying his little life. He was a happy, smiling baby whose giggle was infectious.

"I can honestly say I loved every minute of being his mum. He made us all love life being with him.

"I have to live in a new normality, one where I can only look at Harlow in photos, one where I can never hold him again.

"The actions she has taken over the last few years, it's pure evil to put any family through what she did.

"Our lives will never be the same. We have to try and salvage what is left.

"This monster deserves nothing. I wish her nothing but misery and neglect.

"Karen Foster is a disgrace to our society and her sentencing should reflect that."

Allen Frangleton, Harlow's father, added: "How do I even begin to explain how I feel? Karen Foster's actions have completely destroyed me and destroyed us as a family.

"I'll never forget the five days Harlow was in hospital. 

"The feeling of rage overwhelms me. The pain and heartache this evil woman put us through for two years is disgusting.

"I feel she is still playing down what she did. She knew exactly what she did. She knew the risks of shaking a defenceless baby.

"She has had every opportunity to tell us. Instead, she chose to drag us through this, trying anything and everything to get out of it."

Sentencing Foster, Mr Justice Cotter KC said: "Harlow's parents trusted you with his health and safety while they worked.

"You chose to accept children into your care so you could make money, prioritising this over their welfare.

"I have no doubt that your significant health issues, combined with your deliberate breach of the rules as to the number of children you could mind, meant you were under very significant self-imposed strain, and this very significantly contributed to your loss of temper and violent shaking.

"You chose to put financial gain before a young child's welfare. You then lied and only admitted what you had done on the morning of the trial."

Karen Tonge, specialist crown prosecutor with CPS North West’s Complex Casework Unit, said: “Karen Foster, who had been a childminder for nine years, was entrusted with the care of Harlow Collinge.

“Harlow was just nine months old when Foster forcefully shook him, causing a catastrophic head injury which led to his death just four days later.  

“Far from being remorseful following Harlow’s death, Foster prolonged the trauma suffered by Harlow’s loved ones by refusing to take responsibility for her actions until the trial was due to start.

“The Crown Prosecution Service worked with Greater Manchester Police to build a compelling case against Foster.

"The investigation revealed Foster had lied to Ofsted about her personal circumstances and health and that she had been caring for more children than her registration permitted.

"She had lied to parents by telling them that she was a qualified nurse when that was not true.

“She also lied to Harlow’s mother at hospital when she gave her the impression that she had ‘saved him’.

"The evidence suggested she was overstretched and in declining health and that for no good reason, she lost her temper with Harlow.

“In the end, the strength of the evidence was such that Foster had no option but to accept she was responsible for Harlow’s death.

“Harlow should be with his family today. My thoughts remain with Harlow’s family who suffer this unimaginable loss.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with the family of Harlow Collinge at this time. As an inspectorate and regulator, we rely on childminders being honest and open with us, and to report any changes in circumstance so that we can take appropriate action. 

"But we also continuously focus on improving our own work, and when tragic cases occur we always consider any lessons we can learn about our own processes and practice.”