AN abusive step-father carried the chilling secret of a toddler's brutal murder with him for almost 50 years before the truth was finally uncovered, a court has been told.

David Dearlove, 71, always maintained that Paul Booth, 19 months, died as the result of an accidental fall from his bed on October 1st 1968, when in fact he had swung the boy into a fireplace, it is alleged.

But a forgotten tragedy in a long-since demolished house was brought back into focus when Paul's brother Peter -just four when he died - saw a faded photograph of the tot being held by Dearlove on Facebook in 2015.

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For years, a jury heard, Peter had been haunted by the memory of what he saw through a gap in a door on the night Paul died - David Dearlove swinging his brother by the ankles and dashing his head against a fire suround.

Peter Booth demanded Dearlove's family take down the photograph and then told his cousin what he had seen that night 47 years earlier.

The cousin told the police that Paul's death had actually been a murder and an investigation was put in place.

Dearlove, who split from Paul's mother Carol Booth in 1970 had long-since left the scene of his alleged crime, the Haverton Hill estate in Stockton-on-Tees, then in County Durham.

He was arrested at his home in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where he lived with his wife of 36 years, and was charged with Paul's murder and accused of cruelty to his older siblings Peter and Stephanie.

Prosecutor Richard Wright, QC, told Teesside Crown Court: "In the early evening of October 1st 1968 a young mother knocked at the door of her neighbour on a long since demolished housing estate at Haverton Hill.

"The woman was called Carol Booth and she was knocking to ask her neighbour to come quickly to her house at 5 Rodney Street. The reason for the emergency was that one of her children, a toddler of about 18 months called Paul had stopped breathing.

"The neighbour rushed to the house. There was unconscious on the settee the young child, Paul Booth. He was obviously gravely unwell and his step-father, the defendant David Dearlove, appeared to be making an effort to resuscitate him.

" A doctor was called to the house and he in turn called an ambulance. The toddler Paul Booth was rushed to hospital where doctors did all they could to treat him during the night. Ultimately, the treatment available could not save Paul Booth and the little boy passed away later that evening.

" There was and is no doubt as to what medical condition caused the death of Paul Booth. He died because of a severe injury to his brain that had itself been caused by a fractured skull. The real issue then in 1968 as now nearly fifty years later in 2017 is what caused that injury?"

Despite a post mortem finding evidence of old bruising on Paul's body, and evidence from family members that the toddler had sustained injuries when left alone with Dearlove, he was not arrested.

An inquest subsequently returned an open verdict and the case was closed until March 2015.

Mr Wright told the jury: " In 1968 Carol Booth and David Dearlove told the police and the coroner at the inquest which followed that Paul Booth had been in the sole care of David Dearlove at the time that he sustained his injury.

"He had fallen from his bed in a bedroom on the first floor of the house and had struck his head on the floor that was uncarpeted and constructed from a composite material that had the appearance of concrete.

"Following the police investigation and a subsequent inquest, an open verdict was recorded. No police action was taken against Carol Booth or David Dearlove and the case was effectively closed.

"So it remained for nearly 50 years until March 30, 2015. It was on that day that a cousin of Paul Booth contacted the police. She was making the call on behalf of Paul's brother Peter, the little boy who had been almost four years old on the night his brother died.

"The police interviewed Peter as a witness for the every first time in 2015; he had not been asked to give any account in 1968. What he told in that interview is what has led us here, 50 years on, to the trial of David Dearlove for the murder of his stepson Paul Booth.

" Peter told the police that the death of Paul was not the result of an accidental fall out of bed.

"He had in fact seen how Paul came to be injured when he had crept downstairs to get a drink at 5 Rodney Street that October night.

"Through a gap in the door into the sitting room he had seen David Dearlove swinging Paul Booth around whilst holding onto his ankles and had watched as his step father smashed the little boy's head into the fire surround, causing the fatal injury to his skull by the impact.

"The death of Paul Booth had been no accident, it had been as the result of a deliberate act. It had been murder."

Mr Wright said that Carol Booth had since died and explained to the jury that the case was set in a very different time to the modern era.

He said: "You may wish to bear in mind that, put simply, life was very different in 1968.

"To give one example, we will look in due course at some photographs of Haverton Hill and the house in which Paul died, as it was at the time he died. Those photographs paint quite frankly a bleak picture and serve as a reminder of an altogether different time.

" We mention all of these factors to you now out of fairness to David Dearlove and know that you will all approach the case against him in a fair and proper context. He is not responsible for the social conditions at the time and the poor circumstances of the family home."

But is was the very modern medium of Facebook which led to Dearlove's arrest, the court was told.

Mr Wright said: "The catalyst for his complaint in 2015 appears to have been his seeing a photograph posted on Facebook of his dead brother being held by David Dearlove.

"Peter contacted David Dearlove Jr and demanded that he remove the photograph and then spoke with his cousin Tracy about why he was so upset, telling her that he had seen David Dearlove swinging Paul by his ankles in the front room, then striking his head off the fire surround causing the fatal injury.

"He had been extremely scared of David Dearlove because the violence in the household extended not just to David Dearlove hurting Paul but also to him regularly assaulting Peter.

"In terms of violence directed at himself Peter Booth went on to tell the police that David Dearlove was often violent and had on many occasions held him under the water in the bath, that he would punch and kick him on a regular basis.

"He recalled other acts of cruelty including one particular occasion that he deliberately locked him out of the house on a bitter winters day and on allowing him back inside forced him to run his hands under a cold tap to the point that he could not feel them.

"Having taken this account from Peter the police also spoke, as you would expect, to his sister Stephanie and she too revealed to them that David Dearlove had been abusive to her.

"Stephanie recalled that Dearlove would often lay on top of her in bed with his full weight and would then slap her if she cried.

"He would often subject her to hard punches in her stomach and on at least one occasion he dragged her downstairs by her ankles causing her to strike her head off the steps as she was pulled down.

"Following the disclosures from Peter and Stephanie the police obtained the original file from the witnesses at the time of the inquest."

Dearlove denies the murder and unlawful killing of Paul Booth and further denies three charges of child cruelty - defined as assault, ill treatment or neglect causing injury to health - in 1967 to 1968.

The trial, expected to last three weeks, continues.