A young girl contracted swine flu and died two years after she was seriously injured when her father shook her, a court heard today.
Benjamin Curtis, 30, of Eastbourne, East Sussex, was today jailed for two years at Guildford Crown Court in Surrey after admitting the manslaughter of Ocean Elliott, as his trial was due to begin.
Curtis - who had already served 20 months in prison for assault, imposed before two-year-old Ocean died - was told by Mr Justice Nicol that the results of his shaking were ‘catastrophic’.
Joanna Glynn QC, prosecuting, said the swine flu which killed Ocean ‘is really neither here nor there’.
She told the court: ‘Whatever the organism that attacked her body would almost certainly have killed her, because her system was so affected by the neurological injuries she had sustained.’
Ms Glynn said Ocean died on August 2009 having contracted the H1N1 virus the previous month, but by that time she was already severely ill - following the shaking more than two years beforehand.
In April 2007, when she was three and a half months old, she had sustained serious neurological injuries inflicted on her by her father, Ms Glynn said. These included injuries to the brain and eyes.
‘These injuries were so bad that they left Ocean disabled with severely delayed development, functionally blind and suffering from seizures (which) the doctors found difficult to control.’
She could not sit up on her own, walk or clear secretions from her respiratory system ‘which caused her to suffer from coughs, colds and pneumonia’. Ocean was aged two and a half when she died.
Ms Glynn added: ‘It is clear, and accepted in the plea, that the shaking in 2007 was a significant contributory factor to the cause of death.’
Curtis pleaded guilty at the start of his trial in February 2008 to assault, and jailed for 20 months. He said Ocean was crying and screaming, he lost control momentarily and shook her about four to five times back and forth. He was tired and frustrated and had no intention to cause serious harm.
The judge told Curtis: ‘Like most babies, she cried. You picked her up and shook her four or five times. You may have been tired. You may have been uncertain as to how to placate Ocean.
‘You may have been cross with your partner. But none of that is any excuse whatsoever for your loss of temper and mistreatment of that baby. The results were catastrophic.’
The judge said he acknowledged that Curtis’ actions had no intentional malice to the baby.
He added: ‘Consequences matter and when the consequences become the more serious they can lead, as in your case, to more serious charges.’
He would make a reduction in the sentence for the fact that Curtis had been prosecuted already for the same wrongful act.
The judge said that if Curtis had contested the present charge, he would have given him three years, but because of Curtis’s plea of guilty, he would reduce it to two.
Ms Glynn had told the court that Ocean’s mother Lisa Elliott, now 29, had started her relationship with Curtis in 2005, and there was disharmony, with each adult enduring violence from the other.
Ms Elliott had signed an agreement with social services that she would not leave her daughter on her own with Curtis. But she did not comply with this, including on the evening of the assault.
She left the address where they were living in Woking, Surrey, to go to bingo with a friend.
Vincent Coughlin QC, defending, had told the court: ‘We accept the defendant must return to prison.’
He said it had been pointed out in a report that Curtis in 2008 had taken responsibility for his actions ‘and would do anything to turn back the clock’.
He was of low intelligence, and presented as an individual vulnerable in his own right.
Ms Elliott said on leaving court: ‘Where is the justice? Two years isn’t long enough, what will he serve, a year of that? I would have preferred five years.
‘At least then he would serve two and a half years - about the same time that Ocean had to live. She’s a child, babies cry. The only reason I left him that night was because I knew there was going to be World War Three between us, I thought by going out it might defuse it.
‘If I for one second had known that he would lay his hand on my child, I would never have left her.’