Published: 06:00, 25 March 2021
| Updated: 07:08, 25 March 2021
A cruel father broke his baby’s leg in a “flash of rage” and pushed a dummy into her mouth so hard it snapped a fold of skin tissue beneath her tongue.
In an attempt to stop the two-month-old crying, Daniel Baker, 24, pulled her across a sofa by her leg at their Canterbury home, “forcefully twisting” it and fracturing her shin in two places.
He then left her mouth a bloody mess after violently inserting the dummy, breaking the little girl’s frenulum - a thin strip of tissue connecting the mouth and tongue.
On Friday, he was jailed for one year for what a judge described as the “cruel and shocking mistreatment of a tiny, defenceless baby”.
The little girl - now aged three - is still unable to talk properly and is awaiting speech therapy.
Canterbury Crown Court heard Baker was alone with the baby at home when she began crying in March 2018.
He violently wrenched her by her leg from the end of the sofa towards him, causing the fractures, then forcefully put the dummy in her mouth.
Baker’s then-partner, Poppy Hirst, later discovered blood around the child’s mouth and took her to a GP after being told the injury had been caused by Baker taking the dummy out.
Doctors told her to take the baby to the QEQM Hospital in Margate, where further examinations and a full-body scan revealed fractures to her left tibia and fibula.
The injuries were consistent with “severe torsional twisting,” medics told the court.
With no explanation of how they had been sustained, social services were forced to take the baby, and her 13-month-old brother, into temporary care.
Baker initially denied causing the injuries in a police interview, but later confessed to Miss Hirst, who alerted authorities.
Baker, of Warwick Road, Canterbury, was charged later that month with wounding and actual bodily harm.
In September last year, he appeared before Folkestone magistrates and pleaded guilty to both charges.
His lawyer, Phil Rowley, told the judge a psychological report carried out by doctors illustrated his client’s “limited intellectual capacity”.
Baker scored an “extremely low IQ score”, impairing his decision-making skills and ability to understand the impact of his actions at the time, accompanied with autism, Mr Rowley added.
He said Baker - who has no previous convictions - felt “devastated and ashamed” by his actions, which he claimed were out of character.
Mr Rowley argued Baker should receive a suspended prison sentence, saying he was fit to carry out community service.
But this was rejected by Judge Mark Weekes, who said the “repeated assault, serious injury, breach of trust and attempt to conceal wrongdoing” were aggravating factors.
Detective Constable Jeff Brunger said: “This was an extremely troubling incident and I would like to thank the victim’s family for their patience and assistance during our investigation.
“Kent Police is committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our communities and this complex investigation shows we will carefully examine every piece of evidence to bring those who harm others before the courts.”
Baker confessed to his wicked actions after his partner lied and told him she would keep whatever he revealed a secret.
Desperate to have her children back home after four months of supervised visits, Poppy Hirst eventually coaxed Baker into admitting what he had done to their daughter.
But later that night, after he had fallen asleep, she alerted the authorities, eventually leading to Baker’s conviction.
Miss Hirst’s father had died days before her baby was injured, and it was while she was tending to funeral arrangements that controlling Baker - left at home alone - hurt the two-month-old.
Speaking to KentOnline after the sentencing, Miss Hirst, 23, said: “I would have never dreamed he could have done that to our baby - I believed what he said.
“When social services took the kids away I just fell to the floor in the hospital. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I’d just lost my dad and now my children. It was a nightmare.”
While police investigated, Miss Hirst was restricted to seeing her children twice a week under supervision at a contact centre.
“Some of my friends didn’t even know,” she said. “I didn’t want people scrutinising me when I’d done nothing wrong. It was horrendous.
“Not having the kids at home with me was horrible. I missed the first stages of my daughter’s life and my son’s first proper step.”
After four months of visits, Miss Hirst was told at a family court hearing that she may not have her children back home before Christmas.
This proved a turning point in her desperate bid to uncover the truth.
“We were on the train back from court and Dan just started crying, which he hadn’t done before,” she recalled.
“I said ‘do you know something?’ and he carried on crying.”
Later that evening, Miss Hirst convinced Baker to reveal what he knew, telling him no one would find out.
“I promised him I’d stay with him and wouldn’t say anything, just so he’d tell me what had happened,” she said.
“Eventually he told me he’d been annoyed with her crying so grabbed her leg on the sofa and yanked her towards him. He then picked her up and pushed the dummy really hard into her mouth.
“I wanted to kill him but had to try to stay calm. It was the hardest thing, but I was worried what he might do.”
When Baker went to bed that night, Miss Hirst emailed her solicitor, revealing what he had admitted.
Baker moved out of the family home and the children were returned to Miss Hirst.
She was in court on Friday as Baker - who has since fathered another baby and has one on the way - was put behind bars.
“I was so happy as I thought he was going to get away with it and not go to prison at all,” she said.
“For me it brings a sense of closure to everything, knowing that people will know what he did and that he’s paying the price for it.
“When my daughter’s older I can tell her what happened and that her dad went to prison for it. She still struggles to speak because of the injury to her mouth, and is on a waiting list for speech therapy.
“But she’s still a happy-go-lucky girl who loves drawing and going to nursery. Thankfully she was too young to be affected by what happened.
“I missed the first part of her life because of Dan and what he did, but we’re making up for it now.”
KentOnline is only able to bring you the full facts of the case after overturning a court order imposed by a judge.
Reporting restrictions often ban the media from identifying people under 18 involved in a criminal case, to protect them from the adverse effects of publicity.
But when friction surfaces between open justice and children’s right to privacy, the two competing principles must be weighed up, as was the case in this instance.
When Judge Weekes ruled against the media publishing any identifying features of the two-month-old baby, the decision inadvertently meant us being unable to report that Baker had harmed his own child.
Naming him as the father would have led to the identification of his baby and this would have been a criminal offence.
Our court reporter, Sean Axtell, challenged the ruling, made under Section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, on a number of points, highlighting the importance of open justice.
In Baker’s case, he argued the ruling made it near-impossible to report the facts of the case, therefore protecting the defendant, more so than his victim.
Citing the judicial college’s own guidance he added: “Age alone is not sufficient to justify imposing an order as very young children cannot be harmed by publicity of which they will be unaware.”
In a formal challenge - opposed by Baker’s lawyer - he brought case law to the judge’s attention, where in 2013 the High Court ruled in favour of the press in a case that loosely carried a resemblance to Baker’s.
In a forensic 2,000-word ruling, Judge Weekes decided the baby could be identified all but in name, to protect her in the future, and to ensure open justice would prevail and Baker’s identity be known.
Joe Walker, editor of KentOnline's sister paper, the Kentish Gazette, said: “Reporting restrictions play an extremely important role in protecting young people involved in court proceedings.
“But in some cases, they can inadvertently serve the interests of defendants, such as Baker, who have committed the most heinous of crimes.
“We’re glad the judge agreed that the principle of open justice outweighed the likelihood of this young child being affected by any publicity of the case, allowing us to report what Baker had done to his own, defenceless baby.”
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