The parents of a severely disturbed “feral” child have been jailed for the way they ill-treated and neglected her.

After social workers removed the eight-year-old girl from the couple, a child expert assessed her as “one of the most psychologically-disturbed children” he had ever met, said David Brooke, prosecuting.

The family’s squalid home stank of animals and was crammed with rubbish, clutter, dead and living flies and cages containing small animals, including six cages each containing two occupants in the kitchen, the court heard.

Some of the animals were kept in an outside shed.

The mother screamed and shouted at the child at all times of the day and neighbours heard her crying and sobbing when she was locked in her bedroom, which the couple used as a storage area.

Teachers at both  the girl's infant and junior schools noticed abnormal behaviour by her.

The middle-aged couple, who live in the York area, adopted the girl when she was 11 months old.

Each pleaded guilty to charges of neglecting her and ill-treating her in the 12 months before she was taken from them. Both were jailed for 18 months. 

"It is surprising that the two of you were ever approved for adoptions because it has become painfully apparent you lack many of the skills, the aptitude and the patience that is required to bring up a child," the Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, told them.

"There is evidence that you (the mother) at times seemed to care more for the pets and the animals within the home than for (the child)."

Barristers for both defendants described them as "inadequate" people who had not been vindictive or evil. 

Mr Brooke said foster carers who initially looked after the child when social workers removed her from the couple described her as "feral".

She didn't know how to use a knife and fork, and had no idea of a normal living routine or the concept of night-time.

The girl was so badly damaged she now lives in a residential home because her behaviour is too extreme for her to live in a family setting, the court heard. She has failed to improve significantly.

Alex Menary, for the mother, said her own health had deteriorated. She lacked empathy and understanding of how her own behaviour impacted on others, and the child had been difficult to handle. 

David Hall, for the father, said the mother had been the more dominant member of their relationship. He had been unable to respond to the child's needs and had had surgery for problems to his legs.

Mr Brooke said the child had had problems before being adopted. The parents had been inconsistent in their emotional treatment of the girl, sometimes saying they loved her, sometimes the mother had said she hated the child or that she should never have been adopted. 

The parents obstructed attempts by social workers to see the problems inside the house. When the council employees realised its state and made repeated efforts to get the couple to remove the clutter from the house and the bolt from the top of the child's bedroom door, the father kept the child imprisoned inside the room by holding the door shut against her.

The parents blamed the child for the clutter in her room.