Saturday 17 March 2018

Woman who witnessed toddler brother's murder 'left haunted by secret for 23 years'

Andrew Hough

A woman, Kerry Harrison, who witnessed her younger brother's murder when they were both toddlers kept it secret for almost a quarter of a century, a court heard.

Miss Harrison, then aged three, was left "haunted" by the memory of her stepfather Stephen Knox pushing her brother Mark down a flight of stairs in December 1986, Nottingham Crown Court was told.

It was only after Miss Harrison, now 26, disclosed her secret to a counsellor in early 2007 that police launched a murder investigation which led to Knox’s arrest, jurors were told.

An inquest at the time ruled Mark's death was accidental despite investigators being unable to explain an injury he had sustained to the back of his head.

On Tuesday, the court heard that Miss Harrison saw Knox, 53, allegedly commit the crime in their home, in New Parks, Leicester, because her brother had been making too much noise.

The toddler, who had just had his second birthday, died hours later from a brain haemorrhage on December 12, 1986, the court heard.

Prosecutors said Miss Harrison was standing at the foot of the stairs and saw the whole incident.

But Knox, who is unemployed, allegedly threatened her with violence if she told anyone, she told the court.

The jury heard that after Mark's death Knox claimed the toddler had slipped down "two or three steps" 48 hours earlier.

A post mortem found he died from pneumonia brought on by internal bleeding to the brain.

Miss Harrison told the court that her mother Margaret had been out with her other sister Lesley while Knox was home babysitting.

"Mark was messing about, playing like a little boy. Steve hit him. It was a strike and Mark was crying quite loudly,” she said as she broke down during evidence.

“He then grabbed him by his arm and dragged him up the stairs. He then threw him down. He rolled all the way to the bottom.

“I was at the bottom of the stairs. Mark was screaming. Steve then put him in his bed.”

She continued: "Steve said to me that if I told anybody he would do the same to me. When mum and Lesley came home he told mum he had put Mark to bed.

After returning home her mother discovered her son’s lifeless body, forcing her to run from the house screaming "I think my baby's dead," the court heard.

Earlier Peter Joyce, QC, prosecuting, told the court the case had “rested for over 20 years” until Ms Harrison went to see a counsellor where she “spoke about witnessing her brother dying”.

"For years Kerry Harrison had been haunted by the memory of her brother's death,” he said.

"It is the Crown's case that the defendant was violent towards Mark.”

The counsellor contacted police who re-opened the case. The pathologist who carried out the original post mortem re-examined his notes and confirmed the injuries supported her claims.

Miss Harrison said she had always kept the memory of her brother's death a secret until she saw the counsellor about her stress.

Miss Harrison described Knox as a violent and “nasty” person who would constantly hit them. She denied her brother had slipped down the stairs.

The jury heard that Mrs Harrison and her three children were living with Knox after she split with her husband Colin early in 1986.

The jury were told relatives noticed injuries to the children after Knox moved in but when challenged Knox allegedly replied: "I'm looking after them now”.

Knox, of Keighley, West Yorkshire, denies murder.

The trial continues.

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