The boyfriend of a young woman whose toddler died after being restrained in a “monstrous” caged bed, has denied tying up the little girl.
Reece Hitchcott denied tying 19-month-old Ellie-May Minshull-Coyle to the mattress of her bed and bound her ankles together.
The little girl’s mum, Lauren Coyle, has also disputed that she was to blame but Hitchcott, 20, said that he believed she was responsible.
His voice breaking with emotion he told the jury at Liverpool Crown Court how he had found the child unresponsive in the bed, to which he had lashed cot sides, about 9.30 am on March 23 last year.
He said he had put her to bed, along with the couple’s lodger, Connor Kirby, in the flat they shared in Ward Street, Lostock Hall, the previous evening and they had both told her they loved her and she said she loved them.
He was up three times in the night as she was crying and each time she settled after he gave her the dummy she had dropped but he then told Coyle that she would have to get up if she cried again as he had to get some sleep before going to work.
He got up for work at 7 am but rang in sick because of his bad back and fell asleep on the couch with Coyle cuddling up to him while he was watching a film. The next thing he knew he heard her dad, Sean Coyle, banging on the door and Coyle asked him to get Ellie-May up while she went to let her dad in.
He pulled her bed away from the wall “and then I saw Ellie on her back with sick coming out of her mouth. I noticed the mattress was curling up off the bed base. I had not seen that before. I wiped it (the sick) off with my hand and and wiped it on my clothes and then Sean walked in”, he said.
20-year-old Hitchcott said he knelt beside the bed and Sean asked if she was okay and was she breathing. “I said, ‘I think so’ and to the second question, ‘yes slightly’’. I put my ear to her mouth and I could hear her breathing very slightly.
“Her eyes were partly open like she was sleeping with her eyes open a little bit. I shook her left arm to try and wake her up. She felt very hot. I was saying her name.”
He said Sean Coyle demanded a phone and told him to get the child out of her bed. “I saw a blue blanket tied around Ellie and I could see a pink blanket hanging out at the bottom.”
Hitchcott said the blue blanket was not tied very tight and “I put my hands under her arm pits and pulled her up. I noticed she had something black around her legs.”
Asked by his QC James Pickup if it was easy to get her out, he replied, ’No.”
“I took her into Lauren’s bedroom and put her on the bed. Something black tied her legs together. Lauren ripped the material off her legs and threw it on the floor. She just gave me a look.”
Questioned whether he had placed any restraint on the toddler or put any ties on her wrists, he said, “No, never.”
A prosecution witness, Thai Bolton, has told the court that Hitchcott told him he had restrained Ellie-May with a blue blanket. Asked about this he said, “That is not correct.”
Earlier Hitchcott explained how he had known Coyle since they were at school as friends and ended up moving into her flat in Ward Street on the same day as her boyfriend, John Minshull, Ellie-May’s dad, moved out.
HItchcott said he had smoked cannabis since the age of 15 and left home a year later. While living with Coyle he was spending £100 - £150 a week out of his £250 wages on cannabis but not in front of the Ellie-May or in her room.
He admitted lashing the cot sides to the toddler bed and said Coyle said she was happy with that. Kirby had helped him put one side up, he added.
On Ellie-May’s last night the pink blanket was draped over the cot sides and the blue blanket was not there, he said.
The court has heard allegations that the child had been tied down in the bed by the pink and blue blankets and died due to “forcible restraint by ligatures in a face down position” possibly complicated by hyperthermia”.
Coyle, 19, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Hitchcott, of The Fieldings, Fulwood, Preston, and Kirby, 20, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool, have all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, causing or allowing the death of a child and child cruelty.
The trial continues.