Mother and drug-taking boyfriend found guilty over toddler's death after she admitted she loved her man more than her child
A toddler was beaten to death by his mother's drug-taking boyfriend who she admitted loving more than her own child, a court heard.
Hardeep Hunjan, 27, was convicted of murder on Thursday following the death of 13-month-old Noah Serra-Morrison, who suffered 15 fractures to his body, including a 6in wound across his skull.
Noah's mother, 22-year-old Ronnie Tayler-Morrison, was cleared of murder but, along with Hunjan, found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child and of cruelty to a child under 16.
Luton Crown Court heard the child's injuries were so severe they were similar to those arising from a car crash or a fall from a building.
Prosecutor Jane Bickerstaff QC said Noah's injuries were likely to have been caused by him being deliberately and violently swung against a wall or floor, or by his limbs being twisted with "severe force".
Hunjan and Tayler-Morrison both said they did not know how Noah was killed but, if he had been murdered, then the other person was to blame. The child was found dead on November 21, 2015.
They also told paramedics and neighbours that Noah injured himself falling from his cot - a claim which Ms Bickerstaff said was impossible.
The couple had binged on drink and drugs during Noah's last hours.
Ms Bickerstaff told the court the pair delayed calling paramedics for an hour as they tried to cover up the "deliberate" crime, trying to wash away forensic evidence in a shower in the "blind hope that somehow they might get away with it".
They repeatedly lied to police during interviews and after they were released on bail fled to Scotland, which the prosecutor said was because they knew what doctors would uncover.
The trial heard Noah was subjected to horrific and deliberate abuse for weeks before he died.
A post-mortem examination revealed that he suffered fractures to an arm and leg around a week before his death, and similar injuries to an arm and leg between four and six weeks before he died - 15 fractures in total, along with bruising over his entire body.
Ms Bickerstaff said they were deliberate injuries, consistent with a "road traffic collision or a fall from greater than one storey".
Noah would have been severely brain-damaged if he had survived.
The unemployed couple began living together shortly after Tayler-Morrison separated from Noah's father in July last year.
Their "chaotic" relationship was fuelled by alcohol and cannabis and based on "love, jealousy and control", Ms Bickerstaff said.
Tayler-Morrison wrote in her diary: "I don't see life without him, and as much as this sounds selfish I know that I love Noah but I love Hardeep more."
She also wrote: "So he got rude and I left him and bought Noah home. He turned up at my door, strangled me, threw me around, smacked a bottle on my head, broke the fish tank. Called me a wanna be model, slag and lots of other things. I hate him right now."
The jury was shown another diary entry in which Tayler-Morrison said: "I don't care what has happened all I no is that I still want him.
"Why am I so crazy about him. I'm sitting on the living floor and all I feel right now is ugly, wasted away, unwanted and unneeded. He said it himself, this is why I don't get along with anyone, further more this is why no1 wants to get along with me, and I bet its the same with him.
"Just like the few close people I've had. One day he will leave me to."
The couple told a health visitor they did not use drugs or alcohol, but jurors were told a video from November 19 showed Tayler-Morrison almost unconscious from using a device that allowed her to smoke three joints at once.
The evening before Noah died the couple again smoked cannabis and downed a full bottle of vodka after putting the toddler to bed, the court heard.
At 1.45am on November 21, Tayler-Morrison searched the internet for "my baby is hurt" and "my baby is breathing but not moving".
Half an hour later she phoned her student nurse sister, telling her she had found Noah on the floor after he pulled a fan on to his cot, and that he was "awake and moving, with his eyes open", but "not with it and not crying".
But she did not call an ambulance until almost 3.30am. Hunjan apparently attempted CPR, but Ms Bickerstaff said that if he did so "it was a false and futile attempt, for show".
Paramedics were left waiting at the door, the court was told, and Noah was found on a bedroom floor, cold and with major swelling to the right side of his head, no heartbeat and not breathing.
He was pronounced dead in hospital at 4.10am.
Police broke into the flat and arrested Hunjan, finding him hiding under a duvet in the kitchen with his dog, while Tayler-Morrison was arrested at the hospital.
Both of them silently put their heads in their hands as the verdicts were read out. They will be sentenced at the same court on Friday afternoon.
Detective Inspector Fraser Wylie, of Bedfordshire Police, described the case as "one of the most shocking and sickening cases of violence we have ever come across".
He said: "Rarely do we come across a case that involves such sheer malice and utter cruelty against a small child, by two people who were supposed to love and care for him.
"Throughout this case the disregard shown by both Tayler-Morrison - Noah's own mother - and Hunjan has been evident, not least in the fact they attempted to evade justice by attempting to flee to Scotland whilst on bail.
"Poor Noah experienced fear, pain, neglect and extreme brutality during his too-short life. No child deserves that, and it has been evident throughout our investigation and the trial that Tayler-Morrison and Hunjan chose a tumultuous, drug and alcohol-fuelled lifestyle over his happiness and welfare.
"Little Noah suffered unimaginably as a result of the volatility of his mother's relationship with Hunjan, who today has been convicted of the little boy's murder. Even in his death he was denied any dignity by being left to suffer for more than an hour."
A serious case review has been launched by the Luton Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) to look into the actions and decisions of the organisations which had contact with Noah and his parents.
LSCB chairman Fran Pearson said: "It will establish whether there are lessons to be learnt from the case regarding the way professionals and agencies work together to safeguard children at risk."
A Luton Council spokesman said it "was not directly involved with this family and as a serious case review is under way, it would be inappropriate to comment on this case".
A spokesman for Ealing Council in west London said it is "participating in the serious case review" but it could not comment further while that is under way.