A judge who locked up baby killer Jennifer Crichton has said she showed no remorse for the murder.
Crichton was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 21.5 years, at Liverpool Crown Court on Wednesday.
Jailing her, the judge, Mr Justice Holgate, described her as “self-centred, deceitful and manipulative” and a woman who had lied to 'save her own skin'.
Crichton, 35, of Slater Lane, Leyland, had denied murder and three charges of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and child neglect towards another child but was convicted in February after a trial at Preston Crown Court.
Near the end of the prosecution case in the five week trial Crichton, who had sought to blame the baby’s innocent dad, admitted lesser charges of manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm but those pleas were not accepted. She did not give evidence.
At the time of the fatal attack on April 17 last year on Amelia, who had been born more than three months prematurely and spent six months in intensive care in hospital, had spent just 16 days at home under a social service care plan outsourced to a local social care provider.
Despite weighing just 1lb 4oz when she was born on 8 September 2016, Amelia made good progress and was a “placid and contented” baby. Support workers stayed overnight at her home until the hours were reduced to 6 - 11 pm to help Crichton deal with her and an older child in the busy evening times.
On the night Amelia was fatally attacked, Crichton had been asked by her social worker to take over feeding her daughter, but replied: “No, you do it,” and went for a cigarette instead.
The social worker left at 11pm leaving Crichton alone with the baby and an hour and 20 minutes later she called 999 having inflicted the fatal injuries.
Amelia’s injuries included severe bleeding on the brain, in her right eye and a complex skull fracture, as well as with internal bleeding along the length of her spine. She died in hospital two days after the attack on 19 April 2017.
The judge told pony-tailed Crichton, who showed no emotion, that the injuries to Amelia were caused by shaking her in a “vigorous and violent “ manner such that any person would recognise that they were causing serious harm to the baby.
“The force of the shaking would have caused the brain to rotate within the skull and the spinal cord to flex and stretch resulting in sheared blood vessels.”
She then caused a large complex fracture to the right side of her skull. “It required a high energy forceful impact, a strike of a violent nature.
"Looking at the evidence overall, I am sure that the defendant either forced Amelia down to the ground, as she had previously done with the other child, or she struck her head on to a hard surface.”
She told medics and police that Amelia had suddenly let out a great scream, fitted, went limp and stopped breathing and she did not explain the skull fracture. She later told hr brother she was waiting for the prosecution evidence so she could “build a defence.”
But she could not explain the injuries and in December “she came up with a wholly new story” and claimed that Amelia’s dad, Richard Sheppard, had returned and during a row he pushed her and she fell on Amelia who was lying in a baby bouncer.
All the professionals involved then had to further investigate and fortunately mobile phone evidence, including a text from Crichton, showed he had not been at the house and he had been asleep in his own home.
“This deplorable attempt to blame Mr Sheppard has caused him and his family a good deal of additional distress,” said the judge.
She changed her pleas during the trial as she “must have realised that her ‘December defence’ had been holed below the water line. Her guilty pleas were an obvious damage limitation exercise.
“As in the past, the defendant told these lies simply to save her own skin. She had no compunction about implicating Amelia’s father.
“In this and in other parts of the trial she revealed herself to be self-centred, deceitful and manipulative, and lacking in any real remorse. As a further example, in 2016 she denied to social services that she was pregnant with Amelia and caused them to brand Mr Sheppard as a liar on this point,” he said.
He added that Mr Sheppard had provided a moving victim personal statement. He had been looking forward to his daughter’s future.
“Amelia’s death at the hands of her mother only a few days later has had a devastating effect on him and on Amelia’s family. Their pain over losing a much-loved young child, and her life being so cruelly cut short, will endure.”
Judge Holgate said that Crichton's earlier attacks on another child, referred to only as ‘M’, some years ago involved her gripping the child’s rib cage “in a violent and traumatic fashion. A great deal of force was required to fracture the ribs. M would have suffered very great pain and distress and screamed and cried for about 30 minutes. “
The second incident happened two weeks later when she again compressed the rib cage and caused a complex skull fracture. “The fracture could only have been caused by the defendant either dropping the child from above chest height or throwing the child forcibly down on to a hard surface,” he said.
He continued, “It is plain that the defendant was in a violent temper. The act which caused the fracture to the skull was deliberate and not accidental. The defendant threw M to the floor.”
A substantial swelling rapidly developed but she told her sister she could not take the victim to the doctor or she would be blamed. The defendant knew about the head injury, but she put herself first.
She took the child to the doctor two days later by which time the swelling measured three centimetres by three centimetres but fortunately M responded well to treatment. The judge said that Crichton had “blatantly lied” about how the injuries occurred.
“The defendant’s twists and turns about what happened during these attacks reveal her to be a manipulative individual,” he said, adding that her decision to offer pleas during the trial was a tactical manoeuvre.
The judge sentenced her to 11 years to run concurrently for injuring the other child with nine months concurrent for the child neglect.
Crichton had been arrested by police after causing those injuries to M but she was not charged.
A serious case review involving police and social services is currently nearing completion.
Simon Jackson, QC, defending, said that the defendant had had a “very difficult and tragic life although nothing compares to the impact on others of the consequences of her actions.”
He told the court, “She has belatedly expressed regret, not for herself but for what she has caused.”
Her mum had died when she was only an infant, a brother died through addiction and another brother was also a heroin addict but survived having learnt the lessons of his brother’s death. She became homeless at 14 and at 16 formed a relationship with an older man.
“All these factors have influenced the personality off the woman who went on to commit these offences because she had issues of detachment,” he said. “She was predisposed to mental disorder because of her childhood experiences.”
He said that medical reports show she is a vulnerable woman who had been suffering from mild to moderate depression which led to irritability and she was probably also genetically pre-disposed to such conditions. “She did not have the same reservoir of emotional restraint.”
He said that Amelia’s death followed “a momentary loss of control.” She had had a difficult time after the baby was born as there was the prospect she would not survive and she was also under the pressure that she might be taken into care.
A “tragic and poignant snapshot” showed on the fateful evening a care worker settling the baby and Crichton was “loving, considerate and caring. And then just one hour 20 minutes later tragedy unfolds.”
Referring to the other child injured years earlier Mr Jackson said that the injuries occurred in two separate incidents. In the the first the child suffered fractured ribs through squeezing and he said that Crichton would not have realised those injuries had been caused.
Those attacks also followed a loss of control and she had been “at the end of her tether.”
Mr Jackson said that the false accusations against the baby’s father, Richard Sheppard, ”was a desperate attempt to avoid facing up to who she had done…It was just another element of this woman’s personality that she does not have the same insight and understanding of the consequences of her actions on others and it was just a dreadful thing to have done.”
After the sentencing Brett Gerrity from the CPS said: “Amelia Crichton was a small, defenceless baby who suffered catastrophic injuries at the hands of her mother, who should have been caring for her and ensuring she didn’t come to any harm.
“Jennifer Crichton denied any responsibility for her death, even blaming an innocent person, until four weeks into the trial when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. We did not accept the plea as we were satisfied that the injuries which led to her death were deliberately inflicted. The jury having heard the evidence agreed and convicted her of murder. Jennifer Crichton has shown no remorse and during the trial refused to explain to the jury how Amelia was fatally injured.
“This was a difficult and complex case that involved a large amount of evidence from a number of medical experts. The CPS worked very closely with investigators and prosecuting counsel in reviewing the case and clearly presenting this evidence to the jury. Our thoughts go to Amelia's family and we hope today's sentence brings them some sense of justice."