Published: 15:50, 14 November 2017 |
Updated: 17:23, 14 November 2017
A mum-of-nine and her boyfriend have been jailed for causing the death of her baby boy from a catastrophic brain injury.
Danny Shepherd, 26, was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years today, while Katherine Cox, 33, received an eight-year term.
As well as the head injury, five-month-old Eli Cox was found to have 28 fractures to bones in his body and had also been exposed to drugs at his home on the Isle of Sheppey.
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Now, it's emerged Shepherd has faced violence from other inmates in prison while awaiting sentence, because of the nature of his crime.
Shepherd and Katherine Cox, now of Faversham, denied causing or allowing the death of a child between April 12 and 28 last year and causing or allowing physical harm to a child.
They also denied possessing the Class B drug amphetamine on April 14, but a jury convicted them of all charges in August.
Sentence was adjourned for a psychiatric report on Shepherd, who was believed to have caused the injuries.
The judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, said: "I am sure it was you Danny Shepherd who inflicted the injuries on April 13 that killed Eli.
"You continue to deny it but you know it's true. I am also sure you inflicted the earlier injuries disclosed by expert evidence."
He told Cox: "I am not sure you either took part in or were present when Danny Shepherd inflicted the injuries... but I am sure, and it is consistent with the jury's verdict, that you knew well before April 13 that Danny Shepherd caused significant injuries to Eli, and there was a risk he would do it again.
"It is one of the shocking features of this case that you put your infatuation with Danny Shepherd before the safety of your baby."
The maximum sentence Cox and Shepherd faced was 14 years.
Maidstone Crown Court heard Eli suffered the fatal injuries at his home in Lapwing Close, Minster.
A medical expert said the 28 fractures of varying ages to 19 bones were consistent with being “twisted, pulled, crushed and bent in half”.
Prosecutor Jennifer Knight said Eli suffered extensive brain damage consistent with shaking and caused by a prolonged period of insufficient oxygen to the brain.
It was suggested the injuries were inflicted on many different occasions leading up to the child’s collapse on Wednesday, April 13 last year. He died two weeks later.
Shepherd, known as Pickle, and Cox were the only adults in the four bedroom house at the time of the collapse.
“It was the actions of one of them that resulted in the catastrophic brain injury that Eli Cox suffered that day,” Miss Knight told the jury of nine men and three women.
“The events of that day were clearly the unhappy culmination of injuries Eli Cox suffered on many occasions.
“Both were aware in the weeks leading up to April 13 and on the day of his death that Eli Cox was at serious risk of physical harm.”
Miss Knight said at the sentencing hearing: “There is a blatant and deliberate disregard for the welfare of the child by both defendants.”
Shepherd’s QC Nadine Radford told the judge: “Our instructions remain the same. He has dealt with the matter in the same way from beginning to end.
“He doesn’t accept any responsibility for it. He doesn’t accept any knowledge of the drugs found on his premises.”
Mrs Radford suggested Shepherd was naive in taking on the family.
He had been “battered” in prison locally, she said, and would have to serve his sentence some distance from home and hope other inmates did not find out why he was there.
Oliver Saxby, QC for Cox, said she was categorised by other prisoners as a certain type of offender, which was brutal for her.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said Eli died as a result of “a shaking impact type of injury”.
“I have no doubt that it occurred because of shaking and impact inflicted on Eli by Danny Shepherd on April 13 2016 in the short time he was upstairs and before he called for help," he said.
“It was the head injury that killed Eli. At that time Danny Shepherd had amphetamine in his system, but it is not possible to say whether, and if so to what extent, it affected his behaviour.
“The fact he was taking amphetamines when also taking a major part in the care of a baby’s life is a further shocking aspect of the case.”
The judge said the groups of fractures would have inflicted significant pain on the child, though he would not have been old enough to express it like a grown-up child or adult.
"It is unfortunately true to say that Eli suffered more than most and was robbed of his life before it had barely begun" - DCI Ivan Beasley
He treated the fact that cocaine and amphetamine were found in hair samples from the baby as a marker for both Cox and Shepherd “of the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of Eli’s short life while you were meant to be caring for him”.
The judge said he was satisfied the possession of amphetamine found in the shed was not a one-off, as they were both experienced in using unlawful drugs.
The judge told Shepherd: “I sentence you on the basis that you inflicted the injuries before April 13 2016 that were found at post mortem, and that you caused the death of Eli Cox by what you did to him on April 13.
“The fact of prolonged and multiple incidents of serious cruelty and the significant level of force that you used both before and on April 13 indicate a high level of culpability on your part.
“The effect of what you did was that for much of his life Eli would have been in pain from fractures you inflicted.
“Eli was particularly vulnerable and could do nothing to protect himself or draw attention to his suffering. You knew what you had done in the past and you knew full well you were in danger of doing it again.
“You did nothing to keep out of Eli’s way and did nothing to obtain medical help for him after you injured him. It is, on my view, a very serious case of causing serious physical harm to, and eventually, death of a child.
"The effect of what you did was that for much of his life Eli would have been in pain from fractures you inflicted" - Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, to Shepherd
“The most that can be said on the facts is you didn’t mean to kill Eli Cox. I am prepared to sentence you on the basis that, in normal speech, you lost it, as you had done before.
“But you lost it majorly and inflicted serious violence upon poor Eli, causing his death. All this could have been avoided if you had just stayed away from him, having lost it on previous occasions.”
He added that Shepherd found himself well out of his depth in being thrown into the role of stepfather to Cox’s large family.
The judge told Cox she bore a heavy responsibility for what happened to Eli, but not so great as Shepherd.
It was an aggravating feature that she failed to seek medical help and allowed prolonged suffering.
“First and foremost, you have lost everything,” he told Cox. “Not merely Eli, but all of your children and your home and even the man you tried so hard to protect.
“It is not easy for a man who is a father to fully understand what that means to a woman and a mother, even if your parenting was dysfunctional and the loss of Eli and your other children can be attributed at least in part to your own criminal actions.
“You had a very difficult upbringing and had only recently emerged from what I am told was an abusive relationship.
“The instinct to cling to Danny Shepherd was, therefore, understandable, even if it does not begin to justify your failure to protect your child.
“You too were ill-equipped to cope with the chaotic and dysfunctional life that you were living.”
The judge said he sentenced Cox on the basis she did not take part in inflicting any injuries on Eli but was aware of the risk Shepherd posed by the time of the last harm on April 13.
He said of Shepherd: "Overall, he knows what he has done. It is not that he is not remorseful, he is not prepared to face up to what he has done."
The judge said it was an emotional trial and asked those in the packed public gallery to exercise restraint when he passed sentence.
After sentencing, senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Ivan Beasley said: "The death of a child is never anything less than tragic but the circumstances behind Eli Cox’s passing are especially upsetting for those of us who share a compassion for others.
"None of us will ever understand what compels people to cause harm to children, and it is unfortunately true to say that Eli suffered more than most and was robbed of his life before it had barely begun.
"Katherine Cox and Danny Shepherd maintained their innocence throughout but the jury saw through their lies.
"Only they know the true extent of the abuse Eli was put through, which is simply unthinkable to most members of society including parents who would do anything to protect their children from harm."
Following the trial, Kent County Council confirmed that the Kent Safeguarding Children Board was carrying out a Serious Case Review to establish if Eli's death could have been prevented.
Such reviews are carried out if abuse or neglect is thought to have been a factor in the death of a child.
However, the results of the process are not expected to be known until next year.
A KCC spokesman said: "The Serious Case Review is under way, but is unlikely to be concluded and published before February at the earliest."
An NSPCC spokesman added: "Instead of nurturing and protecting baby Eli, Cox and Shepherd robbed him of the chance to live a long and happy life.
"Eli suffered unimaginable pain and suffering during his five short months and we hope the upcoming serious case review will shed further light on the circumstances surrounding his death and if lessons can be learned.
"Babies and young children are completely dependent on those who care for them and we all have a duty to look out for their welfare."
Anyone who suspects a child is being neglected is urged to call police on 101 or the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. Children who are being abused can call Childline on 0800 1111.
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