December 2019

Windsor hospice nurse cruelly abused and tortured her own children for years

A Windsor hospice nurse who cared for the terminally-ill hid a terrible secret from her bosses – she was a depraved monster mother who cruelly abused and tortured her own children for years.

Elaine Zanini, who met the Countess of Wessex and mixed with mayors and celebrities including comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor, was last week starting a five year jail sentence for what a judge described as the torture of her children over almost 20 years.

A court heard how the public thought she was a model carer who was highly regarded at the charity hospice where she worked for many years and where she was introduced to Sophie, the Countess of Wessex.

However Judge Paul Dugdale said that they had not had the “misfortune” to be in her home where the reality was a life of cruelty, abuse and violence amounting to the torture of her two daughters and a step-daughter.

Earlier he had heard how the 64-year-old mother had meted out vicious punishments which left the children scarred for life.

Sentencing Zanini – who worked at Thames Hospice – for her decades of abuse, Judge Dugdale said: “Many people in the community held you in a good standing. Those who write those references perhaps never had the misfortune to be in your home when you were dealing with your daughters and your step-daughter.”

Prosecuting, Helena Duong said Jamaican-born Zanini, of Kentons Lane in Windsor, was to be sentenced for eight counts of child cruelty to her daughters Melinda and Bianca and her step-daughter Claudia, between 1978 and 1996, which she had admitted.

Mel, the eldest child, said she was beaten on a daily basis from the age of five and she was beaten with a slipper leaving red marks all over her body, the lawyer said.

Ms Duong, prosecuting at Reading Crown Court, said: “Mel remembers around the age of nine or 10 being assaulted with a belt on her arms and back. In fear, she jumped down the stairs and ran out of the house. She happened upon a mother who called the police.

“When police arrived, they told her off for running away from home and they took her back home and that night she was beaten so badly she was unable to sit down or use the toilet.”

The court heard how Zanini had stamped on Mel’s back in a drunken rage and when she put her daughter’s hair into cornrows she would dig her nails into her face while screaming abuse at her.

During the period, Zanini and her children moved from Clapham, South-West London, to Oswald Place in Edmonton, North London, and then to Windsor, while always the abuse continued.

Zanini lived with her husband Jean-Claude Zanini, who was usually away for work and who she also reportedly beat since they were married in 1979.

Claudia Zanini, now known as Pardoe, was Mr Zanini’s child from a previous relationship, the court heard, and by the time she came into Mrs Zanini’s care she was already traumatised from having witnessed, at the age of just two, her birth mother take her own life.

Ms Duong said: “Mrs Zanini hit Claudia, giving her a black eye at the age of four until she wet herself in the bathroom. When she showed her emotion as she was scolded, Mrs Zanini put her out on the balcony and she effectively stayed there until her father got home from work later that evening. He tried to intervene on that occasion but was effectively attacked by Mrs Zanini.

“Claudia recalls around the age of nine she was made to use her hands to pick up a hot cast iron ring, having spilled milk on it. When she was a bit older, she was told to eat everything on her plate, which would often make her want to vomit.

“After beatings, Claudia was made to sit in cold baths and this was done to reduce the swelling and bruising that must have been visible at school.”

Despite Zanini’s efforts to hide her crimes, social services were heavily involved with her family and Mel and Claudia had both been taken into care on more than one occasion, something which Mrs Zanini encouraged, Ms Duong said.

Social services records showed how Zanini reported she had hit Claudia so hard she had damaged her own hand, causing it to become infected, the court heard.

Bianca, the youngest child, reported she was also subjected to daily beatings and was taken into care multiple times, but much of her trauma was witnessing the abuse of her siblings.

In October 2016, there was a confrontation between Mel and her mother over matters she saw in her medical records, the court heard, prompting Mel to contact the NSPCC, who contacted police, leading to Zanini being arrested and charged.

In a victim impact statement, Mel said: “Elaine in my eyes is a thief, a thief because she stole my childhood from me. I do thank Elaine because she has taught me how not to be a thief, how not to be an evil, hateful, cruel person to the children in my care.”

She added she had changed her last name via deed poll so she would not be associated with her mother and now suffered from PTSD.

Bartholomew O’Toole, defending Zanini, told how she had no previous convictions and had worked for many years, helping her keep a three-bedroom home in Windsor which she rented for £500 a month.

Mr O’Toole said: “She had difficulties coping with motherhood and she sometimes, she would say, spoiled them, but then when they did not behave in the way she expected them to, having been spoiled, she became frustrated and angry. That is her incapacity to be sensitive to the needs of the children.”

The lawyer asked for Zanini to be given a suspended sentence in view of her age and suggested there was no medical evidence that her daughters had suffered severe psychiatric trauma through her crimes.

Sentencing, Judge Dugdale said: “Frankly, it is inconceivable that suffering that kind of physical abuse at the hands of your mother for that period of time at that stage of your life would not cause serious psychological harm.”

The judge jailed bespectacled Zanini for five years, after which she bowed her head, picked up a bag she had taken with her from home into the dock and followed the dock officer down to the cells below the court.