Saturday 20 January 2018

Bug unlikely as cause of death of girl (3) – trial of mother for murder is told

Ruth Lumley

A CHILD found dead in her bed by her mother is unlikely to have died of a streptococcal infection, a court heard.

Three-year-old Lucy Dunford, who appeared fit and well on the morning she died, did not have enough of the virus in her body for her to decline rapidly and die, a jury at Lewes Crown Court was told.

Her mother, Lesley Dunford, 33, is accused of murdering Lucy at the family home in Pelwood Road, Camber, near Rye, East Sussex, on February 2 2004.

The court has heard that Lucy had seemed fine when her mother put her to bed at 2pm that day.

Prosecutor Sally Howes QC said that when Dunford checked on her daughter an hour later she was not breathing.

Post-mortem examinations showed the child had injuries to her body consistent with being smothered, the court has heard.

But Professor Tony Risdon, a paediatric pathologist who carried out the first post-mortem examination the day after Lucy's death, said although the extent of the haemorrhaging on her body was concerning, it remained his opinion that a natural cause of death could not be excluded.

He said: "I was still faced with the fact that from this child's body we had identified a very virulent organism one would not expect to extract in that way."

He said an alternative explanation for asphyxia in Lucy's case might have been found in the lungs due to vomiting but he thought this was very unlikely.

The jury has heard that Lucy vomited while she was being resuscitated by paramedics which could have caused food to be inhaled into the lungs.

But Prof Risdon said that on speaking to other experts and looking at the "infection model" it rendered his explanation untenable.

He said the model required the rapid development of a severe infection sufficient not only to cause vomiting but also sufficient to stop the gag reflex from working.

The court was told that findings from another expert in paediatric infectious diseases showed that streptococcal infection could result in the very rapid death of infants but this was not the case in a three-and-a-half-year-old child.

Prof Risdon said: "Marks on the back, nose and neck seemed to me to be indicative of an imposed airway obstruction."

He also told the court that he was surprised at the lack of blood from a cut over Lucy's left eyebrow.

He said: "Normally a wound like this would bleed profusely and there would be copious amounts of blood in the room.

"One possibility could be rapid death after it occurred meaning it would not bleed.

"The wound could also have been inflicted elsewhere and the blood cleaned up, but there was no evidence of bleeding identified by scenes of crime officers."

He also said he would have expected to see swelling or bruising around the wound but there was no evidence of this.

He said this was an injury that was caused immediately before death and there was no chance of the body starting to react to it.

Dunford, of Rydal Mews, Windermere Close, Exeter, Devon, denies murder.

The trial continues.

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