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Tony Hudgell’s mother ‘shocked’ to learn of abuser’s release

Tony Hudgell (David Tett/PA)
Tony Hudgell (David Tett/PA)

Tony Hudgell’s adoptive mother has said she was “shocked” to learn his abusive birth mother will be freed from jail on Friday, after Justice Secretary Dominic Raab conceded her release could not be further delayed by a Court of Appeal challenge.

Jody Simpson, 29, and her partner Anthony Smith were both jailed for 10 years in 2018 after torturing the little boy, now eight, so badly that both his legs had to be amputated.

A senior judge ruled on Friday that she should be released following Mr Raab’s acceptance that he could not successfully challenge a High Court ruling which quashed his decisions to refer Simpson’s case to the Parole Board.

Tony’s adoptive mother Paula Hudgell, 55, told the PA news agency that she had been unaware of Friday’s hearing, and was informed of its outcome by a victim liaison officer.

“I was pretty shocked to be told that she was going to be released today,” she said.

“We knew at the end of the day that she would be released at some point.

“We now just have to prepare Tony and do all we can for him. It doesn’t change anything for him at all.”

Mrs Hudgell said Tony faces “daily challenges” but is a “very happy, joyful eight-year-old”.

She said she is “very thankful” to Mr Raab and his officials for pursuing his bid to delay Simpson’s release.

“I feel they’ve done everything they possibly could to try and change things,” she said, adding: “We appreciate every extra day that she spent in prison from August as a bonus.”

Simpson was due for release on licence in August, at the halfway point of her sentence, but her case was personally referred to the Parole Board by Mr Raab under new discretionary powers designed to protect the public from dangerous offenders.

In December, following a legal challenge by Simpson, a High Court judge ruled the minister’s bid to delay her release was unlawful and his decisions to refer her case should be quashed.

Child cruelty court case
Tony’s birth parents Antony Smith and Jody Simpson were jailed for the abuse they inflicted on him as a baby (Kent Police/PA)

A Court of Appeal hearing in London on Friday was told Mr Raab was granted permission to appeal against part of Mrs Justice Heather Williams’s ruling – that Simpson’s case did not satisfy the eligibility criteria of a “power to detain” policy.

However, the Justice Secretary was refused permission to challenge the judge’s finding that there was an absence of “reasonable grounds” for his belief that Simpson posed a risk which met the criteria of the new powers.

Simpson’s release was put on hold pending the outcome of Mr Raab’s appeal bid.

But Jude Bunting KC, representing Simpson, told the court the Government would need to win an appeal on both issues for Mrs Justice Williams’s ruling to be overturned.

“The Secretary of State effectively accepts that he cannot now overturn that quashing order,” he said, adding that Government correspondence “fails to set out any legal reason” why the stay on Simpson’s release should not be lifted.

Lord Justice Holroyde said Mr Raab had “accepted that it would be necessary to overturn the judge’s decisions on both grounds… in order to succeed on appeal in reversing the judge’s decision to quash”.

He said it may be that the Justice Secretary may not continue with the appeal, or that other judges “may be concerned as to whether the appeal has become academic”.

The judge said Simpson should be “released on conditional licence within a reasonable time”.

Tony Hudgell charity walk
Tony Hudgell (David Tett/PA)

Previously proposed conditions to be imposed on Simpson if she were released included not to communicate with Tony or his family, not to have unsupervised contact with children under 16 without prior approval, not to contact Smith, and to observe a nightly curfew.

Tony was 41 days old when he was assaulted by his birth parents, an attack which caused multiple fractures, dislocations and blunt trauma to the face, leading to organ failure, toxic shock and sepsis.

He was left untreated and in agony for 10 days and, due to the extent of his injuries, both his legs had to be amputated.

Mrs Hudgell previously said Simpson and Smith’s sentence “doesn’t reflect the severity of the crime”.

The referral of a prisoner’s case under the new powers overrides the automatic conditional release of an individual, in specific circumstances where public safety is deemed to be at risk.

Prisoners referred under this “power to detain” are not released until the Parole Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public for the prisoner to be confined, or they reach the end of their sentence

Smith’s sentence was also previously referred to the board by Mr Raab, which put his release on licence on hold.

Tougher sentencing for child abusers came into force in June, meaning anyone who causes or allows the death of a child or vulnerable adult in their household can now be given up to life in prison – increased from the previous 14-year maximum.

The sentencing changes under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 are known as “Tony’s Law”, following campaigning by the child’s adoptive family.

“That’s his legacy that he’s very, very proud of,” Mrs Hudgell said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Public safety is our top priority which is why the Deputy Prime Minister referred this case to the Parole Board and introduced Tony’s Law to make sure those who commit unthinkable crimes against children are brought to justice.

“High-risk offenders like Jody Simpson are closely monitored by both the police and the Probation Service and can be sent back to prison if they breach their strict licence conditions.”