A MAN has been jailed for life and told he must serve 18 years before being considered for parole after murdering a toddler he was looking after.
Roxie Archer, aged 23 months, suffered a fatal brain injury after she was said to have been "forcibly and repeatedly punched" by Ben Raftery, 21, while in his care.
Raftery was looking after the girl for his girlfriend, Roxie's mother, Sophie Archer, who had flown out to New York to celebrate her 21st birthday, a court heard today.
The mother was away for just 24 hours but Raftery dialled 999 in the early hours of March 10 last year to say that Roxie had fallen down the stairs at her home in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester.
She died the next day in Tameside Hospital but it emerged that she had also suffered extensive bruising and retinal haemorrhaging.
A jury at Manchester Crown Court heard that a post-mortem examination concluded the injuries were non-accidental and their timing was consistent with being inflicted while the defendant was in sole charge of Roxie.
Today Raftery was convicted of murder by a jury at Manchester Crown Court.
He was told he must serve a minimum of 18 years before he can apply for parole.
Passing sentence Mr Justice Saunders told the defendant: "It was an appalling crime which involved a grown and powerful man inflicting a number of hard blows on a toddler which were sufficiently forceful to cause devastating brain damage from which she died.
"The defendant was not the father of Roxie. He was living with Roxie's mother at the time and had been entrusted with the care of Roxie for 24 hours while her mother was away."
The judge added: "How the defendant caused any of the injuries to Roxie is not clear but the jury have clearly rejected the defendant's account that they were caused by an accidental fall down the stairs.
"Roxie was a much-loved only child who was the centre of her mother's existence. I have no doubt that she will never completely get over her loss."
Roxie's mother was taken to the United States by her father on March 9, with her boyfriend of four months due to look after the daughter overnight at the terraced house in Elizabeth Street before being passed to the child's grandmother.
The trip was due to last five days but they had only been in New York for a matter of hours when they received news that Roxie was very ill in hospital. In fact she was being kept alive on a life support machine.
Raftery had moved in with Sophie Archer within weeks of meeting in November 2011 and at first appeared to bond with her daughter.
But he would also "engage in cruel behaviour towards her" the court heard, such as holding her upside down by her ankle to "toughen her up" and picking up one end of a sofa by surprise as she sat on it.
By February 2012 Roxie did not want to play with him, the jury were told.
On the early evening of March 9, Raftery told a relative that Roxie had banged her head walking into a door at a McDonald's restaurant.
After calling paramedics in the early hours of the next day the defendant claimed he had left the stair gate open by mistake.
But a pathologist, a neuropathologist and an eye specialist all agreed the injuries to the child's head and body were non-accidental.
Extensive bruising to the face, head and limbs were also consistent with prodding or nipping having taken place.
Miss Archer, 22, said she had been the victim of violence at the hands of Raftery who was "manipulative and controlling".
She was persuaded to let him look after her daughter for one night because he said he wanted to bond with her, she said.
Outside court, detective superintendent Denise Worth from Greater Manchester Police, said: "Roxie was a two-year-old little girl who should have felt safe in her own home in the care of Raftery.
"He abused his position of trust and subjected an innocent toddler to an attack which left her with an un-survivable head injury.
"We will never know exactly what happened on that day, as Raftery has always maintained that it was an accident.
"Roxie's family are devastated by Raftery's actions and will never be able to see Roxie grow up into a young woman, see her get married and have children of her own.
"He has now been jailed, and will have to live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he is responsible for killing Roxie."