A mother has been found guilty of murdering her 21-month-old daughter, who died with injuries likened to those of a car crash victim.
Kathryn Smith, 23, was also convicted of cruelty to a child relating to Ayeeshia Jane Smith’s death in 2014.
Her partner Matthew Rigby, 22, was cleared of murder but convicted of causing or allowing the child’s death in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire.
Family of murdered toddler Ayeeshia give statement after sentence
The pair had repeatedly protested their innocence at Birmingham Crown Court.
But the jury decided Smith was the one who delivered the fatal blow, which pathologists said was probably a “stamp” that tore her heart.
After the verdicts were returned, the judge, Mrs Justice Geraldine Andrews, told jurors they would be excused from future jury service because of the upsetting nature of the evidence they had heard.
Ayeeshia, who the jury heard was known as AJ, collapsed at the couple’s home in Britannia Drive in May 2014.
The court heard she had a heart injury usually seen in people who have fallen off buildings or been in a car crash.
Some children’s charities are already comparing this death with the notorious Baby Peter case.
There was a pattern of non-accidental injuries stretching back to the time Ayeeshia was returned to the care of her mother. She had thrived while in foster care but was malnourished and at the bottom of the child weight charts by the time of her death.
In hindsight, professionals seem to have missed a number of red-flag moments that should have alerted them to step in, especially a life-threatening event when the toddler collapsed and was rushed to hospital three months before her death.
Children’s Services were not even aware she required resuscitation. The diagnosis of a febrile convulsion had actually come from the child’s mother, not from any expert. No tests were carried out on Ayeeshia, which would have shown the brain and spinal column bleed she had suffered, likely caused by violent shaking.
A serious case review by Derbyshire County Council is under way and it won’t be known until its publication what mistakes, if any, were made.
The pair, who have since split up but both now live in Nottingham, insisted in court they had nothing to do with the toddler’s death.
They changed their stories several times and each claimed the other was the last to see the girl.
Smith claimed Ayeeshia suffered a seizure before her death and suggested her bruised body was caused by falling off her potty.
Rigby told the court it was possible the child’s injuries were caused when he gave her CPR while on the phone to 999 operators.
Smith and Rigby, who was considered the toddler’s stepfather, were regular cannabis users and kept the drug in a cup of Ayeeshia’s.
The trial heard social services were aware of Ayeeshia from birth.
In June 2013, the child was placed with a foster family but sent back to live with her mother in October, who had by then started a relationship with Rigby and was living in Burton-upon-Trent.
Ayeeshia’s father Ricky Booth gave evidence in the trial. He took pictures of his daughter when he noticed marks on her face and alerted social services.
Speaking after the verdicts, he said: “I now wish my daughter had been placed in permanent care as she may well have been alive and still with us now.”
He added: “Nothing will bring my daughter back and I hope in time the anger goes away and I am left with the limited time I had with AJ and not the thought of her suffering.”
AJ’s biological father took photographs of her after noticing scratches on her face
Andrew Stokes, interim chairman of Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board, said it was important to take time to look at the case “thoroughly” before publishing its review.
“The death of a child is a tragedy and I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to everyone who knew AJ.
“All the agencies involved with the family have contributed to a serious case review which has been held to identify any lessons that can be learned.
“New information has emerged during the criminal trial which we need to consider before we can publish the findings of the review to ensure it is as robust and fully informed as possible.”