A mother-of-nine and her violent boyfriend have been jailed for a total of 21 and a half years after she ‘did nothing’ as her five-month-old son died from a ‘catastrophic’ brain injury inflicted by her partner.
Danny Shepherd, 26, lost his temper with the young baby while Katherine Cox, 33, knowing the risk her son was in, did nothing to protect him despite ‘knowing the risk he posed’.
Cox was jailed for eight years and Shepherd, who still denies responsibility, for 13-and-a-half years.
A staggering 28 injuries to 19 of his bones were discovered after he died in April last year.
A court heard they were between 10 days and nine weeks old, and a pathologist concluded they were sustained by the tot being ‘twisted, pulled, crushed and bent in half’.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said he accepted Cox had not inflicted any of the injuries or been present at the time but added she knew the ‘risk’ Shepherd posed and ‘put her life with him before the safety of her child’.
Katherine Cox and Danny Shepherd, pictured, have been jailed for more than 20 years for allowing or causing the death of four-month-old baby Eli Cox
The baby’s mother Cox, right, who has nine children, was sentenced to eight years behind bars while Shepherd, left, was jailed for 13-and-a-half years
He said: ‘I am sure that it was you Danny Shepherd who inflicted the injuries that killed Eli.
‘You continue to deny it but you know it’s true. I am also sure it was you who inflicted the earlier injuries.
‘In normal speech, you lost it as you had lost it before, but you lost it majorly and inflicted serious violence upon Eli causing his death.
‘All of this could have been avoided had you just stayed away from him having lost it on previous occasions.’
He added: ‘For much of his life Eli would have been in pain from the fractures you inflicted.
‘He was particularly vulnerable as he could do nothing to protect himself or draw attention to his suffering.
‘You knew what you had done in the past and you knew you were in danger of doing it again.
‘In your case Katherine Cox I am sure that you didn’t inflict the injuries and I am not sure you took part in or were present when he inflicted the earlier injuries.
‘But I am sure that you knew that Danny Shepherd caused significant injuries to Eli and that there was a risk he would do it again.
‘It is one of the shocking features of this case that you put your infatuation with Danny Shepherd before the safety of your baby.
‘You bear a heavy responsibility for what happened to Eli. You have lost everything.’
Fractures and bone damage were found in nine of Eli’s ribs, as well as his neck, spine, right arm, right thighbone and shinbone, and left shinbone.
His thighbone had been broken at both ends, and two fractures in his neck were compared to a whiplash injury usually suffered in car crashes.
An expert concluded Eli’s injuries were caused by very significant force and could not have been caused even during ‘boisterous’ play.
A judge told Cox, left, she ‘knew the risks’ Shepherd, right, posed but ‘put her life with him before her child’
The judge said he was ‘sure’ Shepherd inflicted the wounds despite his denials and told Cox she had ‘lost everything’
Both Cox and Shepherd denied causing or allowing the death of a child, and causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child at a trial earlier this year.
They were unanimously convicted of the charges, as well as possessing amphetamine.
Five small bags of the class B drug were found in a Vanish tub in a garden shed at their home in Minster on Sea, Sheerness, Kent, by police.
The couple claimed not to use drugs but tests revealed Shepherd had used amphetamine on the day Eli was taken ill, and Cox had been ‘occasionally’ exposed to both amphetamine and cocaine.
Traces of the same two drugs were also discovered in the baby’s hair after his death.
The court also heard that a shocking photograph emerged of Eli with tape over his mouth.
The prosecution said this and the exposure to drugs demonstrated a ‘blatant and deliberate’ disregard by Cox and Shepherd for the baby’s welfare.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith added Eli was being raised in a ‘highly dysfunctional and chaotic’ environment.
After their trial Kent County Council confirmed a serious case review was under way to establish if Eli’s death could have been prevented by the authorities.
The tot stopped breathing after Shepherd, who was not Eli’s natural father, put him in his cot for a nap at about 5.30pm on April 13 last year.
A court heard his collapse from extensive brain damage was caused by either shaking, or shaking combined with impact, from which the effect would have been ‘immediate and obvious’.
Shepherd lost his temper and hit Eli’s head on a musical projector toy attached to the cot.
Two small circular bruises were later found on the back of his head which matched buttons on the toy.
The court also heard Eli may have still been in the womb when first exposed to drugs, and could have later ingested them through a contaminated baby bottle.
Drugs, pictured, were recovered from the couple’s home in Kent, with traces of cocaine found in Eli’s blood
Eli was also found with traces of speed in his system, with amphetamines also found at the family home
The couple denied hurting him either deliberately or accidentally after their arrests.
Shepherd, who kept a ‘beating’ stick at the four-bedroomed house in Lapwing Close, claimed a cousin who looked after Eli two days before he collapsed was ‘heavy-handed’ with him.
Bizarrely, Cox told hospital staff a 999 operator had told them to ‘hang Eli upside down and shake him’ to resuscitate him.
But Maidstone Crown Court in Kent was told that as neighbours and paramedics battled to resuscitate the lifeless baby, Shepherd was overheard saying ‘I’ll get the blame for this. She’ll blame me’.
Cox, whose harrowing emergency call was played during their four-week trial, was said to be hysterical and, using Shepherd’s nickname, shouted ‘Pickle, what have you done?’
Witnesses who tried to save the tot’s life told the court the couple were ‘reluctant’ to join Eli in the ambulance and delayed its leaving for hospital.
The youngster was subsequently put on a life support machine at King’s College Hospital in London but his condition deteriorated and he died on April 27.
Several nurses spoke of how Cox, who is known as Kathy, was often on her phone while her son was in intensive care fighting for his life.
One even had to tell Cox to stop using her phone as her son’s life support was being switched off.
Another said although Cox seemed to be crying a lot, there were ‘no actual tears’.
Prosecutor Jennifer Knight told the court at the start of their trial that one was ‘the perpetrator’, and the other did nothing to stop what was going on.
‘Danny Shepherd and Katherine Cox were the only adults present in the house at the time and it was the actions of one of them that resulted in the catastrophic brain injury that Eli Cox suffered,’ said Miss Knight.
‘But the events that day were the unhappy culmination of injuries Eli had suffered over many weeks, also inflicted by Danny Shepherd or Katherine Cox.
‘Both were aware of events leading up to April 13, and on the day itself that Eli was at serious risk of physical harm because one of them was the perpetrator and the other knew that the perpetrator posed a risk to Eli.
‘One of them did it and the other did nothing about it.’
Shepherd began a relationship with Cox when she was halfway through her pregnancy and they moved in together just days before Eli was born on November 27, 2015.
The court also heard a large wooden stick was found in the couple’s home and dubbed ‘Pickle’s beating stick’, although he claimed it was only used on dogs
Nadine Radford QC, defending, told the court he was a young, inexperienced man who ‘naively’ took on the family.
Since being convicted he has been attacked in prison.
Before his collapse Eli was said to be healthy, growing well and gaining weight.
Friends also described how Eli had been ‘smiling, happy and playing’ just hours before he suffered his fatal brain injury.
Shepherd later told police Eli was ‘whingeing as he always does’ when he put him in his cot to sleep.
Using a plastic baby in his video recorded interview with police, Shepherd demonstrated how he patted Eli’s back to ensure he was not choking after finding him turning blue with froth oozing from his nose.
He said his resuscitation attempts could have fractured Eli’s ribs but he denied knowing about any other bone injuries.
Spinal damage in the small of Eli’s back was described as a ‘crush’ injury caused by bending him in half.
A similar bending of Eli’s head backwards and forwards caused two fractures to upper neck vertebrae comparable to car crash whiplash.
Evidence of fractures caused by twisting, pulling or both were found in Eli’s right upper arm, right femur and both shinbones.
The couple moved to Faversham in Kent after Eli died. Shepherd described Cox as an excellent mother, while Cox said her boyfriend was a super dad.
Cox, who has an IQ of 75, chose not to give evidence to the jury.
But she told police after her arrest: ‘I just want the truth for my little boy. He didn’t deserve this.’
Oliver Saxby QC, defending, said Cox’s treatment by other prisoners had been ‘brutal’.
The offence of causing or allowing the death of a child was introduced to cover those cases where there is not enough evidence to prove which defendant is responsible for murder, manslaughter or assault.
Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Ivan Beasley of Kent Police said: ‘The death of a child is never anything less than tragic but the circumstances behind Eli Cox’s passing are especially upsetting for those of us who share a compassion for others.
‘None of us will ever understand what compels people to cause harm to children, and it is unfortunately true to say that Eli suffered more than most and was robbed of his life before it had barely begun.
‘Katherine Cox and Danny Shepherd maintained their innocence throughout but the jury saw through their lies. Only they know the true extent of the abuse Eli was put through, which is simply unthinkable to most members of society including parents who would do anything to protect their children from harm.
‘I strongly advise anyone who suspects a child is being neglected to call us on 101 or contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. Children who are being abused themselves can call Childline for support and advice on 0800 1111.’