Thursday 27 October 2016

Tragic toddler Ayeeshia Jane Smith suffered 'harrowing, horrible and heartbreaking' ordeal

Dominic Harris

Published 08/04/2016 | 18:45

Ayeeshia Jane Smith Credit: Staffordshire Police/PA Wire
Ayeeshia Jane Smith Credit: Staffordshire Police/PA Wire
Tommee Tippee plastic cup containing cannabis which was found at the flat in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire Credit: Staffordshire Police/PA Wire

Little Ayeeshia Jane Smith was subjected to a "harrowing, horrible and heartbreaking" ordeal before her death at the hands of the very people who should have loved her most, the detective leading the investigation said.

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Detective Inspector Andy Maxfield, from Staffordshire Police, said the tragedy of never knowing what the 21-month-old could have achieved in life "touches at my heartstrings".

The toddler, known as AJ, was killed at a flat in Burton-upon-Trent in May 2014.

She had been violently abused by her mother Kathryn Smith, 23, who was convicted of murder, and her former partner Matthew Rigby, 22, who was found guilty of causing or allowing her death.

Kathryn Smith Credit: Staffordshire Police/PA Wire
Kathryn Smith Credit: Staffordshire Police/PA Wire
Matthew Rigby Credit: Staffordshire Police/PA Wire

Speaking outside Birmingham Crown Court after the verdicts on Friday, DI Maxfield described the pair, both from Nottingham, as "evasive" and "obstructive".

He added that their "catalogue of lies" gradually unravelled in the face of a mountain of expert witness evidence.

And he said neither of the couple - Smith from Sandfield Road, and Rigby from Sloan Drive - had ever shown any remorse or regret over what had happened.

He said: "They were evasive, there was a lot that took place in the hospital that by Matthew Rigby's own admission he wouldn't be proud of now, and they were obstructive.

"I understand strange things can happen at a hospital. They are grieving, there is the death of a child there, they understand that people might react in an unusual way.

"But it was noted by the police officers who attended that their reaction was particularly off-kilter and strange and particularly aggressive."

He said their changing accounts of what had happened became "unpicked", adding: "It went on and on to the point where it became ridiculous."

He said: "It became evident during evidence that there were massive inconsistencies so I think Kathryn Smith was shown, throughout her evidence and her accounts to the police, to not tell the truth.

"Whether or not she tried to manipulate professionals and doctors, I don't know."

Describing the tragedy of Ayeeshia Jane's death, he said: "She was 21 months old, she will never reach her potential. What would she have gone on to be? We will never know that and that's what always touches at my heartstrings.

"What would AJ have become, where would she get to in life? (It is) sad."

He added: "It was heartbreaking. You have heard the injuries described - they were akin to those found in a road traffic accident or if a child had fallen from height or ... a child that has been stamped on.

"When you listen to that and you put it in context, it is horrifying. It is particularly upsetting for an investigative team, even more so for the family members. They have had to sit and listen to this, what has gone on."

DI Maxfield also defended the police as having carried out "robust" action when dealing with the family before the girl's death and refused to comment on the role of social services, saying it was a matter for the serious case review.

He said: "I hope that it is a case of 'lessons learned' and not 'mistakes repeated', and I am sure that the serious case review, a robust process, will identify any learning, and I hope that it is taken into account and lessons are learned."

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