Seventh Day Adventists Nkosiyapha Kunene, 36, and his wife Virginia, 32, from Erith, Kent, who admitted the manslaughter of their son Ndingeko, received three years and two years, three months' imprisonment respectively. The couple admitted the charge at earlier hearings.
Mr Justice Singh, at the Old Bailey, said: ‘The secular courts of this country apply the secular law of the land. They do so equally to all who come before them. The law respects the right of everyone to freedom of thought and belief.
‘However the right to manifest one's religion is not absolute. It is limited in particular by the rights of others. The state has a particularly important duty to protect the right to life, especially when a young child is concerned.’
Mr Whittam told Mr Justice Singh at the couple's sentencing hearing that, although their beliefs arose out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, that church does not approve of medical care being withheld
‘He was highly regarded in the church,’ counsel said.
A senior figure in the church had said that the couple’s views, as reported to him by police investigating the case, were perhaps the most extreme that he had ever encountered.
Mr Whittam said: ‘The reality is that had rickets been diagnosed earlier, and appropriate treatment given, there could have been a complete recovery, and therefore the death was avoidable.’
Nkosiyapha remains of the view that death was God’s will, counsel said.
Kerim Fuad QC, defending Nkosiyapha Kunene, said: ‘This court will rarely have before it such a gentle, humble and hitherto law-abiding peaceful couple.’
He said his client could be a responsible, adoring and essentially wonderful father. The attraction of a suspended custodial sentence, with a lengthy supervision requirement, was obvious.
‘The loss of their son haunts them, and will do, for the rest of their lives. They don’t expect that pain to pass.’
He added: ‘The covenant he (Nkosiyapha) had sworn with God blinded his objectivity and common sense.’
Nkosiyapha, who was working as a nurse at King’s College Hospital, did not reject medical treatment outright.
‘He simply believes that a large amount of modern medicine is procedural and formulaic. He believes medicines are given to patients without much thought as to whether they are appropriate to a particular case.’