In their short lives, four little children allegedly had to experience severe neglect before tragically losing their lives together in a house fire in Staffordshire, UK. Their mother, Natalie Unitt is accused of mistreating her children by emotionally, physically, and medically neglecting them for several years. Due to the lack of care, their development was hampered to the point where one of the children could only communicate by grunting or pointing at things; another one had nothing more than a frozen expression while speaking to a social worker.
For neighbors living next to Natalie and her family, it became a frequent occurrence for them to hear the mother screaming at her children. “I wish you were dead” and “I wish I’d never had you”, the mother would scream at her children, according to an unidentified neighbor. “She would shout all sorts of things at them,” said the neighbor, as reported by The Sun.
“Sometimes someone would have to go round to check on them as the screaming was so bad,” the neighbor added. “They were`lovely children – they always seemed happy. They were always bouncing up and down on the trampoline. But you knew things weren’t right at home. I am still haunted by seeing their little bodies being brought out of the house.” In 2017, the Unitt family came under the radar of the Staffordshire County Council after a nursery staff raised concerns about one of the kids’ nappies not being changed since the previous night.
Previously, over a period of 17 months, it was also noticed that the children had 50 different injury marks or bruises on their bodies. But because Natalie and her boyfriend, Chris Moulton, did not have any substance abuse or mental health problems, their case was not treated with urgency.
Before their problems could be addressed properly, four of them lost their lives in the devastating house fire in February, 2019. The children, Riley John Holt, 8, Keegan Jonathan Unitt, 6, Tilly Rose Unitt, 4, and Olly Unitt, 3, passed away from smoke inhalation, while Christopher managed to grab their youngest child, Jack, and jump out through the first-floor window. Natalie also managed to get to the front door of the house and escape.
Following the incident, reports also said that Natalie laughed at child protection officers when she was accused of neglecting her children. “Interestingly the mother told the report that she ‘laughed in their faces’ when professionals mentioned the word neglect,” Joanna Nicolas, who wrote a review on how the family functioned, said as quoted by Birmingham Live. “She does not accept to this day that the children were neglected… It was more a case of the mother knowing what to say to professionals, rather than accepting there were concerns and wanting to change.”
Although the couple claims that the fire started because of a boiler, investigators believe it was a cigarette that wasn’t put out that caused it, as reported by BBC.
Investigators found a large number of carelessly discarded cigarettes around the house and they believe Natalie and Christopher possibly fell asleep while smoking in their bed.
“There was a significant number of carelessly discarded cigarettes in and around the property on the ground floor,” Lead investigator Leigh Richards of West Midlands Fire Service told the inquest. “Externally, outside the kitchen window there were in excess of 100 discarded cigarettes. Of significant note… within the recess of the left-hand [window] casement when looking from inside the lounge, there was a single discarded cigarette butt. That had not been stubbed out in my opinion and had been left to burn on its own.”
Richards added, “The fire in my opinion developed within the bedroom and as it developed, the room went ‘full flashover’ – which is essentially where everything within the room becomes involved in fire. It is my considered opinion that this fire was caused by carelessness with cigarettes.”
However, The Sun reported that the Crown Prosecution Service believed there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Natalie and Christopher.