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31 May 2016, 12:33
A mother and her civil partner have been convicted of murdering her two-year-old son.
Toddler Liam Fee was found dead at his home near Glenrothes in Fife on March 22 2014, having suffered a ruptured heart as a result of severe blunt force trauma to his body.
His mother, Rachel Trelfa or Fee, 31, and partner Nyomi Fee, 29, had denied killing the child but were convicted of his murder following a seven-week trial at the High Court in Livingston.
The women, originally of Ryton, Tyne and Wear, were also found guilty of a catalogue of abuse against two other young boys, including one they falsely blamed for Liam's death.
The couple were convicted of all eight charges they faced, with a majority verdict returned on the murder charge after around 10 hours of deliberations by the jury.
In addition to the murder charge, they were found guilty of assaulting Liam over a period of more than two years prior to his death.
And they were convicted of ill-treating and neglecting him from January 2012 onwards by leaving him for prolonged periods of time, failing to provide him with adequate exercise and mental stimulation and - in the days leading up to his death - failing to get him proper medical attention for a broken leg and a fractured arm.
The jury also convicted them of four charges detailing a string of abuses against two other boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
These included forcing the youngsters to take cold showers when they wet the bed, imprisoning one in a home-made cage and tying another naked to a chair in a dark room where snakes and rats were kept.
The women were further found guilty of attempting to defeat the ends of justice after Liam died by, among other things, trying to pin the blame for the death on one of the young boys.
The women showed little emotion as the two verdicts were returned.
Liam's father Joseph Johnson was in tears as he left the court.
During seven weeks of deeply distressing evidence, the court heard that Liam suffered heart injuries similar to those found on road crash victims after a severe blunt force trauma to his chest and abdomen.
The pathologist who examined his lifeless body also found more than 30 external injuries on the toddler's body and fractures to the boy's upper arm and thigh.
Several members of the jury were reduced to tears as a police video showing the toddler's body was viewed by the court.
Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC told the court the women were guilty of "unyielding, heartless cruelty''.
The Fees had shown "callous indifference'' to Liam's suffering and had covered up his injuries, he said.
The Crown insisted it didn't matter which woman struck the blow which killed Liam because they had a common criminal purpose and were joined together in "a course of violent and cruel treatment towards the children''.
The court heard how there had been an escalation of violence towards Liam leading up to his death, which included the couple failing to get help for the toddler when they knew he had a broken leg and fractured arm.
The injuries would have left the child in intense agony, but instead of taking him to hospital, the Fees simply took to the internet, Googling terms such as "how do you die of a broken hip,'' "how long can you live with a broken bone?'' and "can wives be in prison together?''
Giving evidence, the women admitted serious failings over the lack of medical help sought for Liam and put it down to fears the child would be taken into care.
But they denied murder and tried to shift the blame for the killing on to a boy of only primary school age, who they claimed had been acting in a sexualised way towards Liam.
Such was his fear of the women, the boy initially told police and social workers that he had "strangled'' the toddler. But he later changed his story and it was clear that suffocation was not the cause of death.
The evidence also pointed to a significant delay between the discovery by the women that Liam was dead and the emergency services being contacted by a seemingly hysterical Nyomi Fee shortly before 8pm that night.
Putting self-interest ahead of the life of the little boy, the "panicking'' pair instead used the time to dismantle a makeshift cage they had built to imprison the youngster they accused of killing Liam.
With that, they showed a "wicked indifference'' to whether the "vulnerable and defenceless'' Liam lived or died, the court heard.
Judge Lord Burns deferred sentence on the couple until 9.30am on July 6 at the High Court in Edinburgh in order to get background reports.
Advocate Depute Alex Prentice told the court the pair had no previous convictions.
He said: "Liam's father has been in attendance both as a witness and on occasion in connection with the trial, and in particular in the closing phases in the trial, and was here today.
"It is impossible to express in words the sense of loss that he feels on the loss of Liam.
"That would extend to other members of his family and others who are all affected by the terrible circumstances which this case has revealed.''
Mr Prentice said the family had found it difficult to compile a victim impact statement but that one would be available for sentencing, when pleas of mitigation will also be made by Nyomi's counsel Mark Stewart QC and Brian McConnachie QC, representing Rachel.
The judge told the women: "I would like a social work report that I need to get in any event on your background before I pass sentence upon you.''
Both women remained expressionless as they were led from the court into custody.
The judge then addressed jurors, telling them they would be excused from jury duty for 10 years.
He said: "It's recognised, of course, that this sort of work is potentially highly distressing and difficult work, and requires you to take decisions which are quite unusual decisions and difficult ones with unfamiliar material and under unfamiliar circumstances, and for that reason alone I have to extend the court's thanks for the work that you have done.''