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Mother convicted of stamping murder of toddler Ayeeshia Jane Smith

Published 08/04/2016

Matthew Rigby has been found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a 21-month-old toddler
Matthew Rigby has been found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a 21-month-old toddler

A mother has been found guilty of murder after stamping to death her "happy and smiley" 21-month-old toddler at the family home.

Kathryn Smith, aged 23, was convicted of killing Ayeeshia Jane Smith at the flat where they lived in Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire, on May 1 2014.

Her 22-year-old former partner Matthew Rigby was earlier found guilty of causing or allowing her death, but cleared of murder.

Little Ayeeshia, known as AJ, suffered a fatal collapse at home just over three weeks after Derbyshire County Council social services had discussed taking the youngster into care over fears Smith was a victim of domestic abuse.

The toddler died from a fatal heart laceration most likely caused by a foot stamp and the sort of injury doctors only usually see in crash victims.

When the jury cleared Rigby of murder, he mouthed "thank you" but broke down in tears as they found him guilty on the lesser charge.

Meanwhile Smith wept uncontrollably in the dock, dabbing away the tears after the jury convicted her of cruelty and subjecting her only child to such a violent end.

Smith, of Sandfield Road, and Rigby, of Sloan Drive, both in Nottingham, had denied having anything to do with the child's death throughout a six-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

The toddler's mother claimed she had left Rigby alone with her daughter for "a couple of moments" when she went to get some juice, while in his evidence her ex-partner told jurors it "must have been her".

Rigby and Smith had also been in a relationship right up until the start of the trial.

Smith gave a silver-coloured locket containing the dead girl's ashes to Rigby while at court and the pair were also seen embracing in a private room, off the court dock.

In evidence it emerged Ayeeshia had suffered what one medical expert told the jury was "a concerning pattern" of injuries including an historic brain bleed which went undiagnosed.

A serious case review has been launched by the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board to look at health and social services' involvement in the lead-up to the child's collapse.

Twice after the couple began dating, the girl was taken to hospital, including one incident which a consultant paediatrician later described to the jury as "an apparent life-threatening incident" at a Swadlincote flat on February 3 2014.

Smith had been out shopping while Rigby said he was about to take a shower when he claimed to have heard a noise only to find Ayeeshia lying in her cot and turning blue.

She was diagnosed at hospital with a "febrile fit" linked to a high temperature and later allowed home, but a top consultant paediatrician later told the jury there seemed little basis for such a conclusion.

The couple also gave opposing accounts in court of what happened on March 19 2014, when Ayeeshia ended up at Burton's Queen's Hospital with a badly cut lip following a fall in the bath.

Jurors heard how Smith had a history of troubled relationships with different men.

Ayeeshia had been known to social services since birth and was taken into care for a period by social services in mid-2013, when Smith was dating another man.

Smith then began a relationship with former electrician Rigby, but the jury of five women and seven men also heard evidence of their turbulent relationship.

In January 2014, there were reports of domestic incidents between Smith and Rigby, and a child protection medical was carried out on Ayeeshia after cuts to her chin and lip were seen, and a bald patch appeared on her head.

No further concerns were raised however and the child went home with her mother.

In the early hours of April 4 2014, Smith called 999 after a heated row between the couple at their flat in Britannia Drive, Burton, claiming her partner had threatened to torch the flat.

On a recording of that call, the little girl's voice could be heard saying "Mummy?" and crying as the couple argued with one another.

Rigby, who had two previous convictions for assault and had been in care for some of his teenage years, admitted telling Smith in anger he would "blow the house up", but denied being prone to losing his temper.

Their next door neighbour Tracey Roberts heard a row in March 2014 and told of hearing the voice of an upset little girl who was saying "stop mummy, stop daddy".

Ayeeshia's case was discussed by care workers after the April 999 call came to light but they decided to provide domestic abuse support to Smith and continue to monitor the situation.

A former senior social worker, Stephen Crean, told the jury he had "no safeguarding concerns" in relation to Rigby, however they had asked Smith to sign an agreement pledging not to see the former warehouse worker.

Smith, described by one social worker as "isolated", refused to sign the document, telling the jury she felt by that stage her daughter was bound to be taken into care whatever action she took.

She had told Mr Crean: "I love AJ - I look after her, I am a good mum."

The child remained with her mother but at a key child safeguarding meeting the day before the youngster's death, it was agreed a domestic abuse professional would visit Smith.

Mr Crean texted Smith to arrange the visit but in the late afternoon of May 1, Ayeeshia collapsed at home and never recovered.

Paramedics who arrived quickly on the scene described the child as already looking "blue" and cold to the touch, but both Smith and Rigby denied ringing 999.

After the child's death, police discovered cannabis at the couple's flat stored in a Tommee Tippee plastic cup and the jury heard both regularly smoked the drug.

A detailed post-mortem examination revealed the toddler had suffered an historic bleed on the brain linked to the previous collapse in February 2014.

Further examination revealed other injuries including broken ribs linked to the fatal attack, a large bruise to the child's back and buttocks, bruising to her neck, head, left eyelid and left leg.

During the trial expert consultant paediatrician Dr Kathryn Ward said it was her view Ayeeshia had "a concerning pattern of a child presenting with significant injury".

Ricky Booth, the child's natural father, said in a court statement after the verdicts: "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."

Mrs Justice Geraldine Andrews said she would sentence Smith and Rigby on Monday.

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