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Mum 'blamed boyfriend' for death of toddler Ellie-May, court told

Reece Hitchcott
Reece Hitchcott

The father of a toddler who died after being bound and restrained face down in her bed, has told how her mum blamed her boyfriend for the death.

Ellie-May Minshull-Coyle died aged just 19 months old in a “monstrous cage” which had been constructed around her bed in the flat she shared with her mother, Lauren Coyle and Reece Hitchcott.

Lauren Coyle

Lauren Coyle

Coyle, now 19, had begun living with Hitchcott in December 2016 - the same month that she told Ellie-May’s dad, John Minshull that she had cheated on him with Hitchcott and so he moved out of their first floor flat in Lostock Hall, Preston.

READ MORE: Toddler died tied up in cage bed
19-year-old Minshull , told a jury today (Thur) that as she had often lied to him, he did not know if she was telling him the truth about the affair but he left. They had been having difficulties with their relationship and she would take out her temper on him. “She ruined my day a lot,” he said.

After their daughter died on March 23 last year he had a meeting with her at her parent’s home to find out what had happened. “She was blaming Reece. I didn’t know if she was telling the truth or not.”

He told Liverpool Crown Court that she said Reece had used Velcro-straps to tie Ellie-May’s ankles. “She said Reece had got rid of the straps on the morning she was taken to hospital.”

The child was found by Coyle’s father, Sean Coyle, who had called round after messages from Coyle during the night expressing her frustration with Ellie-May not sleeping.

He found Hitchcott crouching down by the side of the bed and he believed he was trying to wake Ellie-May, who was lying on her back.

“When Mr Coyle looked at Ellie-May her eyes rolled back into her head and she looked ‘clammy’. Mr Coyle now knew that something terrible had happened to Ellie,” said Mr Tehrani.

The sides of the bed not against the wall were enclosed by the slatted sides of a cot which were tied together with ligatures and tied to the bed frame.

Sheets and bedding were placed over the sides of the 'monstrous cage' to prevent her seeing outside, there were no working lights in her bedroom and a mattress was covering the window, prosecuting QC Christopher Tehrani, has told the jury of six women and six men.

The little girl had been tied to the mattress of her bed with blankets tied tightly across her chest and legs and a duvet placed over her. Her ankles were also tied together and the sleeping position compromised her breathing, causing her death, he claimed.

There were also marks on the child's wrists and ankles, suggesting she had been tied to the 'cage' at some point.

A post-mortem examination carried out by Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour concluded her death was caused by 'forcible restraint by ligatures in a face-down position complicated by hyperthermia'.

Coyle, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston; Hitchcott, 20 of no fixed abode, and their lodger, Connor Kirby, 20, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool, all deny manslaughter.

They also each deny a charge of causing or allowing the death of the child, one charge of child cruelty by 'caging' the child in her bed, and another of child cruelty by restraining her in the bed.

Mr Minshull said today that he had “suspicions” about his daughter’s death believing “there would have been a lot more to it.”

He explained that they were both 15 when Coyle fell pregnant and after she told him this on his 16th birthday they discussed the situation and she wanted to keep the baby. She was living with her parents but they threw her out and so she moved in with him and his mum.

“Lauren decided she wanted a place of her own. I would have preferred living with my mum. I thought it was too much of a rush.”

The flat was a mess but he and his dad decorated it before they moved in. Despite advice to the contrary they let the baby sleep with them in their bed as they had trouble getting her to sleep.

He told how Coyle was “struggling” to cope and she was “very messy” and he said he became OCD at keeping it tidy. He often changed Ellie-May’s nappies as Coyle was “always on her phone to her mates.”

Asked by Hitchcott’s QC James Pickup if Coyle used to lose her temper with the child when she was crying he replied, “yes”.

As their relationship deteriorated they began arguing and she would shout at him. “‘She would say she was struggling and wanted a break, getting tired all the time. When she was tired she started getting more angry. She would take it out on me a lot.”

Text messages between her and Hitchcott were read to the court by Mr Tehrani including her repeatedly saying how stressed it was making her.

“I literally just fell like jumping in front of a train I just feel down with this child constantly being naughty and I’m so stressed out it makes me feel dizzy,” she wrote in one such message.

CCTV footage was captured at a job centre in Leyland where Coyle went with her dad and the tot the day before she was died and Coyle was allowed to leave the court while it was shown.

In a statement Nick Brooks, a security officer at the job centre in Leyland, said that the family regularly attended the centre and he used to pull tongues at the girl and she did the same back.

He described the toddler as “happy and smiling and talking to everyone” and said he had been “upset and shocked” to learn of her death.

The 999 call made by her dad was later played to the court and Coyle moved into a side room off the dock while that happened.

Mr Coyle followed resuscitation instructions from the operator until paramedics arrived and the jury heard that after these were unsuccessful the toddler was taken to the Royal Preston Hospital arriving an hour after the emergency call had been made.

The trial continues