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Paula Hudgell celebrates as Bear's Army campaign for tougher prison sentences for child cruelty will be heard in parliament after reaching 10,000 signatures

A petition set up by campaigners in Kent to demand tougher prison sentences for child cruelty will be presented in parliament next year after reaching 10,000 signatures.

Paula Hudgell’s three-year-old son Tony was a newborn when his legs were broken by his biological parents Jody Simpson and Antony Smith at their dishevelled Maidstone flat.

At just 41 days old the youngster was admitted to hospital and was at death’s door when infections took hold and threatened to kill him.

In February Simpson and Smith were sentenced to 10 years in prison by a crown court judge but Mrs Hudgell, from Kings Hill, has launched the petition in a bid to have the maximum term increased.

The campaign has grown rapidly in stature over recent months, with Tony's aunt, Helen May, even taken advantage of an 11-hour traffic jam on the M25 by collecting signatures from stranded drivers.

This week, it was confirmed more than 10,000 people had put their name to the fight, meaning the petition will be heard in the House of Commons in 2019.

Mrs Hudgell said: "Everybody's worked so hard, everybody's been so supportive and kind, we've been out on the streets gaining signatures, and we're just over the moon that we've reached our 10,000 target.

"He's an incredible little boy with so much fighting spirit, but we thought we need to make change for future cases, hence the campaign.

Tony and mum Paula Hudgell at home in Victoria Drive, Kings Hill...Picture: Sean Aidan..... (5757456)
Tony and mum Paula Hudgell at home in Victoria Drive, Kings Hill...Picture: Sean Aidan..... (5757456)

"We will carry on campaigning, we're going to take it to parliament in the new year with Tom Tugendhat, our MP, who's going to present it.

"Tony and I will be up in the gallery along with some of Bear's Army who have worked so hard."

The victory comes as the NSPCC revealed the number of child cruelty and neglect offences in the county has increased five-fold in the last five years.

There were 449 cases recorded by police in 2017/18, up from 85 in 2012/13 across Kent.

Reports included extreme cases such as when a parent or carer deliberately neglected, assaulted, abandoned or exposed their child to serious harm.

Mrs Hudgell's petition can be signed here.

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