Youngsters forced to live with dead pets

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FOUR children were forced to live in a filthy Midlothian house with their dead pets and a trail of empty beer cans, a court has heard.

Shocked officers found a dead hamster and guinea pig at the home of Vicky MacMaster, along with a lawnmower, bottles of cider and beer, and unsafe furniture.

The 30-year-old, who was responsible for caring for the youngsters, was drunk when police arrived.

They had been called to her home on Musselburgh Road after a nearby school employee spotted three of the four youngsters standing in the street alone at 7am on May 21.

MacMaster pleaded guilty to breaching the Children and Young Person’s Act by allowing children to live in an “unsafe and unclean environment” and exposing them to unnecessary suffering or injury to health. The children, aged between three and ten, have since been placed in care and MacMaster was today sentenced to 167 hours of community service.

Fiscal depute Mairi Vernon told Edinburgh Sheriff Court that police officers arrived at the house and had trouble establishing MacMaster’s identity as she was quite drunk.

“The house was extremely untidy and unclean. There were many items on the floor, including a lawnmower, a mattress and bottles of cider,” she told Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

“Officers found a box of straw containing a dead hamster. The hallway had a cage covered in a blue sheet, this contained a dead guinea pig.

“A wardrobe in the hall looked likely to topple over at any time.”

Ms Vernon said when police officers were taking a child in the house away to stay with relatives, the three-year-old was “very clingy” to the officers involved and appeared to be suffering from head lice.

She added: “The children have been arranged to be placed in foster care homes.”

Ms MacMaster’s defence lawyer Jaqueline McColl said: “This is a very serious matter.”

She said a report prepared by the criminal justice social work department on the accused made for “depressing reading in terms of her own background”.

She said: “She does appear to have made some real progress and as a result of that there have been no further offences.”

Sentencing her, Sheriff Neil Mackinnon said: “This is a serious charge and I have to take a serious view of the matter.

“I am persuaded that there is an alternative to custody.”

He said a report would be made to Scottish ministers about the case.