Mum jailed for life for toddler‘s murder

The toddler died at Waikato Hospital, the same place she was born in 18 months.

WARNING: This story contains details of child abuse which readers may find distressing.

By the time the 18-month-old died, murdered by her own mother, she had one tooth that had been knocked out by blunt force trauma, a collarbone fracture and nappy rash so severe she had “large areas of skin peeling from her buttocks”.

For her murder, ill-treatment, injuring with intent to injure and for failing to seek medical care, the mother will spend the next 17 years behind bars.

Her sentence was life imprisonment with a minimum term of 17 years.

A last minute request for name suppression by defence lawyer Susan Gray​, citing “vitriol on social media” and her other three children, who “she loves very much” means the woman cannot at present be named.

She was sentenced on Friday at the High Court in Rotorua, and only now have legal suppressions ended that allow Stuff to report her guilty pleas to all charges, and the circumstances around the toddler’s murder back in 2018.

The toddler’s father watched the sentencing via audio visual link from prison, and was subject to abuse from members of the public gallery once sentencing was completed.

The 18-month-old died in Waikato Hospital in 2018, the same hospital she spent the first four months of her life after being born with a birth defect.

According to the police summary of facts, this meant she was “especially vulnerable and required an extra amount of care in the early stages of her life”.

Over eight pages, the summary is clear about the abuse suffered by the toddler at her mother’s hands.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced at the High Court in Rotorua on Friday. Photo: Dominico Zapata/Stuff.

“[The mother] would hit [her daughter] on a regular basis,” it said.

“These assaults were primarily to her head and face, but also to her body. [The daughter] had been seen by a number of people with two black eyes. She was also seen with a cut lip as a result of being hit in the face.”

The mother would also scratch her daughter “regularly over her body”.

“[She] was covered with extensive healing scratch marks all over her body, but particularly over her neck and chest areas,” the summary said.

She was also found to have a torn frenula injury “generally caused as a result of a forcible impact, such as a blow to the face” and a healing fracture to her collarbone.

“[A] significant break that was clearly visible to the naked eye, due to one of the bones protruding just below the skin,” the summary said.

“It would have been immediately noticeable to the defendant on a regular basis. The complainant would have been in significant pain.

“At no stage did the defendant seek any medical care for [her daughter] for this fracture.”

It was also found she had lost one tooth, and a second tooth, next to the missing one was “extremely mobile ... most likely caused by blunt force trauma, such as a blow to the teeth”.

“The defendant admitted that she would assault [her daughter] to the face and mouth area, causing her ‘fat lips’ and a bleeding mouth.”

Extensive soft tissues bruising was also identified on the toddlers limbs and torso that were “not consistent with the injuries being accidental in origin”.

Justice Graham Lang said a post-mortem found “extensive soft tissue brushing to almost every part of her body”.

An autopsy concluded she died from head injuries due to blunt force trauma.

The summary of facts also reveals that the mother called Healthline to say her daughter was unresponsive, being told it was “very urgent” she was seen by medical professionals.

“The nurse made two offers to call an ambulance, but both were declined,” the summary said.

“Two hours later ... the defendant placed a call to 111 requesting an ambulance.”

The ambulance officer believed the toddler was already dead and noted she wore just a small skivvy in the very cold house.

They also noted the mother “as being quite detached and more interested in returning the phone she had borrowed, than how seriously ill [the toddler] was”.

The toddler was transported by air ambulance to Waikato Hospital and placed on life support, before specialists from Waikato and Starship Hospital found she had sustained “an irreversible brain injury which was not survivable”.

“Around 10am on Tuesday 24 July, [her] life support machine was switched off and she passed away shortly afterwards.”

As well as the assaults, the subsequent police investigation uncovered the toddler was also subject to ongoing neglect.

She was malnourished, confined to a room for hours at a time and also had an ulcer under her chin, most likely caused by dribbling.

It was described as “large and raw”.

“Regular bathing and cleaning of [the daughter] would have properly dealt with the issue,” the summary said.

Their residence was also described as being in a “dreadful state”.

Cold, damp, broken windows, no working lightbulbs, old and rotting food on the floor of the living area as well as dirty nappies and “a mouldy bowl of noodles infested with maggots on the kitchen bench”.

“Cannabis and alcohol cans were found in various locations around the house.”

While the mother admitted assaulting her daughter on the day she finally sought medical attention for her, she denied any assaults to her head.

“The only explanation given was that [her daughter] had fallen down two concrete stairs on Saturday afternoon,” the summary said.

“She however stated that [she] landed on her shoulder.”

-Stuff/Benn Bathgate.

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