PARENTS who neglected their daughter to the point where she was described as smelling like "rotting meat" have narrowly avoided prison.

The pair were today given suspended sentences after being found guilty by a jury of cruelty to a child by neglect following a three week trial in January.

They were found not guilty on the same charge for a younger child.

Southampton Crown Court had heard how the older child was found with infected sores on her scalp, her hair moving with infestation of head lice and she was smelling so bad it was likened to "rotting meat".

Her complexion was grey, she had sunken eyes and dried clumps of blood on her clothes from scratching at her head which was bleeding and raw.

Both children were likened to “having just come out of Belsen” by a foster carer who said they were not toilet trained and were distressed – the worst case of children coming in to care that she had seen in her career.

The alarm was first raised in 2013 after the older child moved to a school in the city and teachers immediately noticed her dishevelled appearance.

The court was told how doctors who examined the child found she had a severe headlice infestation and signs of anaemia.

It was the worst case of head lice a doctor had seen in 30 years, the court heard.

Robert Bryan, prosecuting, said this was a protracted neglect over several years.

However, this was disputed by defence counsel who said that though the girl had suffered with headlice before she had not been in the state she was found throughout that period.

Chris Baur, mitigating for the father, said he was overwhelmingly remorseful and felt he had let the children down and wished he could turn back the clock.

He said there was no doubt that both parents loved their children.

Mr Baur said the father had had a full time job, did the majority of the house work and that the mother had received the advice from health care professionals.

Sarah Jones, mitigating for the mother, pointed to her numerous visits to GPS and a professional's opinion on her capabilities.

"This is not someone capable of employing initiative seeing for themselves what needs to done and interpreting it," she said.

"It's not a lack of love, it's a lack of ability that inhibits her."

Miss Jones also pointed to the lack of parenting in the woman's own childhood and depression.

Judge Peter Henry said although the harm caused to the child was "undoubtedly high", there were unusual factors in this case.

He said in particular there were efforts made to see health professionals with numerous visits to GPs and a SureStart centre.

He said he had taken into account evidence that the woman had "borderline intellectual function" putting her in the lowest two to three per cent of the population.

"You expressed a desire to want to show yourself as someone who understood things more than you did," he said.

"If I thought this was deliberate callousness on your part you would be going into prison.

"I have come to the conclusion as to why these things happened, that there was a very substantial influence from your learning disabilities and your inadequacy as a mother."

He said although he did not blame the health authorities he said she had been given a "perhaps misguided view of your own abilities through the contact, the frequent contact you had with health care professionals".

Of the father Judge Henry said he should have understood the mother's inability to cope and should have taken steps to prevent his daughter from suffering.

"I have concluded that this was an inadequate bit of parenting by you rather than any callous disregard," he said.

He added that perhaps he had been misled by the contact with health professionals that he had thought things were better than they were.

The woman, who was in tears as she was sentenced, was given a nine month prison term suspended for two years and a two year supervision requirement.

The man was given a 12 month imprisonment suspended for two years, ordered to pay £1,000 costs and do a two year supervision requirement.

AS PREVIOUSLY reported the shocking case has sparked a major independent review to examine exactly what went wrong and ensure it can never happen again.

The level of neglect suffered by the young sisters was not enough to trigger a Serious Case Review in to what went wrong and how they were failed.

Southampton’s Local Safeguarding Children’s Board told how what happened to the girls did not meet the criteria for such a review, which the government says must be carried out if a child dies or is “seriously harmed” and there are concerns about how organisations of professionals worked together to protect a child.

However, a spokesman for the city’s LSCB said it has ordered an independent Learning Review to examine what went wrong, where opportunities were missed and what can now be done to prevent such cases in the future.

The organisation is chaired by Keith Makin, who has overseen multiple reviews in to child deaths in Southampton in recent years.

A spokesman said: “The LSCB took immediate action upon hearing of the neglect of these children.

“While the case did not meet the Government’s criteria for a Serious Case Review, we have undertaken a Learning Review to examine what happened in this case and to make recommendations.

“The Learning Review has been conducted by an independent reviewer and will be completed following the conclusion of the trial.”