A couple in an incestuous relationship murdered their two teenage sons, and attempted to kill their four other children, after fearing their relationship would be discovered and all six of their children taken into care.
Sarah Barrass, aged 35, and her partner and half-brother, Brandon Machin, aged 39, have today both been sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum term of 35 years.
The couple had admitted to murdering Tristan and Blake, conspiring to murder all six of their children, and a further five counts of attempted murder.
Their oldest two children, Tristan and Blake Barrass, aged 13 and 14 at the time of their murders, died after being strangled by their parents in their family home on the 24th May.
The court heard how Sarah Barrass had strangled Tristan with the cord from her dressing gown. Brandon Machin then strangled his son Blake with his bare hands.
To ensure the boys would die, the incestuous couple but plastic bin bags over the heads of both boys and suffocated them.
Barrass and Minchin then ran a bath and attempted to continue their murders by repeatedly trying to drown one of their younger children. When these repeated efforts failed and the child continued to struggle for life, Barrass gave up and phoned the police.
Over the course of the trial, South Yorkshire Police revealed that Barrass and Machin had been in a secret sexual relationship for years.
Worrying that their incestuous relationship would be discovered by the local authority, and their children taken into care as a result, the couple hatched a plot to kill all of their children; with an alibi that their father, Machin, was to discover the murder scene and be absolved from blame.
Barrass told police that she planned to kill herself after murdering all six of her children.
The couple initially planned to murder four of their children by poisoning them. To this effect, Barrass forced her four eldest children to take overdoses of ADHD tablets on the 23rd May, the evening before she and Machin would go on to murder Tristan and Blake.
Ms Kama Melly QC, prosecuting, said that: “None of the children wanted to take the tablets but were forced to do so. The defendants expected the tablets to kill the children overnight”
When the children woke up the next morning and she realised the plot to murder them with ADHD tablets did not work, Barrass searched online for other ways to kill her children. Her internet history showed how she looked at methods including suffocation, strangulation and drowning.
It was after this search that she and her lover and brother, Brandon Machin, began their efforts to murder all of their children by starting with the strangulation of Tristan and Blake.
In sentencing, Mr Justice Goss told Barrass: “You considered that your love for them and fear of being parted from them entitled you to take their lives as well as your own.”
During the course of her prosecution, Ms Kama Melly told Sheffield crown how Barrass portrayed herself as a ‘loving single mum’: “The six children lived alone with their mother, Sarah Barrass. The picture of the Sarah Barrass household prior to the events in 2019 was, to the outside world, a household of a loving single mum with six children, heavily supported by her brother Brandon Machin”
“In fact, unbeknown to everyone but the defendants, Brandon Machin was in a sexual relationship with his half-sister Sarah Barrass, and he was the father of all six children”
“The children believed, and even told officers at the scene, that their father was dead, having died in the second world war”
In Court, Ms Melly said: “Nothing could have prepared those two police constables for the scene they had found”
“The officers found Sarah Barrass barricaded in a room with the four surviving children. She lied to the officers, telling them that her two other children were with neighbours”
“However, whilst she was saying this to police, one of the children motioned to the police officer that in fact the children were dead – he moved his hand across his throat. Sarah Barrass told the child to stop what he was doing and stated: ‘Stop, don’t say that’”
Despite vomiting and hallucinating from the effects of the overdose, the younger children found in the property upon the arrival of police officers survived the attempt to kill them and recovered after being taken to intensive care.
Over the course of the trial, the court heard how Sarah Barrass had asked the local authority for help with the children. There was also evidence heard that she had texted a friend to say: “I’ve thought of every possible solution to this mess. Mass murder, putting them all in care, checking into the local nut house, I love my kids too much to kill them. I can’t put them into care for the same reason.”
In her defence, Bryan Cox QC admitted that the defendant’s crimes were “nothing but evil”, but explained how Barrass had been “profoundly damaged by her childhood”, sharing how she had grown up in a household where she had suffered neglect and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. These issues were so concerning that Barrass, along with her siblings, was taken into care as a child.
In sentencing Barrass, Mr Justice Goss stated: “You considered your love for them and fear of being parted from them entitled you to take their lives as well as your own.”
Speaking after the life sentences were meted out to Barrass and Machin, Mr Edmund Hulbert of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This was an appalling crime in which two young lives were lost, and a family torn apart, leaving a community in shock”
“Two of the surviving children witnessed their older siblings being attacked and the trauma that all the children have experienced, and will continue to experience, is unimaginable”
“It is paramount now that the surviving children are allowed to rebuild their lives in peace”
A friend of Tristan and Blake’s, Matthew Saunders, spoke outside of court after Barrass and Machin had been sentenced:
“A piece of all our hearts died on 24 May 2019, which we will never get back”
“Blake and Tristan leave a huge empty void in our lives, and we did not get chance to say goodbye”
“We are relieved justice has been served, but it should never have come to this.”