Baby suffered ‘violent’ assault overnight by couple in caravan, court hears

An 18-month-old boy died after “aggressive, violent discipline” at the hands of his mother and her former partner fuelled by drugs and drink, leaving him with 70 visible injuries and bruises, a court has heard.

Alfie Phillips died on November 28 2020 with a “myriad of bruises” and marks including fractures to his ribs, arms and leg, and signs of smothering to his lips and mouth, Maidstone Crown Court heard on Wednesday.

His mother Sian Hedges, 27, of Yelverton, Devon, and her partner at the time Jack Benham, 35, are on trial at Maidstone Crown Court for his murder, which allegedly happened overnight at Benham’s caravan in Hernhill, near Faversham, Kent.

Hedges, wearing a black jacket and grey shirt, cried when listening to the prosecution outline Alfie’s injuries.

On Tuesday, the court heard how traces of cocaine were found in Alfie’s blood and urine samples, and doctors examining Alfie suggested it could have been passive inhalation of crack cocaine or from external contact with the drug.

Prosecutor Jennifer Knight KC said that during police interviews Hedges and Benham admitted taking cocaine that night, and both said they had been drinking whisky and coke while Alfie was asleep in the caravan.

Ms Knight said: “It is clear that he had been deliberately injured on more than one occasion, culminating in an assault perpetrated on him during the night of 27 to 28 November 2020 that led to his death.”

She added: “Jack Benham and Sian Hedges were in the caravan together throughout the night.

“Had either defendant not been joining in with the assaults, that defendant who was not part of it would have stopped the attack and removed Alfie Phillips from the caravan, and from the presence of the other who was carrying out these attacks.

“The fact that this did not happen can only be because both defendants agreed that the assaults should take place … they both agreed in meting out some sort of aggressive, violent ‘discipline’ to Alfie that night which resulted in his death.”

Jurors heard how the pair exchanged text messages the month before Alfie’s death, where Benham appeared to suggest Hedges bite Alfie back after he had bitten her. Hedges said she did not want to do that.

In other messages, Benham, who is not Alfie’s father, calls Alfie a “cry baby” and “your little sod”, saying he was going to “poke him in the ear” after he turned off his caravan heater.

Ms Knight said Alfie’s post-mortem examination revealed 70 separate bruises and injuries on his body, and found his death came about by “unnatural means as a result of the action of another or others”.

The leading pathologist said the final cause of death “is not clear” and stated it as “unascertained” due to the numerous injuries that could have led to Alfie’s death.

“He was killed by the assault of others,” Ms Knight KC said.

The court heard how Benham carried Alfie out of the caravan, who was described at that stage as blue and floppy, at around 11.30am on November 28 and that Benham’s mother performed CPR until the paramedics arrived.

According to the prosecution, Benham told police he woke up on the morning to find Alfie by his knee, and that he believed Alfie had died because he had been lying on him.

Alfie was pronounced dead at Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother hospital in Margate at 12.35pm on November 28.

The pair both denied and could not explain Alfie’s injuries during police interviews, but claimed they recalled previous occasions he had fallen over or hurt himself.

Benham said Hedges would never have hurt Alfie and he repeatedly said in interviews he would “deserve the noose” if he had caused the one-year-old’s death.

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