A 21-month-old toddler ‘Baby Ayeeshia’ was murdered when her mother stamped on her chest until her heart ripped.It has now emerged that the child was failed by social workers who put her drug addict mother first and let their concern for her overshadow the child’s welfare.
Baby Ayeeshia–Jayne Smith, aka AJ, was repeatedly let down by Derbyshire County Council social services before her violent death at the hands of Kathryn Smith in 2014. Last year, Smith, 23, was jailed for a minimum of 19 years and her boyfriend Matthew Rigby, 22, was jailed for three years and six months for his “failure to act” to stop her.
Tuesday, a serious case review examining the child’s death was released and it revealed that social workers “missed danger signs” about Ayeeshia’s safety.
Ayeeshia was emaciated, weighing just 20lbs when she died after being attacked with such force she suffered a fatal heart injury, three broken ribs and bit through her own tongue. Derbyshire County Council knew of drug use, violence, and child neglect at the home where the toddler lived, but they kept the child with her violent mother until she was killed in May 2014 because her needs “overshadowed” Ayeeshia’s.
Smith, who was addicted to cannabis, kept drugs bought with her benefits in Ayeeshia’s drinking cup, smoked the drug throughout her pregnancy and was high when she beat Ayeeshia. The report into the youngster’s death noted a number of medical incidents and minor injuries involving the toddler between January and April 2014, the most significant being hair loss and a suspected convulsion.
When things got worse, the baby was taken into foster care where she put on weight, started using words and her hair grew back. But she was then given back to her mother because care professionals believed her parenting skills were “more than adequate”, the report said.
Born to Kathryn Smith and biological father Ricky Booth on July 15, 2012, AJ began suffering domestic abuse shortly after her birth, and in May 2013, before she was 1 year old, she was taken into foster care but was released months later to her mother. This was 7 months before she died.
The abuse continued and the child’s biological father Ricky Booth twice reported injuries she had suffered to social workers but claimed they “weren’t interested”. Ricky Booth told the review he had not been listened to or consulted by health professionals, especially while voicing concerns about her safety.
A summary of the report stated: “An attitude of professional curiosity requiring practitioners to examine the lived experience of (Ayeeshia-Jayne) was often missing by all agencies. The needs of (Smith) overshadowed the needs of (Ayeeshia-Jayne) frequently.”
It also emerged that three weeks before the murder social workers filled out forms for the baby to be taken into care but the papers were never sent. The report also said there had been a decision to draw up a child protection plan when baby AJ was born but professionals then became too focused on the needs of Smith as a potential victim of domestic abuse from her new partner so they let her keep the baby.
Ayeeshia died from a tear to the heart which triggered a fatal heart attack. Paramedics had been called to Smith and Rigby’s maisonette, in Stretton, Burton-on-Trent, shortly after 4 p.m. that day. When the mother called 999, she claimed Ayeeshia had a seizure and when the operator asked if she is breathing she said: “No there’s nothing, she’s gone”.
Smith and Rugby were arrested when a post-mortem examination revealed her injuries. Experts said her injuries were so severe she resembled a high-speed car crash victim, and previous bruises, wounds and even a brain injury was missed by doctors who examined her before she died. The mother had beaten her that her ribs shattered and she was missing tufts of hair when she died. It also found she had suffered a number of previous injuries in the run up to her death, including bruises to her back and buttocks, head, neck, left eyelid and left leg, as well as a “life-threatening bleed to the brain”.
Commenting on the report Jane Parfrement, the director of Children’s Services at Derbyshire County Council, said the authority accepted its findings in full.
Ms Parfrement said: “For those issues where practice could have been stronger, we apologise to the family, and have already apologised to the family. I think in particular, having met with Ayeeshia-Jayne’s dad yesterday, I think we could have engaged him a lot better, worked with him differently. I think the tone of our work with him was set quite early on, when there were difficulties in the relationships with social workers.”
Although the report’s authors said the killing could not have been predicted, they said care professionals “should have been more inquisitive” about the impact of Smith’s new partner and her other relationships on the safety and health of Ayeeshia-Jayne.
Among nine recommendations made in the report was a call for fathers and other male partners to be adequately supported and assessed, even if they are not the primary carer.