A toddler with learning and behavioural difficulties was allegedly killed by her mum’s boyfriend after she refused to eat her ham sandwich lunch, a jury has heard.
Jessica Dalgleish, a three-year-old girl from Kent, whose learning difficulties meant she could only speak a few words, suffered a fractured skull and died on Christmas Eve of 2019.
The prosecution alleged that Paul Marsh became “increasingly angry and frustrated” at caring for the toddler.
He was said to have taken the girl upstairs to her bedroom before throwing her forcefully onto her bed, causing her to hit her head on a hard surface and sustain what was described as a catastrophic brain haemorrhage.
Her life-support was switched off three days after the alleged assault.
Marsh, from Hythe, near Folkestone, Kent, has denied manslaughter and child cruelty.
The court heard that the 27-year-old told paramedics he had heard a bang from upstairs and believed Jessica had fallen down a flight of carpeted stairs.
At the start of his trial on Tuesday, prosecutor Jennifer Knight QC told the jury such an account of how Jessica sustained her fatal injury was ‘implausible’.
As well as the fracture to the back of her head, doctors found evidence of an older injury, which led Miss Knight to say the prosecution case is that Marsh not only unlawfully killed the tot, but had also ‘wilfully assaulted’ her in the three weeks prior to her death.
“The Crown’s case is that Paul Marsh began to assault Jessica when angry with her and that these assaults led to her sustaining bruising during December 2019,” she told the court.
“On December 21 2019 Paul Marsh, angered by Jessica’s refusal to eat her lunch, carried her upstairs and assaulted her once more, probably by throwing her forcefully down onto her bed and causing her head to be struck against the rail at the top of the bed, the wall or the side of the bed – a hard surface.”
Miss Knight said this impact caused the serious injury that led directly to Jessica’s death.
The little girl had suffered from what is known as global developmental delay and although her physical abilities were that expected for her age, she had not reached milestones in respect of her cognitive skills.
She could not communicate very well and would bang her head deliberately on a wall or floor when cross or frustrated.
The court also heard of how she was known to bite.
Jessica had also started to pull her hair out in clumps and so her head had been shaved to prevent her doing so.
However, she was said to have otherwise been healthy, prior to her death.
Jessica’s mum had met Marsh and become romantically involved with him while the pair were working at a residential home for adults with learning difficulties.
Marsh had no children of his own and no experience of looking after a child when he moved in with her in August 2019.
The prosecution said in their opening statement a witness told police that he was strict and would shout.
Miss Knight said that by September, he had demonstrated his “increasing anger and frustration” with any childcare issues to Jessica’s mum in text and Facebook messages.
In mid-December, nursery school staff began to notice bruising on Jessica to her eye, neck and left side of her head, which led to the tot being taken to A&E at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent. Despite this, no ‘high level’ safe-guarding issues were raised.
On the day of the alleged assault which led to Jessica’s death, her mum had gone to work early while Marsh had phoned in sick.
The court heard he was said to have been angered when the toddler did not eat her sandwich, and so carried her upstairs to her room then returned downstairs to watch football. Jessica was crying as she was put to bed, the prosecution said.
It was just after 3pm that he messaged Jessica’s mum to call him, and he then told her that her daughter had fallen down the stairs and seemed dazed.
Miss Knight told the court she had to repeatedly urge Marsh to phone for an ambulance as he appeared ‘reluctant’ to do so. When Jessica’s mum reached home, paramedics had already arrived to find the toddler lying on the sofa in a life-threatening condition.
Asked what had happened, Marsh was described as initially being ‘vague and non-specific’, and shrugging when asked how he knew she had fallen downstairs. His account of what happened raised suspicions among the attending paramedics, the prosecution told the jury.
The little girl was taken to London’s King’s College Hospital where it became clear her brain injury was irreversible. She subsequently died three days later.
Medical examinations revealed not only the fractured skull and brain haemorrhage but also bruising clustered around her face and head, and evidence of a previous, head injury,.
Pathologist Dr Nathaniel Cary therefore concluded that the injuries were caused by a ‘severe force impact to the back of the right side of the head’, rather than by falling.
“He (Dr Cary) observed that fatal accidental head injury in a domestic environment is vanishingly rare and not described in falls down the stairs suffered by children of Jessica’s age,” Miss Knight said. “The fatal head injury to Jessica was the result of a severe blunt impact to the back of the head.
Miss Knight also told the jury that the multiple bruises on the girl’s face and head were not consistent with everyday activities, but rather implied “gripping or focal impact”.
Marsh was arrested while at King’s College Hospital and interviewed. He told police he had been off work that day due to a recent family bereavement. Jessica had taken herself upstairs, he said, after not eating all of her lunch.
He also denied being angry with her over the sandwich.
It was while he was in the lounge checking the football scores that he said he then heard a ‘thud or bang’ and so ran up to see what had happened.
Marsh said that having found the youngster unresponsive, he carried her to the sofa downstairs and rang 999.
“Paul Marsh denied assaulting Jessica, saying he would never hurt children,” said Miss Knight.
The trial, which is expected to last up to four weeks, continues.