Leicestershire aunt guilty of 'baby-shaking' manslaughter

27/01/2017

A Leicestershire woman has been found guilty of manslaughter for causing the death of her niece by non-accidental head injury.

Phoebe Guo, aged seven months, died in March 2016, after suffering severe haemorrhages (bleeding) on her brain and behind her eyes. Phoebe had been in the sole care of her aunt, Chuanfang Zheng, when the injuries occurred.

Ms Zheng had been looking after her own three children and Phoebe in her flat in Lutterworth, while Phoebe's parents went to work in the nearby take-away that they ran. Within half an hour of her taking sole care of the children, Phoebe had suffered critical injuries and lapsed into unconsciousness. She was rushed to hospital, where, despite the efforts of the medical staff, she passed away four days later. Clinicians treating Phoebe noted that her injuries were consistent with those caused by vigorous shaking and reported their concerns to the police.

Lawrence English, Senior District Crown Prosecutor at CPS East Midlands, said: "The investigation into Phoebe's death concluded that the only likely way her injuries could have been inflicted was by this defendant. They were described by medical experts as very much at the severe end of the scale. It was likely that Phoebe would have become unconscious very quickly, so Ms Zheng would have known what she had done.

"Despite this, she denied that she had injured Phoebe, trying instead to attribute her death to choking or the actions taken by her parents to resuscitate her. The evidence was clear that there were no medical reasons why Phoebe might have become unconscious, no signs of choking, and nobody did anything that could have caused these injuries while trying to bring her round. The injuries spoke only of excessive force that could not have occurred naturally, even by rough handling.

"It will not be possible on the evidence we have seen to determine exactly how Ms Zheng came to inflict the injuries on Phoebe. The offence of manslaughter does not require any intent to cause serious harm. The prosecution's case was simply that the injuries that killed Phoebe could only have been inflicted by Ms Zheng and that they were not accidental.

"The most telling evidence of a non-accidental head injury on a baby is three sets of injuries, referred to as a triad. These are haemorrhages, or severe bleeding, in the brain and behind the eyes and loss of oxygen to the brain. These were present in Phoebe's case, along with an area of bruising on her scalp.

This case has been distressing for all involved, but most of all for Phoebe's parents, who have had to endure the devastating loss of their daughter at such a young age. Our thoughts and sympathies are with them at this difficult time."