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Kent’s child-killing lovers who blamed each other for murdering Alfie Phillips

In November 2020, police held Sian Hedges and Jack Benham in separate cells before painstakingly quizzing them over two days.

The couple had been arrested for the most monstrous of crimes, and years of investigation would later reveal they were the killers of the helpless boy they tried convincing the world was “clumsy”.

Alfie Phillips pictured the night before he died from horrific injuries. Pic: CPS
Alfie Phillips pictured the night before he died from horrific injuries. Pic: CPS

Hedges’ only child, Alfie Phillips, died aged just 18 months with 70 visible injuries, as well as multiple broken bones, after a brutal assault inside Benham’s caravan near Faversham.

The pair denied “meting out some sort of aggressive, violent discipline” on the night of November 27, 2020, instead blaming each other in court.

Each continued to protest their innocence as the weight of the evidence against them was laid out in harrowing detail.

But today, the pair were convicted of murder following a trial at Maidstone Crown Court lasting almost two months.

Amid the weeks of heart-rending evidence, jurors heard little Alfie was a healthy and normal child who ‘thrived’ - with no signs of abuse – before the soon-to-be killers met.

Sian Hedges murdered her 18-month-old son Alfie Phillips
Sian Hedges murdered her 18-month-old son Alfie Phillips

Sian Hedges

Hedges was born on September 2, 1996, and raised in Chartham and Whitstable by her parents Sarah and John, who split when she was nine years old.

The youngest of three siblings, she attended Chartham Primary School and later the Chaucer School in Canterbury, while her relationship with her dad was sporadic.

Through her teens, Hedges suffered depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mood swings.

After turning 16 she worked at Park Holidays in Seasalter, between Faversham and Whitstable, before working at their larger site in nearby Swalecliffe.

It was here she met Sam Phillips, with whom she had her only child.

After falling pregnant with Alfie and faced with a life-changing decision, she made several appointments to have an abortion but did not go through with the procedure.

During pregnancy, she saw little of her family as her mum moved to Devon with her husband, David Baker, in 2017, while visits to her dad’s home in Chartham became infrequent.

Having considered adoption during the latter stages of pregnancy, Hedges decided to keep Alfie after giving birth at Margate’s QEQM Hospital in May 2019.

Alfie Phillips was murdered in a “wicked and torturous” attack
Alfie Phillips was murdered in a “wicked and torturous” attack

Alfie thrived

Between June 2019 and April 2020, Hedges and Alfie’s progress were closely monitored by a specialist from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, who at no stage noticed any injuries to Alfie.

He was a healthy baby who grew and thrived during the early months of his life, according to Tess Hickson, the trust’s family partnership program lead

Ms Hickson visited or spoke to Hedges almost monthly from June 2019 until April 2020, when she conducted Alfie’s 10-month check by telephone due to pandemic restrictions.

She was aware Hedges continued to struggle with her mental health, suffering low mood and anxiety, but saw no evidence of this affecting her parenting ability.

Hedges told the specialist she had little contact with the baby’s father following a row, and reported feeling anxious with moments of irritability and anger. She said Alfie often cried as he was teething.

In the January before lockdown, Hedges said she felt lonely and isolated having not seen her former partner since November 2019, but she voiced hopes of securing council housing to give Alfie a good chance in life.

During the course of the meetings Ms Hickson saw no unusual injuries on the little boy.

Sam Phillips, a father-of-two, had first become involved with Hedges in 2017, while living at the Swalecliffe park in a caravan his mum Marie Demain bought for him.

He met her shortly before her 21st birthday and, by the end of the year, moved her into his home.

But their relationship soon deteriorated, rows would flare up, and they were asked to move off the land following a disturbance.

His mother bought them another caravan at Benacre Riding Stables, near Whitstable, where they moved in 2018, with Ms Demain and her husband Mark living nearby.

Jack Benham murdered Alfie Phillips in a caravan in Hernhill, near Faversham
Jack Benham murdered Alfie Phillips in a caravan in Hernhill, near Faversham

Jack Benham

Until early 2020, Jack Benham was in a long-term relationship with his former partner, with whom he has two daughters.

But after the pair split he moved into a caravan at the back of his parents’ home in High Street Road, Hernhill, near Faversham, shortly after lockdown began.

Benham, a former soldier, was allowed his own space, though he would cook and wash in the main house.

In the summer of 2020, when his family met Hedges, they were told she had been living with her father.

However, due to her grandmother’s Alzheimers’ disease, the arrangements were no longer suitable.

As summer turned to autumn, Hedges stayed with Benham more frequently, prompting Alfie’s father to suspect she was seeing another man.

He was well aware she had met someone he believed to be called Jack ‘Bennett’ during her spell working at a pub opposite the holiday park.

Although the name was wrong his suspicions were confirmed when, on Hedges’ 24th birthday, he found her with Benham at her friend Zoe Tritton’s home.

Mr Phillips describes a huge row with Hedges and said that, although they soon reconciled, he knew she was seeing Benham.

From then on, Hedges stayed away more frequently, claiming to be at her grandmother’s and then her father’s house.

And although Hedges would occasionally stay with Mr Phillips she would go off again, always taking Alfie with her to Jack Benham’s caravan.

Little Alfie Phillips had 70 visible injuries at the time of his death
Little Alfie Phillips had 70 visible injuries at the time of his death

The first signs of abuse

On September 23, 2020, in the months leading up to the murder, Hedges took Alfie to Whitstable’s Estuary View Medical Centre with a cut under his right eye.

Doctors’ notes show the wound was cleaned with saline solution, gauzed and glued.

Jurors were told Sam Phillips could recall Hedges saying Alfie fell and cut his eye at the beach.

On the same injury, Benham’s mother Joan said her son claimed Alfie cut himself accidentally with a set of keys.

When police interrogated the suspects’ phones, messages emerged where Benham had written: “Babes I cant have here without you.

“You only went to car and feel so bad shouldn’t let him take keys, I’m so sorry. Hope I see soon a day.”

Benham also texted: “He just feel with bottle aand keys I’;m so sorry it should not have happened.”

On October 15, 2020, Hedges and Benham exchanged messages about biting Alfie, with Hedges writing: “Liittle s*** bit my arm this morning, f****** hurt.”

Alfie Phillips was 18 months old at the time of his death and had suffered multiple broken bones
Alfie Phillips was 18 months old at the time of his death and had suffered multiple broken bones

Benham responded by suggesting she should bite him back, but not as hard, to which Hedges said she had already tried but Alfie found it amusing.

When Benham wrote “Bite hard. Your have to once I bet,” Hedges said she did not want to.

On October 19 Hedges and Benham exchanged messages about Alfie screaming most of the night.

During the exchange, Benham told Hedges she should ignore Alfie so he would stop getting his own way, referring to the child as a “cry baby”.

On October 22 Benham referred to Alfie as “your little sod”, saying he had turned off the caravan heater and was going to “poke him in the ear”.

Further signs of abuse became apparent through November 2020, with Mr Phillips becoming concerned Alfie looked tired and ‘pasty’.

Shortly after Mr Phillip’s birthday on November 11, Hedges packed her belongings and left him, but continued to say she wanted to make their relationship work and occasionally returned.

Mr Phillips and his mum would soon notice a bruise on Alfie’s ear, which Hedges attributed to him falling down her father’s stairs.

When Ms Demain remarked on its unusually dark colour and suggested it looked as if someone had twisted Alfie’s ear, Hedges stayed silent.

Jurors heard Ms Tritton also noticed the injury, commenting Alfie’s ear appeared purple, but Hedges said he bumped into things and was “clumsy”.

At about the same time, Benham’s mum pointed out to him a bruise which ran in a straight line on Alfie’s eye.

However, Benham brushed off her concerns, claiming their dog Belle had knocked the toddler into a door frame.

By November 2020, Benham’s parents noticed Hedges staying in their son’s caravan five or six nights a week when, on November 26, he told them Alfie caught his fingers in their dog gate, causing bruising to his fingernails.

Sian Hedges with Sam Phillips, her former partner and the father of Alfie Phillips
Sian Hedges with Sam Phillips, her former partner and the father of Alfie Phillips

The day before and the fateful night

When Mr Phillips returned from work on Friday, November 27, Hedges and Alfie were not there, as she had taken their son to Benham’s caravan.

Benham’s sister, Bobby, arrived at their parents’ house at about 5pm to order Chinese, and her eight-year-old daughter played with Alfie for 45 minutes.

On realising Alfie’s cheeks were rosy, Bobby assumed he was teething, while the toddler appeared to be running around normally with no injuries.

A photo taken of Alfie that evening would corroborate the fact, as would Benham’s parents, who noticed nothing unusual about his appearance or behaviour.

Having left Alfie in their company for a number of hours, Benham went back inside the house between 8pm and 8.30pm, then returned to the caravan for the night.

Later, Benham’s father saw Hedges’ car pull up outside between 2.15am and 2.30am, saying that she exited and walked through a side-gate into the back garden.

Jurors heard Alfie was not seen again by anyone other than Benham and Hedges until about 11.30am the following morning.

It was during these hours Alfie was murdered in a “wicked and torturous” attack.

The court was told that shortly before 11.30am on the Saturday Benham came to the main house with Alfie in his arms. The toddler was described as “blue and floppy” and was not breathing.

Benham’s mother, Joan Benham, started performing CPR in the living room and his father, Mark Benham, called 999.

Paramedics arrived within 10 minutes but it was immediately apparent to them Alfie had been “dead for some time”, the prosecution said.

Mrs Benham noticed a number of bruises to Alfie’s face which had not been there the night before.

Benham came into the living room and told paramedics Alfie had been grumpy the night before so they took him into bed with them and when they woke Alfie was trapped under Benham’s legs and they could not wake him.

Alfie was taken to the QEQM Hospital in Margate, and pronounced dead at 12.35pm.

Sian Hedges has been found guilty of murdering her 18-month-old son Alfie Phillips. Picture: Kent Police
Sian Hedges has been found guilty of murdering her 18-month-old son Alfie Phillips. Picture: Kent Police

Horrific injuries

A post-mortem examination would later reveal the youngster had 70 visible injuries, multiple broken bones and potential signs of smothering to his mouth and lips.

Traces of cocaine were also found in his body, indicating he had been recently exposed to the Class A drug, which his mum and Benham admitted taking in the hours before he died.

A skeletal survey and post-mortem examinations revealed he had multiple fractures to both of his arms, his ribs and one leg, as well as widespread bruising, marks and scrapes across his body.

Prosecutor Jennifer Knight told the jury: “It is clear that Alfie Philips was deliberately injured on more than one occasion, culminating in an assault perpetrated during the night of November 27 to 28 that led to his death.

“Had either defendant not been joining in with the assaults, he or she would have stopped the attack and removed Alfie Phillips from the caravan.

“The fact that this did not happen can only be because both defendants agreed that the assaults should take place and each played their part.

“They were both agreed in meting out aggressive, violent ‘discipline’ to Alfie Phillips, which resulted in his death that night.”

‘Deserve the noose’

Hedges and Benham were arrested on the evening of Saturday, November 28, and interviewed over the course of two days.

Tests showed both had used cocaine and Hedges admitted she had taken a £40 bag over the course of three hours after Alfie went to sleep.

The pair also drank whisky and Coke, with Hedges telling police they had their last drink at about 1am and then went to sleep in the same bed as Alfie.

Explaining why her car was seen pulling up to the caravan in the small hours, Hedges initially said she drove to Seasalter for food.

But she later claimed she had gone to buy drugs after being repeatedly asked by Benham, but she did not get any.

Jurors heard at about 6.30am, Mark Benham let the family’s three dogs into the main garden, but when their pug did not return he went searching with a torch.

He saw his son's caravan door open and the pug run out.

During her interview, Hedges told police at about the same time she recalled a dog being let into the caravan.

Jack Benham has been convicted of the murder of Alfie Phillips. Picture: Kent Police
Jack Benham has been convicted of the murder of Alfie Phillips. Picture: Kent Police

She said Alfie stirred but went back to sleep with his dummy and was “fine and normal”.

She then recalled Benham waking her up saying “What the f***’s wrong with him? Oh my God. He’s under my leg”.

Hedges said Alfie was floppy and his lips looked blue, giving her a gut feeling he was dead.

She told officers Benham never watched Alfie alone for more than 10 minutes or so and denied injuring him.

Hedges claimed she had no idea how Alfie could have fractured his arms or sustained any serious trauma.

In interviews, Benham told police he did not consider himself a step-father figure and claimed he rarely did anything for Alfie, who he admitted disliking and called a “mummy’s boy”.

Benham told police Alfie was “whingy and upset” when he was put to bed between 7pm and 8pm on the night of Friday, November 27.

He said they left him to fall asleep without being cuddled, while together they drank whisky and Coke, “getting drunk, but not too drunk”.

Benham said he smoked some cannabis, which he did regularly.

He recalled letting the dog into the caravan and it jumping up onto the bed, but told police he did not know if Alfie was alive at that point or not.

He said when he woke later that morning Alfie was by his knee with his arm under Benham’s leg, and he was floppy.

He described “patting” the back of Alfie’s head to try to rouse him, but he believed the child had died because he had been lying on him.

Benham was shown photographs of Alfie’s injuries and denied causing them or having any idea how they were inflicted.

He said he always picked Alfie up by the hands and wrists, rather than lifting him by holding underneath his arms.

Throughout his interviews, Benham repeatedly said he would “deserve the noose” if he had caused Alfie’s injuries or death and said Hedges would never hurt him.

Neither suspect could account for Alfie’s injuries, but both recalled occasions when he had fallen and hurt himself.

Alfie Phillips had multiple broken bones
Alfie Phillips had multiple broken bones

Expert examinations

Following Alfie’s death, a number of experts were asked to examine his body to determine the extent and possible cause of trauma.

A skeletal survey conducted days after his death revealed he suffered fractures to his left and right forearms, ribs, sternum, left leg, and the big toe on his right foot.

A specialist later said there were signs many of the fractures occurred in the hours before Alfie’s death, with the cause of some “crushing in nature”.

Forensic pathologist Dr Virginia Fitzpatrick-Swallow, who led the medical investigation, also identified 70 visible injuries.

In total there were 31 to his head and neck, including bruising across his face and forehead and multiple scrapes - known as abrasions - to his nose and across the top of his head.

There were 11 injuries to his arms, including dark blue bruises, 17 to his legs, and 11 to his torso, with bruising across his chest and back.

An internal examination also revealed bruising to the inside of Alfie’s lips, which the pathologist said suggested smothering or an attempt at smothering, with scrapes to his nose and mouth potentially explained by Alfie trying to remove a compressive force from his face.

Another specialist said multiple haemorrhages to Alfie’s eye muscles and soft tissue damage were “highly-consistent with direct blunt force trauma”.

Samples of Alfie’s blood and urine also showed traces of cocaine, but forensic scientist Diana Garside said these levels would not have been caused by Alfie ingesting a large quantity of the drug before his death.

She said they “could have arisen from some form of external contact with cocaine powder or residue from ‘crack’ cocaine smoke, or from a contaminated surface”.

She added she could not say whether Alfie would have been experiencing significant effects from cocaine at the time of his death, but she considered it a possibility.

Dr Fitzpatrick-Swallow expressed no doubt Alfie “came upon his death by unnatural means as a result of the action of another/others”.

“Significantly, there are a large number of injuries which cannot be explained by accidental means and have been caused by another person,” she reported.

“There is evidence of a significant and sustained assault resulting in numerous fractured bones.”

While certain someone was responsible for Alfie’s death, the pathologist could not determine the final cause due to the numerous injuries that could have led to it.

She said Alfie may have been smothered or suffocated, or suffered respiratory failure caused by fat emboli building up in his lungs following trauma to his body.

The jury was told that “the final cause of death is not clear and as such is best recorded as ‘unascertained – unnatural causes’”.

Sian Hedges murdered her 18-month-old son Alfie Phillips
Sian Hedges murdered her 18-month-old son Alfie Phillips

The trial

Hedges, 27, and Benham, 35, accused each other of murdering Alfie during their evidence.

With tears in her eyes, Hedges told jurors she wanted to die after finding him "floppy and blue" before realising her “life had come crashing down”.

“I just wanted to die and part of me did die that day. At that time I thought Alfie's death was an accident," she said.

Hedges, a former barmaid, admitted she later lied to police about her and Benham's drug use the night before Alfie died, as well as going to buy cocaine.

She said: “Everyone knows you shouldn't do drugs with a child (nearby) but some people do.

“I lied because I didn't want it to seem worse than it already was."

Recalling the hours before Alfie died, Hedges said she remembered his head being on a pillow and his hands above his head.

"I then went back to sleep and Jack woke me up later screaming that Alfie was under his leg,” she said.

When the prosecution asked if Benham killed her son during a 40-minute window while she was out of the caravan attempting to buy drugs, she replied: “Yes, he must’ve done. Because I didn’t do it.”

Giving evidence, Benham was shown images depicting the injuries and asked to explain how they were caused.

"They are horrific, but 100% I didn't hurt him," he replied.

Prosecutor Jennifer Knight, KC, asked: "If you are telling the truth, there were only two people there, so if you didn't kill Alfie, then Sian did. Is that what you are saying?"

Benham replied: "Yes.”

He added: "I did think she was a great mum and would not hurt her child."

Sian Hedges and Jack Benham were convicted at Maidstone Crown Court
Sian Hedges and Jack Benham were convicted at Maidstone Crown Court

The prosecutor told Benham if he was telling the truth, then Hedges beat her child to death, breaking his arms and legs inside the caravan in which he slept, between 5am and 11am.

"That's what could have only happened because he didn't have any broken arms, legs, and ribs earlier because he was running around," he replied.

Describing how the injuries would have caused Alfie "immense pain", Ms Knight pointed out he would have been crying and thrashing about, as if someone was trying to suffocate him.

She asked: "Are you saying that all of this took place while you were sleeping and Sian did it just a few feet away from you in that caravan?"

He replied: "I did not hear or see anything. I'm telling you I was passed out."

But a jury saw through their lies and returned two guilty verdicts following deliberations that began on Monday afternoon.

Hedges, 26, and Jack Benham, 35, now face life sentences, with a judge to decide on the tariff they deserve when they appear before the same court on Tuesday, December 19.

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