Disabled girl, 3, ‘killed by mum’s boyfriend after she refused to eat lunch’

A DISABLED three-year-old girl with learning difficulties was allegedly killed by her mum's boyfriend after she refused to eat her lunch.

Jessica Dalgleish, who had behavioural difficulties and could only speak a few words, suffered a fractured skull and died on Christmas Eve 2019.

The prosecution allege Paul Marsh became "increasingly angry and frustrated" at caring for the toddler and, having taken her upstairs to her bedroom, threw her forcefully onto her bed, causing her to hit her head on a hard surface.

Jessica sustained what was described at Maidstone Crown Court, Kent, as a catastrophic brain haemorrhage and her life-support was switched off three days after the alleged assault.

Marsh, from Hythe, near Folkestone, Kent, denies manslaughter and child cruelty.

The court heard the 27-year-old told paramedics he had heard a bang from upstairs and believed Jessica had fallen down a flight of carpeted stairs.

But at the start of his trial on Tuesday, prosecutor Jennifer Knight QC told the jury such an account of how Jessica sustained her fatal injury was "implausible".

As well as the fracture to the back of her head, doctors found evidence of an older injury.

Miss Knight said Marsh not only unlawfully killed the tot but had also "wilfully assaulted" her in the three weeks prior to her death.

"The Crown's case is that Paul Marsh began to assault Jessica when angry with her and that these assaults led to her sustaining bruising during December 2019," she told the court.

"On December 21 2019 Paul Marsh, angered by Jessica's refusal to eat her lunch, carried her upstairs and assaulted her once more, probably by throwing her forcefully down onto her bed and causing her head to be struck against the rail at the top of the bed, the wall or the side of the bed – a hard surface – causing the serious injury that led directly to Jessica's death."

The youngster suffered from what is known as global developmental delay and although her physical abilities were that expected for her age, she had not reached milestones in respect of her cognitive skills.

She could not communicate very well, would bang her head deliberately on a wall or floor when cross or frustrated, and was known to bite, the court heard.

Jessica had also started to pull her hair out in clumps and so her head had been shaved to prevent her doing so. But she was said to be otherwise healthy prior to her death.

Marsh and Jessica's mum had met while working at a residential home for adults with learning difficulties.

He had no children of his own and no experience of looking after a child when he moved in with her in August 2019.

'STRICT AND WOULD SHOUT'

A witness later told police Marsh was strict and would shout, and Miss Knight said that by September he had "demonstrated his increasing anger and frustration" with any childcare issues to Jessica's mum in text and Facebook messages.

In mid-December, nursery school staff also began to notice bruising on Jessica to her eye, neck and left side of her head.

This led to the tot being taken to A&E at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent. However, no "high level" safe-guarding issues were raised.

On the day of the alleged assault which led to Jessica's death, her mum had gone to work early while Marsh had phoned in sick.

The court heard he was said to be angry when the toddler did not eat her sandwich, and so carried her upstairs to her room. She was said to be crying as she was put to bed. Marsh then went back downstairs to watch football.

It was just after 3pm that he messaged Jessica's mum to call him, and he then told her that her daughter had fallen down the stairs and seemed dazed.

Miss Knight told the court she had to repeatedly urge Marsh to phone for an ambulance as he appeared "reluctant" to do so.

When she reached home, paramedics had already arrived to find the toddler lying on the sofa in a life-threatening condition.

Asked what had happened, Marsh was described as initially being "vague and non-specific", and shrugging when asked how he knew she had fallen downstairs.

He later told a second paramedic about hearing Jessica playing upstairs and "making lots of noise" before there was a bang and finding her at the foot of the stairs between the first and second floors.

Miss Knight said however that his account raised suspicions.

The little girl was taken to London's King's College Hospital where it became clear her brain injury was irreversible and she subsequently died three days later.

Medical examinations revealed not only the fractured skull and brain harmorrhage but also bruising clustered around her face and head, as well as evidence of a previous, mild head injury, said the prosecutor.

Pathologist Dr Nathaniel Cary therefore concluded that the injuries were caused by a "severe force impact to the back of the right side of the head" and not by falling.

MARSH ARRESTED

Marsh was arrested while at King's College Hospital and interviewed. He told police he had been off work that day due to a recent family bereavement.

He said Jessica had taken herself upstairs after not eating all of her lunch and he denied being angry with her.

It was while he was in the lounge checking the football scores that he said he then heard a "thud or bang" and so ran up to see what had happened.

He described the noise as "maybe one bump or two, between one and three", the court heard.

Marsh said that having found the youngster unresponsive, he carried her to the sofa downstairs and rang 999.

The trial, which is expected to last up to four weeks, continues.

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