A court in Derry heard yesterday that two young sisters, both of them aged under three years, were found naked and covered in human faeces when police officers called at their parents’ home to execute a court summones on their father.

The children, who are now in separate foster homes awaiting separate adoption proceedings, were found locked in a room of their Derry home.

Their parents were jailed yesterday at the city’s Crown Court after they both pleaded guilty to two charges of child cruelty by neglect over an eight month period, ending when the police called at their home on August 5, 2009.

Their father was jailed for nine months and after his release he’ll be on licence for a further twelve months. Their mother broke down and sobbed when she was jailed for six months. After her prison release she’ll be on licence for fifteen months.

Judge Desmond Marrinan also banned both parents, who cannot be named, from unsupervised work with children for a period yet to be determined. He also placed them on the Children’s Barred List, also for a period to be determined by the appropriate authorities.

A prosecution barrister told Judge Marrinan that when the police officer entered the childrens’ home he was only able to open their locked room door about twelve inches.

“The officer said that as soon as the door slightly opened, the smell emanating from the room was overbearing and that he could smell human faeces. He looked down and observed two small children who were naked with faeces on their legs, arms and bodies”, she said.

A social worker was alerted and went into the childrens’ room, the barrister said.

“The mattress inside had yellow and brown staining on it. The room smelt of urine, faeces and of a stale mouldy odour.”

Judge Marrinan said one of the few mitigating features of the case was that there was no evidence of malnutrition.

“It is hard to image, however difficult their lives, that anyone could allow children to live in such squalor. I note when the police officer in the case examined the mattress in the childrens’ room, a cloud of bluebottles came out of the mattress”, he said.

“The whole conditions inside the house were shambolic and disgraceful and it seems from the photographs, which are difficult to look at, that it was in these conditions for some time.”

Defence counsel for the parents told Judge Marrinan the neglect started when the childrens’ father developed alcohol problems and when their mother became depressed when pregnant with her third child and had difficulty in coping with her two daughters.

Describing the case as “sad, shocking and tragic”, Judge Marrinan said confidential files proved there could be no criticism of the health authorites.

“These young children, indeed infants, were clearly subjected to a period of profound neglect and emotional abuse. The damage to them is potentially significant. As a result of this the medical evidence is that these children are now severely aggressive towards each other”, he said.

Judge Marrinan said in sentencing the defendants, he accepted they were both genuinely remorseful for their neglect and he also took into consideration that both had lost their children to adoption.

The maximum sentence for the offence, following a contested trial, is ten years’ imprisonment.