Woman and ex-partner cleared of manslaughter of toddler who was tied to 'cage' bed
A woman and her ex-partner have been cleared of the manslaughter of a toddler who was tied to a "cage" bed, but have been found guilty of causing or allowing her death.
Lauren Coyle, 19, and Reece Hitchcott, 20, were found not guilty at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday of the manslaughter of Coyle's 19-month-old daughter Ellie-May Minshull Coyle.
After almost seven-and-a-half hours of deliberations, the jury found the pair guilty of causing or allowing her death, one count of child cruelty by "caging" the child in her bed, and another count of child cruelty by restraining her in the bed.
Their lodger, Connor Kirby, 20, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool, was cleared of all of the charges.
Ellie-May was found dead at the couple's home in Preston, Lancashire, on March 23 last year.
The trial heard that the toddler's purple Frozen bed at the two-bedroom flat in Ward Street, Lostock Hall, was "turned into a cage", with its open sides enclosed by the slatted sides of a cot lashed together with ligatures and electrical flex and tied to the bed frame.
Sheets and bedding were placed over the sides to prevent her seeing outside, no lights were working inside her bedroom, and a mattress and sheet were also covering the window, the court was told.
Ellie-May was alleged to have been bound to the bed face-down.
There were also marks on the child's wrists and ankles, suggesting she had been tied to the "cage", the jury heard.
A post-mortem examination concluded the youngster's death was caused by "forcible restraint by ligatures in a face down position complicated by hyperthermia".
Coyle, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston, said the bed had been converted by Hitchcott, of The Fieldings, Fulwood, Preston, with the aim of getting the toddler into a routine of sleeping through the night.
She told the court that Ellie-May, her daughter by ex-boyfriend John Minshull, was her "world".
The case was adjourned for sentencing at a later date.
Granting Coyle and Hitchcott bail, judge Mr Justice Dove said: "That is no indication whatsoever as to what the likely sentence might be."
Brett Gerrity, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "This is a tragic case in which a young and innocent child was treated in the worst possible way by those who should have kept her safe from harm.
"During the trial the prosecution proved that, by restraining Ellie-May in her bed, or knowing that she had been restrained in such a way, Lauren Coyle and Reece Hitchcott wilfully contributed to or directly caused her untimely death.
"Throughout the case the defendants denied responsibility for causing her death and blamed each other, but today the jury have found the child's mother and her partner guilty of causing her death and neglecting her.
"I would like to express my sympathy to Ellie-May's family and loved ones."
Ellie-May's father John Minshull said: "Ellie-May was a wonderful little girl, she was so special to everyone around her.
"She was always happy and the best daughter anyone could ask for.
"The fact that she was taken away from us broke our hearts because she was loved and she will be missed deeply."
Detective Chief Inspector Zoe Russo said: "This case has been the most distressing that myself and the team have ever had to deal with.
"To think of the suffering that this little girl was put through by those people that should have loved, cared for and protected her is heart-breaking.
"This was an entirely unnecessary, pointless and avoidable death of a child."