Poignant video footage of a toddler taken just five days before she died after allegedly being forcibly restrained face down in “monstrous” caged bed has been played to a jury.
The 90 second clip of 19-month-old Ellie-May Minshull-Coyle in a yellow dress and with her blonde hair in bunches was shown during the trial of her mum and two men, all accused of unlawfully killing her.
The clip, apparently taken in a pub-type environment with her eating crisps and drinking through a straw, was shown, along with stills from it, to demonstrate what Home Office pathologist Alison Amour described as “a bruise/mark consistent with a ligature mark” on her left wrist.
Giving her evidence about the death of the toddler, who was found unresponsive at her home in Ward Street, Lostock Hall, on the morning of March 23 last year, Dr Armour said she had found a healing abrasion to the back of her left wrist during a post mortem examination and that was what the video showed.
She went on to explain to the jury of five women and seven men the other marks and injuries she found during her examination and her conclusions following her pathological findings and examination of the scene.
Ellie-May’s 19-year-old mother, Lauren Coyle and her then boyfriend’s friend, Connor Kirby, 20, who was lodging with them, were excused from being in court while the evidence was given.
Her boyfriend at that time, Reece Hitchcott, also 20, sat alone in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court, at times wiping away tears, and studiously looking down and not at the slides, shown on a screen, depicting the marks found on the child.
Christopher Tehrani, QC, prosecuting, has alleged that sheets and blankets had been placed around Ellie-May’s Disney-themed toddler bed to which slats from her cot had been lashed, so she could not see out, and she had been tied to the mattress with blankets tightly bound across her chest and legs.
Her ankles were also tied together and her face-down sleeping position compromised her breathing and she was unable to kick off her duvet possibly leading to hyperthermia. There were also marks on the child's wrists and ankles, suggesting she had been tied to the 'cage' at some point, he has alleged.
Asked by Mr Tehrani if she had come to a conclusion about the toddler’s cause of death, Dr Armour replied, “Yes, forcible restraining by ligatures in a face down position complicated by hyperthermia.”
She explained that she believed Ellie-May had been face down because of a pressure mark to her right lower lip caused by her dummy and hypostasis, which is pooling of blood after death, to the front of her body, legs and arms.
She said she believed she had been restrained in that position because of marks showing her ankles had been tied together with a soft material, possibly a black sock found by her pillow or a piece of velcro, and marks on her legs matched where a pink ligature was found completely tightly encircling the mattress.
The court has heard that a blue blanket had also allegedly been used to restrain her, though this was found untied, and Dr Armour said this would have coincided with an area on her chest where there had been pressure.
She said that four abrasions on the inside of her left wrist were consistent with scratches caused by Ellie-May using her other hand to release a ligature on it. The doctor said that from her visit to the victim’s bedroom she believed the pressure mark to underside of her left wrist was consistent with it being tied with a white flex from a bedside lamp.
The court has heard that that flex, which was still attached to the lamp, was among ligatures used to tie the cot slats to the sides of the bed resulting in a construction which Lauren’s dad described to the court as “something that should be in hell.”
Dr Armour said that marks to Ellie-May’s right arm could be consistent with being restrained but explained, “I cannot say with a degree of certainty because these marks are more vague than the left wrist.”
She also told how she had found tiny haemorrhages to the back of the toddler’s throat which were seen in cases such as smothering or strangulation and the child would have been “struggling to breathe”, she said.
Further questioned by Mr Tahrani the pathologist said that a child would become increasingly distressed if unable to extricate itself from the position it was in. “If ligatures are not released their breathing becomes difficult to such a degree that it will eventually cause the child to die.”
Ellie-May’s grand-dad has told the court that when he found her she was ‘clammy’ to the touch and asked if having the duvet over her would have added to her distress, Dr Armour replied, “In my view, yes.”
As well as the manslaughter charge, Coyle, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston; Hitchcott, 20 of no fixed abode, and Kirby, 20, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool also each deny a charge of causing or allowing the death of the child, one charge of child cruelty by 'caging' the child in her bed, and another of child cruelty by restraining her in the bed.