A toddler died after being restrained face down by ligatures in her bed, which had been turned into a “cage”, a jury heard today.
A duvet had been placed over 19-month-old Ellie-May Minshull-Coyle, whose ankles had also been bound together, and this would have impacted on her ability to control her body temperature, causing her “immense suffering, distress and upset”, claimed prosecuting QC Christopher Tehrani.
“By being restrained in her bed in a face down position the prosecution say Ellie-May’s breathing would have become compromised. She would not have been able to move off her front due to being restrained to allow her to resume breathing properly.
“Ellie-May at some point, say the prosecution, vomited onto her bedding and pillow. Eventually her heart stopped beating and she stopped breathing. The placing of the duvet over her body would have complicated matters further and may well have resulted in hyperthermia.
“The prosecution’s case is that Ellie-May’s death was unneccessary, pointless and wholly avoidable,” he said.
At the time of her death on March 23 last year the toddler was living with her teenage mum Lauren Coyle, 19, and her mum’s boyfriend Reece Hitchcott, 20, and lodger Connor Kirby, 20, in Lostock Hall. Coyle had split up with Ellie-May’s father the previous December.
All three are on trial at Liverpool Crown Court denying manslaughter; causing or allowing her death and two charges of child cruelty.
Opening the prosecution case Mr Tehrani said that the trio, each in their different ways, were responsible and/or took on responsibility for the child’s care and welfare.
He alleged that Hitchcott had built the cage, which he described as “a monstrous structure” against the two sides of Ellie-May’s toddler bed which were not against the wall.
The jury of six women and six men were shown photographs of the bed showing slats and sides from her cot had been attached to it and towels and sheets were draped over them so the child could not see out in the unlit bedroom or get out.
It is alleged that the little girl had been forcibly tied to the bed on more than one occasion and restraint marks on her body showed she had had at least one wrist and one ankle tied.
The court heard that Coyle and Hitchcott had been in a relationship for about three months and lived in a two bedroomed flat in Ward Street and Hitchcott’s friend, Kirby, had been lodging with them for a number of months, sleeping on the sofa.
“During the night of 22 - 23 March 2017 Ellie-May appears to have been unsettled..At some point during the course of the night Ellie-May was placed in a very dangerous sleeping environment ….by mid-morning on March 23 Ellie-May was dead,” claimed Mr Tehrani.
Mr Tehrani said that on March 22 Ellie-May had been “full of life and mischievous” and had a good appetite. Evidence suggested that Hitchcott assisted by Kirby put her to bed about 7.30 pm and she slept well until shortly after midnight after which she was unsettled.
At some point Coyle sent a snap chat message to a friend saying, “This child is p*** me off tonight.” In messages to her dad, Sean Coyle, she told how she had left the child to cry for two hours as ‘she’s taking the mick now.” He told her “not to have a go at Ellie-May’ and to ‘grin and bear it.”
Her father Sean Coyle called round sometime between 9 - 9.30 am to check on his daughter and grand-daughter and she told him to be quiet as Ellie-May was sleeping. When he went into her bedroom Hitchcott was crouched over her bed in a gap between the end of the bed and the wall and he believed he was trying to wake Ellie-May, who was lying on her back.
He asked if she was okay and he replied, “yeah I think so”. Mr Tehrani suggested, “You may think that was an unusual response, he had got to know her and treated her as if she was his own daughter.”
Mr Coyle realised something was not right and when he asked if she was breathing Hitchcott shook her arm. “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.”
An ambulance was called and returning to the bedroom Mr Coyle told Hitchcott to get Ellie-May, who still had the duvet over her, to get her out of bed. Hitchcott pulled the covers about half way down the bed and put his hands under her torso and pulled and lifted her up.
Mr Tehrani queried whether he was struggling to do so as her feet and legs were tied by the pink blanket and other material and he had not had time to unbind her.
Despite Mr Coyle and then paramedics trying to resuscitate her the efforts were unsuccessful and she was taken to the Royal Preston Hospital arriving at 10.30 am but was declared dead at 10.47 am.
He told the jury that after her collapse the police attended and it was found that a pink and a blue blanket had been used as ligatures going under the mattress. The blue one which would have corresponded with Ellie-May’s chest area was undone but the pink one which would have corresponded with her legs was knotted and tied so tightly the sides of the mattress were raised off the bed frame by 25 cms.
Coyle later told police that Hitchcott had been binding her daughter across the chest with the blue blanket since mid-January saying it would help her settle into a sleep routine and stop her banging her head on the wall. She said was not aware it restricted her breathing and she did not approve of the action and never did it herself.
Her mum, Loouise Coyle, had told her about a month earlier to remove a mattress from the window, there to keep out the light, and the sheeting and towels from over the bed as it was unsafe. Coyle had also been given ‘safe sleep’ practice by a health visitor and told to put her to sleep on her back.
Kirby said Hitchcott had built the cage and attached it with his help in January last year. Hitchcott allegedly told a friend after the child’s death that he had restrained her in her bed on the night on 22-23 March by tying the blue blanket around her.
Four days later Coyle allegedly told a police man that on the morning of the death when she was removed from the bed she noticed black material around her ankles which Hitchcott admitted putting there and apologised.
When arrested and interviewed Coyle said Hitchcott had secured and restrained her daughter in the bed and he usually put her to bed with Kirby shining a light from his mobile phone to illuminate the room.
In a later interview she said she knew it was wrong for her to be restrained by the blue blanket but was too scared to say anything.
Hitchcott declined to answer most questions when interviewed but denied any wrongdoing. “He said he treated Ellie-May as if she was his own daughter and remained heartbroken about her death,” said Mr Tehrani.
Kirby told police that the cage had been constructed so the girl could not get out. On the fateful night he helped Hitchcott put her to bed and she said, “I love you” before they left the room. He said he did not see what if anything Hitchcott was doing after she got into her bed but it took a long time.
He described HItchcott as “a controlling person” and “an absolute asshole” if he did not get his own way. He had helped put up one side of the cage and while he did not agree with the way it was constructed “he did not say anything as he was scarred of getting thrown out as he had nowhere to go.”
The trial against Coyle, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston; Hitchcott, of no fixed abode, and Kirby, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool - formerly Windrows, Skelmersdale, which is expected to last three to four weeks, continues.