A woman who carried out a reign of terror on young children was branded ‘sadistic’ as she was locked up for 15 years.

Cheryl Pickles tormented the children by forcing them to scavenge for food, regularly beat them and force them to eat soap.

Her co-accused and partner, Andrew Hadwin, took his own life in prison after being found guilty of three counts of rape in relation to non-recent abuse of a different child.

The devastating impact of the abuse and torture was laid bare in Teesside Crown Court when their victim impact statements were read out.

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The rape victim, who is now an adult, said they wept with relief learning that Hadwin had killed himself.

They wrote: “I can rest knowing you can never hurt anyone ever again. I am free.”

Judge Timothy Stead described the brave victim's statement as 'extraordinary’, adding they shouldn't blame themselves or anybody else.

The Northern Echo: Cheryl PicklesCheryl Pickles (Image: Durham Constabulary)

The jury found Hadwin guilty of three counts of rape, seven counts of neglect, and one count of perverting the course of justice. He was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.

Pickles was found guilty of five counts of child cruelty and one of perverting the course of justice. She was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.

Judge Stead told Pickles that her behaviour was ‘sadistic’ and incredibly cruel as he sentenced her to a total of 15 years.

He added: “You are emotionless, showing no empathy or remorse.”

The pair, formerly of Bowburn, in Durham, would also order takeaways and make the children watch them eat them while stood in stress positions for long periods of time.

Jurors also heard how the couple wrote letters, which were given to police, claiming to be from the children in which they apologised for lying and were sorry, and made false allegations of sexual assault by professionals working to support them.

However, a handwriting expert confirmed the writing was not that of a child, and that the letters had actually been written in a notebook found at the couple’s home.

During the seven-week trial, Teesside Crown Court heard from medical experts who described how the children regularly suffered painful injuries, with one child left with life-limiting injuries as a result of the abuse.

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Speaking after the sentencing hearing, Investigative Officer, Detective Constable Kat Pudney, from Durham Constabulary, said: “The children involved in this case have been subjected to unimaginable levels of cruelty and abuse.

“Despite their experiences in their early lives, they have shown bravery and tenacity beyond their years, standing up to their abusers through the judicial process and allowing a jury to see exactly what the couple had done to them."