Eastbourne dad jailed after admitting daughter’s manslaughter

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An Eastbourne dad who admitted the manslaughter of his toddler daughter has been jailed for two years.

A judge heard today (Monday) how Ocean Elliott was severely disabled when her father Benjamin Curtis shook her violently as a baby and died two years later when she was unable to fight off the swine flu virus.

Curtis, of Mallard Close, was jailed for the attack which happened in 2007 but was behind bars again tonight after admitting a charge of manslaughter following his daughter’s death.

The 30-year-old admitted the manslaughter of Ocean, who died in August 2009 at the age of two years and eight months after contracting swine flu.

A judge heard that when she was just three-and-a-half months old she had been left severely brain-damaged, almost completely blind and vulnerable to infection by the attack.

The tragic youngster had been placed on the child protection register even before she was born because of the violent relationship between her parents.

Curtis changed his plea on what was supposed to be the first day of his new trial today.

His barrister asked the judge to award full credit to the defendant as he was not clever enough to understand the medical and legal arguments over the last three years and had effectively pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Nicol told Curtis, “You may have been tired, you may have been uncertain how to placate Ocean, you may have been cross with your partner but none of that is any excuse whatsoever for your loss of temper and mistreatment of that baby.”

Prosecutor Joanna Glynn QC had explained to the judge the background to Ocean’s death, saying, “She died having contracted what is commonly called swine flu, or H1N1.

“She contracted that almost certainly in the middle of July 2009. However by that time she was already severely ill.

“That is because more than two years beforehand, in April 2007, when she was three-and-a-half months old, she had sustained serious neurological injuries, inflicted upon her by her father, this defendant.

“They were classic injuries caused by an adult shaking a baby.

“These injuries were so bad they that they left Ocean disabled, with severely delayed development.”

Towards the end of her life the youngster, who had spent a month in specialist hospital units before being discharged into foster care, began having seizures, which became worse and worse.

She could not sit up or keep herself up, nor could she walk.

“Importantly, when it comes to considering the cause of death, she was unable to clear secretions, in other words to cough, when she was unwell - which was often,” said Ms Glynn.

“That caused her to to be suffering continuously from coughs, colds and pneumonia.”

Experts had concluded that the swine ‘flu was ‘neither here nor there’ as whatever organism had attacked her at that point would have killed her.

Curtis was arrested days after the incident but he claimed his daughter had knocked her head on the cot as she was placed back in.

It was not until later that he admitted a charge of causing grievous bodily harm, revealing he had shaken Ocean during a momentary loss of temper at her continuous crying.

In his admission to Guildford Crown Court he explained he had returned home after a long day labouring to find his partner, Lisa Elliott, was not there and he was locked out.

An hour-and-a-half later she returned with Ocean, having been at Thorpe Park amusement attraction with a friend.

She then announced she was going out to play bingo for the evening, leaving him in charge of the baby.

Those factors, together with not having slept well, made him irritable and during that evening, when he could not stop Ocean from crying, he snapped.

Relating the defendant’s own statement, Ms Glynn said, “He lost control momentarily and shook her about four-to-five times back and forth.

“He was tired and stressed. He had no intention of causing injury or death.”

Because of their relationship, Lisa Elliott had agreed with Social Services that she would not leave Ocean in the care of the defendant - an agreement she broke. The local authority was also unaware Curtis was living with her at the address in Spencer Close, Shearwater, in Woking, Surrey.

Vincent Coughlin QC, defending, said in mitigation that the three-and-a-half year delay since Ocean’s death had not been caused by Curtis but by “medico-legal” issues.

“The defendant has been assessed as being of very low intelligence, attending special schools, presenting as an individual who is vulnerable in his own right. He has been wholly reliant on the advice of his legal advisers.

“He has never resiled from the basis of plea. He was desperate to calm Ocean down and stop her crying.

“He lost control momentarily.

“In 2008 he took full responsibility and would do anything to turn back the clock.”

Mr Justice Nicol said, “Consequences matter and when the consequences become the more serious they can lead, as in your case, to more serious charges.”

Curtis showed no emotion as he was led to the cells.