A Sheffield man has gone on trial accused of murdering his step daughter, who died from a head injury when she was just 23 months old.
Martin Johnson, 20, is accused of murdering toddler, Erin Tompkins, with what the Crown allege are ‘blows and/or shaking forceful enough to kill her’.
He is also accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent on the tot on two occasions in the weeks leading up to her death.
Johnson denies all charges.
Erin died on May 22 last year, after being admitted to Sheffield Children’s Hospital the previous day.
Opening the trial at Sheffield Crown Court to the jury of eight women and four men today, prosecutor, David Brooke QC, said ‘there can be no doubt at all’ that Erin died from a ‘non-accidental head injury’.
He added: ‘Given he admits being the only person with her at the time, all the medical evidence points to the defendant being the only person who could have been responsible.”
Mr Brooke described what happened to Erin when she sustained her fatal injuries as part of a ‘pattern of behaviour’ by Johnson.
“The prosecution suggest this was not a one-off fit of pique or temper but someone who had struck at a very young child more than once, and if you accept it, broken her bones,” he said.
Internal examination of the tot after her death revealed she had suffered deep scalp bruising.
“In the opinion of the pathologist, the distribution and size of the bruises were reminiscent of knuckles and he strongly suspected punching to that area,” said Mr Brooke.
He said doctors also found Erin had suffered brain swelling; bleeding on the brain and retinal bleeding.
Mr Brooke said: “Extensive tests were carried out to see if there could be any possible plausible reason, such as from a natural disease. There was none...the classic type of situation where such injuries can occur is where a child is forcibly shaken, hit or a combination of the two.”
The jury was told how the pathologist found ‘found unequivocal evidence of multiple impacts to the head and face from external bruising’ which included 10 areas of injury to her head and face.
Mr Brooke said: “Small children do of course bump themselves but it would very unusual to see some of these bruises being caused accidentally due to their positioning, and overall, there were far too many different areas of bruising to be consistent with a series of accidents.”
In police interview, Johnson, of Leighton Road, Gleadless told officers he had been ‘seeing’ Erin’s mother, Kira, since April 2017, and said they became a couple in January last year, when their daughter was born.
Their daughter was five months old when Erin died, the court heard.
“The two of them appeared to have the odd argument, and on one occasion about six weeks before the incident she heard Martin refer to ‘your favourite daughter Erin’,” which Mr Brooke said could have signified a level of ‘jealousy’.
He said Kira did not want to believe that Johnson could be responsible for what happened to Erin, but after being provided with the medical evidence and an explanation of how such injuries can be caused, she asked to speak to the police again.
“She said that although the defendant had been fine with Erin generally, in the month leading up to Erin’s death he had started to get argumentative with her,” said Mr Brooke.
Johnson claimed Kira favoured Erin over their daughter, and Kira had noticed that Erin would scream when Johnson tried to put a nappy on her.
“Martin would get angry with Kira if Erin cried and say that she needed to stop being ‘clingy’. Kira said that she never saw him getting angry directly with Erin.”
The court was told that Erin broke her arm around 10 weeks before her death while Martin was looking after her alone, and when they took her to hospital he claimed the injury had been caused when she fell off the settee as he was changing her nappy.
Kira sent Erin’s grandmother a picture of a bruise to Erin’s cheek around four weeks before her death, the court heard.
“Again the account was that Kira was upstairs, Erin downstairs alone with the defendant and Erin had fallen off the settee when she was asleep,” said Mr Brooke, adding: “Her grandmother had also noticed some small bruising on Erin’s shins at the front on a prior occasion, and on another occasion about six weeks before, had seen little dots or bruises round her neck and to her front.
“It was always thought that these occasions were just accidents.”
Mr Brooke said Erin’s post-mortem showed she had suffered fractures to her spine, as well as her to her arm.
A report prepared by Professor Mangham of Manchester Royal Infirmary also indicated that the type of fracture she sustained to her arm is ‘unlikely’ to have been caused by falling off the settee.
Prof Mangham dated the spinal fractures as being caused some five to 10 weeks before her death.
“The complete fractures indicate that the fractures were severe and the force considerable,” said Mr Brooke, adding: “No-one wants to believe a person is capable of such things, and sadly, the family and to an extent, the hospital accepted his innocent explanations about the previous occasions.”
Johnson denies all charges.
The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.