Three-year-old hurt in acid attack screamed "I hurt!", court told
A three-year-old boy who was burned in an acid attack allegedly plotted by his father screamed "I hurt" over and over again after being struck, a court has heard.
The youngster, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, suffered serious burns to his face and arm at the Home Bargains store in Worcester on July 21 last year, during a parental custody dispute triggered by his father.
The 40-year-old father is charged with conspiring to unlawfully or maliciously cast or throw sulphuric acid on or at the boy between June 1 and July 22, with intent to burn, maim, disfigure or disable the minor, or do grievous bodily harm to him.
The Crown alleged the father, stung by his wife walking out on him and taking the children in April 2016, "enlisted others" to attack the youngster in a bid to win more contact with the child.
Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC, opening the case, said: "We say the evidence suggests that, in an effort to ensure his application was successful, he was willing to manufacture evidence of injuries to his children in an attempt to show that his wife was unable properly to care for them - in other words she was an unfit mother."
Facing the same charge are Adam Cech, 27, of Farnham Road, Birmingham; Jan Dudi, 25, of Cranbrook Road, Birmingham; Norbert Pulko, 22, of Sutherland Road, London; Martina Badiova, 22, of Newcombe Road, Handsworth, Birmingham; Saied Hussini, 42, of Wrottesley Road, London; and Jabar Paktia, 42, of Newhampton Road, Wolverhampton.
They all deny the allegation.
Continuing his opening on Wednesday, Mr Rees told Worcester Crown Court the incident was caught on Home Bargains' CCTV, before showing the footage to jurors.
The mother of the boy had driven to the store with her children at about 2pm to buy a party gift.
Roadside CCTV established she was followed by a Vauxhall Vectra, allegedly containing Cech, Dudi and Pulko.
At 2.13pm she and the children went inside the store, followed shortly after by the three men, with shop CCTV showing Cech approaching the victim who is standing with his brother.
Both youngsters are gazing at a brightly coloured display of plastic footballs at the end of an aisle.
The victim can be seen pointing up at the footballs, with his sibling doing practice kicks, as a man in a white T-shirt, identified without dispute in court as Cech, walks past the victim with his arm extended and an object in his hand.
As Cech exits the frame, the victim can be seen looking quickly back towards him before running to his mother nearby.
Mr Rees told jurors: "What you have just seen is that person in a white T-shirt - you can just catch the moment where the arm is extended.
"That really is the hub of this case. That is the acid attack. It is over in a split second.
"You have, in shot, Mr Cech - there's no dispute of that - extending his arm, out towards the child."
The boy can then be seen in distress, being comforted by his mother and siblings.
Mr Rees said: "His mother was a short distance away as the attack is carried out, and the sister heard the victim scream out, 'I hurt, I hurt, I hurt'.
"He was shouting and crying and ran towards his mother holding his left arm. He showed his mother his arm but, at first, she could not see anything.
"His eyes were closed and his mother was concerned that something may have spilt on him.
"She went to check the area near the football display but could not see anything on which he could have hurt himself."
He added: "The three males left the store within moments of each other."
The boy suffered a 10cm burn to his left forearm, and a 3cm burn on his forehead, which needed specialist hospital treatment.
The youngster has since made "a good recovery", Mr Rees added.
The Crown's QC earlier told jurors there had been an "aborted attempt", eight days before the attack, near a school.
Prosecutors said an eagle-eyed neighbour, concerned at two men and a woman hanging around in a black Vauxhall Astra near the school on July 13, took photos alleged to be of Hussini, Pulko and Badiova.
One of the men was wearing "clear plastic gloves".
Mr Rees said it is alleged that man was the "tattooed" Pulko, with Hussini in the driver's seat, and Badiova walking "back and forth" between the car and school, acting as a "lookout".
Mr Rees said a CCTV camera on the side of a shop then captured Pulko at 3.19pm approaching the mother and her children as they left school, "with an object in his left hand".
"As they approached the entrance to the car park, Pulko was almost within touching distance of the child, who was holding his mother's hand," said Mr Rees.
"As the mother and her children walked into the car park, Pulko stops following them and crosses the road.
"The prosecution suggest that the plan was for Mr Pulko to squirt acid on the child but he pulled out or aborted because there were too many people around."
The Crown said the child's father was "updated" by phone two minutes later about the attempt by Pulko and Paktia.
The neighbour's sighting was reported to police but officers "weren't able to attend immediately before the Astra and its three occupants left, as it was not deemed to be an emergency".
Describing the hours leading up to the July 21 attack, Mr Rees said a witness spotted what is alleged to have been Cech, Dudi and Pulko, by a Vauxhall Vectra near the mother's address, acting "weird".
"He (the witness) saw one of the men pour liquid from a bottle on to the other two men's hands, before pouring it on his own hands," said Mr Rees.
"The prosecution suggest the apparent washing of the hands episode would be consistent with the handling of some sort of corrosive fluid, such as acid."
During this time, Paktia, back in Wolverhampton, was in telephone contact with Pulko and the child's father and was "at the hub of things, co-ordinating".
The trial, estimated to last six weeks, will hear evidence from the victim's mother later on Wednesday.