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Baby killer jailed for ten years

Published 01/04/2015

Paul and Ashlea Thomas have both been convicted of charges relating to the death of baby Oliver Sargent
Paul and Ashlea Thomas have both been convicted of charges relating to the death of baby Oliver Sargent

The father of a "smiley and cheerful" 11-month-old boy convicted over his killing has been jailed for 10 years.

Paul Thomas was earlier convicted by majority verdict of the manslaughter Oliver Sargent - who suffered head injuries consistent with a 40mph car crash - after a five-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

Thomas, from Telford in Shropshire, was acquitted of murder.

Sentencing the 29-year-old builder, Mr Justice Nicholas Green told him he had killed his son "in a moment of unthinking madness", leaving the boy with "catastrophic and fatal injuries".

He added: "Oliver was a smiley, cheerful baby, deprived of the chance of a full and happy life."

The judge accepted evidence that at times, Thomas could be "a good and loving father", but he told him "you had a temper and a short fuse", which had left his only son with irreversible and devastating brain damage.

Oliver died in July 2012, four days after a 999 call reporting that he had stopped breathing while at home in Telford.

Post-mortem tests established that Oliver, who had 13 separate marks on his body and face, had been subjected to at least one impact to the left side of his head.

Further investigations by medical experts found historic injuries, including two fractured ribs and broken left collar bone, which had all healed.

Thomas's wife, Ashlea Thomas was handed a two-year jail term, suspended for two years, after she was convicted by majority verdict of causing or allowing the death of her son.

Mr Justice Green told her: "You were genuinely concerned and cared for Oliver."

However, he added she "never accepted Paul was a risk to Oliver and you repeated this assertion in court".

He added she was a somewhat "naive" character, having first fallen pregnant aged 16, but had then chosen to have the baby despite Mr Thomas asking her for a termination.

"You had it in you to be a good mother," said the judge, telling her he did not believe she had ever attempted to deceive medical staff when taking her boy to see hospital doctors, concerning his medical ailments.

He added: "It is impossible to say that had you raised concerns, they would have led to Oliver being alive today.

"But ultimately it is a lost possibility Oliver might have been saved."

The court had heard evidence of texts sent four months before the baby's death, where Mrs Thomas had accused her husband of banging the child's head but accepted his apparently innocent explanation.

She was acquitted of the murdering her child and an alternative charge of manslaughter.

During the trial, Thomas had suggested his pet dog may have "accidentally" injured Oliver, who suffered a bleed on the brain after being shaken.

Oliver was rushed to hospital in Telford on July 27, 2012, after his father called 999 and was eventually transferred to Birmingham Children's Hospital.

While there, a nurse overheard Mrs Thomas ask her mother "how long do you think I am going to get" while Thomas asked a police officer what sort of prison sentence someone might get for what had happened to his son.

Mrs Thomas, a 21-year-old nursery nurse, and her husband had only moved into their home in Priory Way, Telford, a few weeks before the call to the emergency services.

During their trial, the couple both denied injuring Oliver, who they claimed had been found in a "lifeless" condition in his cot.

The judge told Mr Thomas that, despite all the circumstances being examined in a trial, the reasons as to why he did what he did remained elusive.

Mr Justice Nicholas said: "Even now your motives remain unexplained."

Speaking outside court, Detective Inspector Ernie Locke, of West Mercia Police, said it had been a "challenging investigation".

"Our aim has always been to seek the truth as to what happened to Oliver and be the voice of him, in court," he said.

Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board is expected to publish a lessons-learned review in June, focused on the agencies who had contact with the family prior to his death.

Mr Locke said: "Oliver first came to the attention of police on July 27, 2012, following his collapse, and he was not known to us or children's services prior to that.

"There will be a serious case review, agencies have completed management reviews and that will appear in the report, in the near future."

He added: "The life of an 11-month-old baby has been lost - Our thoughts are really with the wider family."

Andrew Mason, chairman of the safeguarding children board, said its report was "virtually complete".

"However, there is some more work to be done that could not be completed until the conclusion of the trial and that will now be done," he added.

"We expect that this review will be published in early June."

Laura Johnston, director of children's services at Telford & Wrekin Council, said: "We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a conclusion through the courts of law.

"This was a tragic case and our thoughts are with the wider Sargent family, which has been profoundly affected by this."

Children's charity the NSPCC said Oliver's parents had allowed their child "to suffer unimaginable pain until the day he died".

Sandra McNair, NSPCC Midlands Regional Head of Service, said: "It is heart-breaking to know that this defenceless baby died after sustaining horrific injuries; injuries said to be consistent with being involved in a 40mph road accident.

"That he should have endured such agony in his short life is extremely distressing and his parents have rightly been held to account for their crimes."

Anyone who has concerns about the welfare of a child can contact the free, 24-hour NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, text 88858 or email help@nspcc.org.uk

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