Couple paid £7,000 a month in benefits left children living in filth with 35 dogs

Gemma Brogan and Christopher Bennett - Sussex News and Pictures
Gemma Brogan and Christopher Bennett – Sussex News and Pictures

A couple who were paid £7,000 a month in benefits left eight children living in a filthy house crammed with 35 dogs.

Police discovered the children at the home of Christopher Bennett and Gemma Brogan after they were called to a domestic incident at the address in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in June 2021.

Officers who arrived at the scene spoke to Bennett through an open bathroom window, before entering the property to find a seven-year-old covered in animal faeces sitting near a dead dog, Lewes Crown Court heard.

The court was shown police bodycam footage of officers using wooden boards to prevent the 35 live dogs escaping from the house as they rescued the child.

All eight children, who are now aged between four and 18, were immediately taken into emergency protection.

In what was described as a “particularly dreadful example of child neglect”, the youngest children were found to be pale and underweight, could not sit at a table and were unable to use a knife and fork.

One of the dogs after being rescued - RSPCA/RSPCA
One of the dogs after being rescued – RSPCA/RSPCA

Children’s services had to teach one child what shampoo and conditioner were and how to wash herself, while matted clumps of hair had been cut off one child who required a number of baths before she was clean.

One child was unsteady on her feet and had poor social skills, while another could neither read nor write. All the children had rotten teeth. One child had to have a general anaesthetic so a dentist could remove 13 teeth.

Judge Stephen Mooney said that the couple, who were jailed for six years each, had “frittered away £7,000 a month which should have been spent on the children”.

The couple, who were recorded spending £1,600 a month in mortgage repayments, would have received £87,000 a year in benefits.

Judge Mooney said that the children had been victims of prolonged, serious neglect, adding: “It is impossible for any person to comprehend the enormity of your failings.

“Whatever was going on in their relationship, they should have been looking after those children. How do you have 35 dogs, £7,000 in benefits? How is this allowed to happen?”

Amy Packham, prosecuting, told Lewes Crown Court that the couple had entered guilty pleas to seven counts of neglect on seven children in their care between Sep 2019 and June 2021.

“This was willful neglect,” she said. “This was clearly a toxic relationship and there were volatile incidents between the two of them. It would appear it was a situation which was reciprocated both ways.”

The court heard that the dogs were a 'situation that escalated' as they had interbred and had puppies during lockdown - Sussex Pollice
The court heard that the dogs were a ‘situation that escalated’ as they had interbred and had puppies during lockdown – Sussex Pollice

This is one of a series of cases of severe neglect or child cruelty during lockdown.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died in June 2020, aged six, after months of neglect at the hands of father Thomas Hughes and stepmother Emma Tustin, while 16-month-old Star Hobson was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend in Sep 2020.

In both cases, concerns were raised that signs of abuse may have been missed because families were more isolated during lockdown.

At Lewes Crown Court, Ms Packham said that the child who had not known how to wash herself also did not know how to read or write.

She said: “She couldn’t read or write; didn’t know days of the week or months of the year. They discouraged her from going to school, saying it would make her anxious and she would find it too hard. She looked after the younger ones.”

Bennett, 36, and Brogan, 41, pleaded guilty to seven counts of child neglect.

The judge said the pair would have been jailed for eight years after a trial and reduced their sentence by 25 per cent for early guilty pleas.

Rebecca Upton, defending Bennett, described him as an isolated man with a low IQ, whose mental health deteriorated during lockdown.

Sarah Thorne, representing Brogan, said that the former dance teacher was a victim of circumstance.

Gemma Brogan - Eddie Mitchell
Gemma Brogan – Eddie Mitchell

The court heard that the number of dogs was a “situation that escalated” as they had interbred and had puppies during lockdown.

Detective Constable Fiona Ashcroft, of the East Sussex safeguarding investigations unit, said: “Upon entering the address, our officers were shocked about the state of the property and had major concerns for the welfare of all the children.

“The stench, as you entered the hallway, hit officers hard. They were not able to breathe normally due to the stench.

“The state of the whole house was shocking and repugnant. It was cluttered and was strewn with discarded clothing, litter, rotting food and animal faeces.”

Both Bennett and Brogan also admitted animal cruelty after being prosecuted by the RSPCA during separate cases in February and August this year.

For the animal cruelty offences, Brogan was given an 18-week prison sentence which was suspended for two years. She was handed a five-year ban for all animals, 30 rehabilitation activity days and 100 hours of community service work.

Bennett was sentenced to 18 weeks’ imprisonment and was disqualified indefinitely from keeping all animals.

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