A mother screamed in horror in the dock of the Old Bailey today as she was convicted of murdering her own baby by inflicting 40 separate injuries.
Bobby Louch was just 21 months old when he was kicked, punched and shaken and left to die in his cot. Today Collette Harris was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 16 years. The Recorder of London Peter Beaumont QC said the murder was “a terrible thing to do and for reasons that are quite incomprehensible.”
It was aggravated by the fact that Bobby had suffered before he died and that she was in a position of trust. “But I take into account there was an intention not to kill but only to cause really serious injury,” he added. The baby suffered brain damage equal to high speed car crash victims and bleeding within the skull.
He also had a burn on his right hand, a transected pancreas and a deep tear to his liver. But her boyfriend, cocaine and cannabis addict James Phillips, was cleared by the jury of charges of murder, manslaughter and causing or allowing the baby’s death. He yelled in triumph as the unanimous verdicts were returned while Harris wept and shouted “No, I can’t believe it.”
She now faces life imprisonment for the murder in December 2008 when she is sentenced later by the Recorder of London Peter Beaumont QC. Just three weeks before the murder Bobby had been taken to hospital with bruising and a broken leg but after treatment he was returned home to his killer. Twenty days later she took him back to hospital but he was already dead
When the baby’s natural father Dan Louch was alerted she told him: “I didn’t do it.” Richard Whittam QC, prosecuting, told the jury: “The likely cause of the injuries to the brain is multiple punches or kicks to the head, associated with some element of shaking.”
Richard Edwards, a consultant from Bristol University, said the brain injuries were most likely caused by heavy multiple blows. “It is a primary brain injury at the moment of impact. It would have to be a heavy blow to the head, a heavy kick or heavy punch to the head or being struck with an object,” said Mr Edwards.
“They are usually the result of a very high impact injuries such as children who fall out of a first or second floor window, high speed car accidents, these sort of severe impact injuries.” Harris, 30, and Phillips, 25 both of Bexleyheath, had pleaded not guilty to Bobby’s murder and an alternative charge of causing or allowing the death of a child.
She had started a relationship with Bobby’s father Dan Louch in 2004 but four years later it was over and she stole her new boyfriend from behind the back of the friend who had introduced them. From October 2008 onwards Phillips spent most of his time at Harris’s home and, at times, cared for Bobby on his own.
Phillips admitted spending £50-a-week on skunk cannabis and taking £50 of cocaine once or twice a week which sometimes caused paranoia. On the day Bobby died, four days after Christmas, a neighbour could hear the sound of a baby’s whimpers through the wall at 2.30am. But it was not until 9.20am Harris that called for an ambulance having rung Mr Louch in a frantic state to tell him Bobby had stopped breathing.
Paramedics said they found Bobby lying on top of the bed but he was cold to the touch and appeared to have been dead for some time. Three weeks before the death Harris told doctors that Bobby had broken his leg in a fall and the bruising to his face had been caused by head-butting his cot.
“Some hospital staff had suspicions that these injuries were non-accidental and carried out further tests,” said Mr Whittam. However a child protection examination decided the injury was accidental.
Bobby was still wearing the cast on his leg when he died.