A father strangled his seven-year-old son ''to put him out of his misery'' hours after learning he might have lost custody of the child, a court heard yesterday.

Care assistant Karl Hammersley-Baker strangled Kirk Hammersley-Baker with a bandana-style scarf as the primary school pupil slept, then dumped his body in an outhouse at their Stoke on Trent home, Stafford Crown Court was told.

QC Nigel Baker, prosecuting, said the 31-year-old, of Boothen, admitted the killing to police, describing to officers how his son gasped for breath and attempted to struggle free.

The defendant, who denies murder and administering the anti-depressant drug Prozac to Kirk, had received a letter from social services prior to the death, warning him that custody of the boy might go to his mother.

Mr Baker alleged that after the boy - who was on a child protection register because of physical abuse by his mother's boyfriend and emotional abuse from his father - was strangled last March 19, Mr Hammersley-Baker had ''entertained'' two gay lovers at his home.

Mr Hammersley-Baker was described in court as a ''promiscuous'' homosexual who was well known on the local gay scene.

Mr Baker added that the social services letter, received on the afternoon before Kirk's death, advised the father that his care of Kirk was ''no longer tenable''.

The day after the alleged murder, Mr Hammersley-Baker went to a gay club in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, before returning to his home and having sex with two men, as his son's ''trussed-up'' body lay in the outhouse. The body, which had been stuffed into a canvas-covered shopping trolley after being wrapped in bedclothes and a bin liner, was not discovered by police until March 22.

After being charged with murder, Mr Hammersley-Baker allegedly told police: ''The scarf was round his neck and his legs and arms were kicking. He kept trying to pull the scarf off his neck as if he was struggling to breathe.

''He looked frightened. He just made some noises as if he was fighting to breathe.''

The case continues today.