The horrific murders of Blake and Tristan Barrass, aged 14 and 13 years respectively, on May 24 this year shook Sheffield to its core, and will go down in infamy.
Earlier today, their parents, Sarah Barrass and Brandon Machin, who are also half-brother and sister, were sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 35 years, for their sickening crimes.
In addition to the murders of Blake and Tristan, Barrass and Machin were also sentenced for conspiracy to murder all six of their children and for their attempts to murder Blake and Tristan, and two more of their children.
The home of the six children and Barrass became a house of horrors on the evening of Thursday, May 23 when the plot to kill the youngsters was put into practice.
Prosecutor, Kama Melly QC, described how the pair initially attempted to kill the oldest four children, which includes Blake, Tristan and two more children under 13, by forcing them to take overdoses of medication that had been prescribed to the children.
“Tablets from around the house were gathered up and divided between the four oldest children. 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,” she said.
Ms Melly added: “The tablets were not having the effect that they expected and Barrass began to search for medication. That night, rather than seek medical attention, Barrass made internet searches for information on poisioning, overdoses and how long it took for medication to work.”
Barrass, 34, phoned Machin at around 5.05am, the court heard, and told him that their attempts to kill the children ‘had not worked’.
As Barrass carried out internet research on alternative methods of killing their children with search terms that included ‘suffocating, strangulation and drowning’, Machin took a taxi to the property in Gregg House Road, Shiregreen.
Ms Melly said that Blake was communicating with another child through the online video game, Fortnite, at around 6am, which allowed those investigating the case to determine the timeframe in which the two boys were killed.“It appears therefore that it was between 6am and 7am that Barrass and Machin first strangled Blake and Tristan and then placed bin bags over their heads to ensure their certain deaths,” Ms Melly told the court. She said that it was after this that the pair ran a bath for the one of the surviving children, none of whom can be named for legal reasons, ‘made the child get in it’, and ‘repeatedly attempted to drown them in it’.Thankfully, the child survived the murder attempt.
Ms Melly continued: “Barrass went into her bedroom with the remaining children, and it seems made a decision to try and blame Machin for the murders and plots to kill her children.”
The court was told how Barrass then, at 7.08am, made a series of notes on her mobile phone, in which she attempted to absolve herself of any responsibility. One note read: “Brandon is the dad to all of the kids...the pills didn’t work, so he’s had me kill Tristan and he’s killed Blake and [the child they attempted to drown in the bath], I’m sat here with the other three.”Another said: “He’s going to kill them then me.”
The final note read: “He’s tried to drown them, it’s not working, I’m so scared.”
Ms Melly described how ‘unbeknown to everyone but the defendants, Brandon Machin was in a sexual relationship with his sister, Sarah Barrass, and was the father of all six children’.
She continued: “The children believed, and even told officers, that their father was dead, having died in the Second World War.”
Ms Melly said the general pattern was that Machin, 39, would arrive at the family home at 7am and spend the day with them, before returning to his own home in Burngreave Road, Burngreave.
The prosecutor told the court how social services became involved with the family in 2018, after Blake was accused of sexually assaulting another child.
Similar allegations were also made about Tristan, the most recent of which was recounted to Barrass over the phone on the evening before the murders by an individual who ‘made it clear they would be reporting the incident to the police the following day’.
Ms Melly said social services’ involvement in, and scrutiny of, the family had also intensified in the days proceeding the murders. This followed a local strategy meeting held on May 22 in which it was agreed that the family would go from a ‘child in need to child in protection status’.
“This was a significant shift in terms of the level of scrutiny that the family would now be under from social services,” Ms Melly said, adding that on the same date a social worker asked further questions about the paternity of the children and whether the children had been exposed to sexual behaviour or abuse’.
She said it is the Crown’s case that by May 22 ‘discussions must have taken place between the two defendants and plans hatched to kill the children’.
“Although the defendants were motivated to prevent the loss of their children to the care of the local authority, this was combined with their fear of the authorities becoming aware of their unnatural relationship,” Ms Melly said.
In police interview, Machin told detectives that following the phone call on the evening before the murders, Barrass had said to him: “I would rather kill my kids than see them in care; I gave them life and I can take it away.”
He also described his own reaction as him wanting to ‘to rip the heads off Blake and Tristan’ before saying: “How do you describe the feeling you have when you want to get hold of them and strangle the life out of them?”
In police interview, Barrass accepted that she intended to kill all six children before taking her own life.
Post-mortem examinations revealed that both Blake and Tristan died of asphyxiation.
Mr Justice Goss rejected calls for the defendants to be sentenced to a whole life tariff and set the minimum term of their life sentences at 35 years.
He told Barrass: “You considered your love for them and your fear of being parted from them to take their lives as well as your own.”