Murder-Accused Shropshire Parents' Jail Question

25 February 2015, 17:22 | Updated: 25 February 2015, 17:26

A mother and father from Shropshire who deny murdering their baby boy asked about possible jail terms they might face, while he lay mortally injured in hospital, a court has heard.

Ashlea and Paul Thomas are on trial at Birmingham Crown Court accused over the killing of their 11-month-old son Oliver Sargent in Telford, in 2012.

Andrew Smith QC said it was the Crown's case "Oliver had been subjected to a deliberately inflicted injury immediately before his collapse'', four days before his eventual death.

What he called the "episode of injury'' involved, according to medical evidence, "shaking, together with at least one impact to the left side of the back of the head''.

Post-mortem examinations later revealed Oliver had an 8cm (3.5ins) Y-shaped skull fracture, bleeding on the brain and evidence of haemorrhaging in both eyes.

A pathologist recorded 13 marks, apparent scars, and abrasions on the child's body and face, "some of which could have been of differing ages'', according to Mr Smith.

Further investigations found historic injuries, including two fractured ribs and broken left collar bone, which had all healed.

Oliver was rushed to hospital after his father called 999 from the couple's home on the evening of July 27 2012, to tell medics his boy had stopped breathing.

The youngster was taken to the local hospital, but eventually transferred to Birmingham Children's Hospital.

While there, Mr Smith said a nurse overheard Mrs Thomas ask her mother "how long do you think I am going to get'', but later telling police it was a reaction to ``everyone pointing the finger'' of blame.

Her partner, after the couple's arrest, also asked a police officer "what sort of prison sentence one might get for what happened to Oliver'', added the Crown's QC.

But Thomas later told officers this was an innocent inquiry, and no indication he had attacked his son.

The 29-year-old also "tentatively'' ventured the family's pet dog Rocco may have injured the boy by accidentally "sitting on him'', telling police the whole thing was "a mystery''.

Ashlea Thomas, a nursery nurse, and her husband, a builder, had been under "stress'' over financial worries immediately prior to their son's death, Mr Smith said.

They had only moved in together at their home in Priory Way, Telford, a few weeks before the call to the emergency services.

Mr Smith added that 21-year-old Mrs Thomas and her partner also gave different accounts to medical staff over which of them had in fact discovered Oliver, as he lay "lifeless'' in his cot at home that night.

It emerged in court that in the months before his death, Oliver was taken to the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford three times, complaining to doctors that he was "vomiting'' and could not keep down food or drink.

But on each occasion, the baby was discharged - despite bruises being seen on his body - having variously been diagnosed with "gastroenteritis'', "constipation'', and "a viral illness'' said Mr Smith.

It emerged that during an admission to the hospital on June 30 2012, a nurse spotted "bruising on his back in two separate places'', while a junior doctor then found marks on one of his legs and a rash around his neck.

"Asked how these were caused, neither could give an answer,'' Mr Smith said.

After a further examination by a senior doctor and then, the following day, a consultant, an explanation was accepted that the bruising was "caused by rolling over his toys''.

But during that stay in hospital, an incident was observed by a nurse, where the boy's father "took hold of Oliver's left arm and leg and flipped him over from his back onto his right side saying 'go to sleep', prompting his partner to tell him 'don't do that'.''

Mr Smith added: "The nurse thought that his actions were not as gentle as they could have been.''

He said Oliver's case had been discussed at a hospital meeting where a social worker was present "but no formal report was made'' and doctors were "satisfied by explanations the bruising had been accidental''.

Mr Smith added: "The prosecution asserts that the hospital doctors were mistaken in accepting those explanations for the various bruises observed.''

"Why such mistakes were made is not a feature of this case,'' added the prosecution barrister, adding that no x-rays were ever done during those admissions.

The couple, who have wed since the death of the son, and are now both of Dalford Court, Telford, further deny causing or allowing the death of a child and child cruelty.

The trial, estimated to last five weeks, continues.