Father gets 8 years for baby death
A father has been jailed for eight years for killing his baby daughter after being frustrated by her screaming as he tried to play a computer game.
Mark Sandland, 28, sobbed as he was sentenced for picking up five-week-old Aimee-Rose by her torso and shaking her during a sudden loss of temper.
He claimed he suffered an epileptic fit and came round to find his daughter underneath him at their flat in Church Road in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.
Police who attended the flat after Aimee-Rose was admitted to hospital on November 5 2012 found a PlayStation game controller on the sofa opposite the TV.
Sandland was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of lack of intent, which was accepted by the Crown.
Sentencing him at Hove Crown Court, Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said that after he inflicted the injuries, Sandland lied and sought to cover up his actions.
Prosecutor Sally Howes QC told Lewes Crown Court on Monday that Sandland's mobile phone internet history showed he logged on to a website offering tips on how to play Assassin's Creed 3 on his PlayStation at 2.22pm.
The detail of the website, giving step-by-step instruction, meant there would have been little point accessing it unless the game was being played, she added.
Mr Justice Sweeney said: "It's the Crown's case that thereafter, frustrated with the game and with Aimee-Rose screaming, you lost your temper and you assaulted her, gripping her torso hard and violently shaking her.
"Whilst it's impossible to identify the precise detail of what you did, the injuries that you caused Aimee-Rose speak for themselves."
Her injuries included bruising to her face, chest, abdomen, hip and lower limbs. She also suffered a range of other injuries, including subdural haemorrhages in a number of locations.
Some 16 minutes after Sandland logged on to the website giving tips on Assassin's Creed 3, he dialled 999.
Mr Justice Sweeney told him: "Whilst you have no recollection now of the fatal incident, it's obvious that at the time you appreciated what you had done and in consequence lied and sought to cover up what had actually happened.
"You pretended on the phone that you had a fit. You turned off the television to cover up the fact that you had been on the PlayStation.
"Thereafter you continued to lie and cover up to those who were trying to treat Aimee-Rose, although I stress that they wouldn't have done anything different if you had told the truth, and to the police."
The judge said there were a number of aggravating features, including the fact that Aimee-Rose was a vulnerable child aged just five weeks old.
In addition, he said Sandland was in a position of trust, made repeated false accounts to cover up his actions, and had shown no real remorse.
The judge accepted it was a "momentary" event lacking in premeditation and he sought emergency help, albeit giving a misleading account.
Mr Justice Sweeney said Sandland - who sobbed with his head down as he was sentenced - will serve half his jail sentence.
On release, he will be on licence for the remainder of his sentence and if he breaks the terms, will be liable for recall.
On the day of the fatal attack, Aimee-Rose's mother was attending her first class for an applied social science degree at the University of Brighton's Hastings campus.
During a break at around lunchtime, she sent Sandland a text message asking after Aimee-Rose, to which he replied: "She hasn't shut up since about half an hour after you left."
When an ambulance crew arrived, Sandland looked "panicked and anxious" and pointed to where she lay in the sitting room, her limbs in a star shape.
He told one member of ambulance staff: "I'm epileptic. I had a fit and when I woke up the baby was underneath me."
Aimee-Rose was admitted to the Conquest Hospital in St Leonards unconcious, unresponsive and, although a heart-beat was re-established, she was unable to maintain respiratory effort without life support.
She was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit at King's College Hospital, London, but died on November 9 2012.
Miss Howes said the combination of the post-mortem findings of recent head injury, recent traumatic laceration of the liver and recent fracture of the left clavicle was consistent with inflicted injury of the "shaking/impact type".
Sandland told a paediatric nurse at King's College Hospital that his partner left at 9.30am to go to university.
When Aimee-Rose woke up, Sandland told the nurse that he gave her a bottle, changed her nappy and put her in her bouncer chair before she fell asleep.
Later, he claimed she woke up and was whingeing, and he could not recall whether he picked her up while standing or sitting.
Sandland said he later woke up and his right arm was on the floor and he believed he had been on top of her, leaving her blue and lifeless.
Dr Hannah Cock, a consultant neurologist, found it was "highly unlikely" that a seizure was a substantial contributor to Aimee-Rose's injuries.
If he had suffered a seizure, Dr Cock would have expected him to drop anything he was holding and remember later.
Miss Howes said: "Even if he had fallen on to Aimee-Rose, her pattern of injuries is not consistent with a fall and crushing alone. Dr Cock would have expected more disturbance to adjacent furniture than reported."
One expert found Aimee-Rose sustained two episodes that had led to injury - one up to three weeks before she died and a second up to five days before death.
When Sandland was told he would be arrested, Miss Howes said he became upset and he said: "I suppose you are going to say that you know what it is like to be accused of killing your daughter."
In one police interview, he declined to answer most questions, except when he was asked if he had deliberately harmed her. He replied: "No."
Miss Howes said Sandland, who had an "unconventional upbringing" and was raised by his paternal grandparents, made suicide bids in 2006.
Two years later, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition of the peripheral nervous system, following which he began experiencing seizures.
But the court heard that no medical cause could be found to explain them and he was admitted to numerous hospitals between 2008 and 2012.
In the opinion of Dr Muhammad Chowdhury, consultant neurologist at the Conquest Hospital, his seizures had a "psychiatric rather than a neurological origin".
Sandland is said to have two to three seizures per week, and his triggers include photosensitivity, stress, lack of sleep and alcohol, Miss Howes said.
She went on: "All experts agree that the defendant's ability to cope with, and process, stress is poor.
"The incident of non-accidental injury to Aimee-Rose did not occur during a functional non-epileptic attack disorder (FNEAD). However, the fact that he does have fits of psychological origin as a response to stress, conflict and anxiety is a significant marker of his inability to cope with stress."
At Monday's hearing, defence counsel Lewis Power QC said Sandland had asked him to convey "contrition and remorse", adding: "He feels that one life is over, but his is too.
"There can be no greater tragedy in life than the death of a child. A young child, a life extinguished, compounded by the fact it was at the hands of a loving parent."
Mr Power said Sandland would forever "carry the heavy burden" knowing he has killed his daughter "and there can be very little that one can say for mitigation".
"This is a man who is unable to cope properly with stress," he said.
"These were not the actions of a reasonable man but a man who has struggled with various forms of medical diagnosis over the years.
"The best part of his mitigation is that he has pleaded guilty to this dreadful offence."