SUMMER MAI – UNLAWFULLY KILLED VERDICT

THORNHILL toddler Summer Mai Rogers-Ratcliffe was unlawfully killed, a coroner ruled today.

A full inquest into the unexplained death of the 21-month-old girl reached a conclusion at Bradford Coroner’s Court, almost two-and-a-half years after she died.

Assistant Deputy Coroner Oliver Longstaff delivered an unlawful killing verdict following the four-day hearing.

A succession of forensic and medical experts effectively ruled out any possibility of Summer’s injuries being caused by anything other than a third party, in the hours just before her grandmother Susan Rogers found her lying limp in her cot at her home in Nook Green at 8.45am on February 27, 2012.

Forensic pathologist Dr Mathew Lyall, who carried out a post mortem, said Summer suffered bleeding and swelling on the brain, and had bruises on her scalp – the classic ‘triad’ of injuries “strongly associated with non-accidental infantile head injuries”.

Dr Lyall said all the expert physicians involved had found evidence of injuries to the tot’s head, including several bleeds to the brain, a severely swollen brain and bleeding to the spinal cord.

A specialist eye doctor found “extensive, widespread, severe haemorrhaging” to the retinas, consistent with a serious blow to the head.

Dr Lyall said Summer’s death was “in keeping with a recent brain injury” and that “no other diseases” had been found that could explain why she died.

“It’s difficult to escape the conclusion she died of an inflicted head injury,” said Dr Lyall.

“If it was accidental I would find it difficult to understand why the cause is unknown.”

Giving evidence on Wednesday, Summer’s mother, auxiliary nurse Victoria Rogers, 27, said: “There’s nothing I want to say apart from I didn’t touch my baby girl, I gave her her bottle at 5.30am and I went to work.”

She added: “Somebody got Summer up after I gave her that bottle, and somebody hurt her.”

When Victoria Rogers left for work at 5.45am, her former boyfriend, tyre garage manager Craig Sharp, 34, was left in charge of the child. Mr Sharp left for work at 7.45am when Victoria’s mother arrived.

Mrs Rogers said she looked in on Summer every 10 minutes or so.

When she realised something was wrong she raised the alarm and started giving CPR until paramedics arrived. The inquest heard that Summer had a pulse but was not breathing.

She was taken to Dewsbury District Hospital and transferred to Leeds General Infirmary’s specialist unit, but she never regained consciousness and life support machinery was switched off early the next day.

Victoria and Susan Rogers and Mr Sharp were arrested at the time but later released and no charges have been brought.

Detective Constable Richard Peckett said police submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service but there was no prosecution because all three of those arrested had looked after Summer at some time in the early morning of February 27 and pathologists were unable to pin-point exactly when the injuries were sustained.

DC Peckett also said: “There was no history of violence or abusive behaviour in the family and no social services involvement.”

However statements read out to the inquest from her grandparents James and Deborah Ratcliffe, plus Summer Mai’s father Joss, made it clear there were worries about injuries to the little girl, including a scald which had required hospital treatment, and which Joss had raised with a Kirklees health worker.

Consultant Neuropathologist Daniel du Plessis told the inquest the child died “from a very violent head injury.” His written report said that “death was consequent to blunt force head injury, which resulted in extensive scalp bruising, bilateral (both sides) low volume subdural bleeds, severe brain swelling and bruising to the brain.”

He was unequivocal in his opinion that a third party caused the injuries.

When questioned by counsel for the Ratcliffe family, Dr du Plessis said that he would have expected Summer’s last bottle of milk, its teat and contents to have been forensically examined by the police.

Victoria Rogers said she had given Summer her bottle before she left for work. However the inquest was told that when the child was found virtually lifeless, the bottle was stood up in the corner of the cot.

When questioned about the bottle, DC Peckett said it had not been examined and neither had her cot or bedding to see if there was any spilled milk.

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE AND REACTION IN NEXT WEEK'S PRESS.

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