Dad jailed for life for murdering baby by shaking him so badly he broke 50 ribs

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James Lawton, 28, from Newbury, Berkshire, shook one-month-old son Colby during a drunken rage resulting in brain damage resembling injuries typical of a 90mph car crash.

James Lawton must serve at least 17 years in prison for the murder of his baby son
James Lawton must serve at least 17 years in prison for the murder of his baby son

A drunken dad who who shook his baby son so violently the tot suffered 50 rib fractures, has been jailed for life.

James Lawton was convicted by a jury of the murder of one-month-old son Colby on Friday – and told by a High Court judge he must serve at least 17 years behind bars.

The 28-year-old had stood trial with the child’s mum Chantelle Stroud, 25, who was today cleared by a jury of charges of causing or allowing the death of a child and causing cruelty to a child.

The court heard how Colby let out a high-pitched scream as intoxicated Lawton shook him during a late-night rage at home in Newbury, Berkshire.

Days before the fatal assault on May 9, 2020, the defendant had also broken the baby’s skull.

The tot sustained 50 broken bones, a skull fracture and partial strangulation before he died, the jury was told.

Colby also had more than 70 bruises, with the fatal shaking so severe it resulted in brain damage resembling injuries typical of a 90mph car crash.

Lawton, previously of Boreham Field, Warminster, Wiltshire, was convicted of murder and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

He was cleared of causing cruelty to a person under the age of 16 by a majority verdict.

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Ms Stroud, of Newtown Road, Newbury, stood in the dock at Reading Crown Court alongside Lawton.

Her friends and family burst into tears when she was acquitted.

Lawton was sentenced at Reading Crown Court on Friday
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Image:

Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock)

Defending Lawton, Nicholas Syfrett QC, argued the attack could not have been pre-meditated, as the prosecution suggested.

“Every aspect of this trial has shown the people involved go from 1-100 with their actions,” he said.

Sentencing Lawton, Ms Justice Stacey said Colby “was in a hurry to see the world” having taken just three hours to be born, two weeks before his due date.

“He was vulnerable and helpless, dependent on you to take care of him,” the judge continued.

“I do accept that you did not intend to kill Colby as you are a man who acts spontaneously, but you did intend to cause him serious bodily harm. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.”

The judge said after his son’s birth Lawton “tried hard to be a good father”, including taking it in turns to do night feeds.

She accepted he had “made an effort” to cut down on his 10-year alcohol and cannabis habit.

But in the days before Colby’s death, he had started drinking again and he began arguing with his partner and neighbours.

Ms Justice Stacey said he caused grievous bodily harm to his son by likely hitting his head against a hard surface while Ms Stroud stood outside chatting to friends.

Around the same time, he had squeezed the baby’s chest and twisted his leg, she continued.

“Those serious injuries were not fatal and Colby, being the resilient little person he was, presented as normal after that as his body tried to heal from the assault.”

She told the court Lawton suffered from anxiety and depression, with his mental health having deteriorated during lockdown and he would usually direct his anger at inanimate objects.

She added she suspected Lawton had “unarticulated remorse and regret” for causing his son’s death.

“Colby’s killing came from the serious injuries you inflicted in the days earlier, which would have been very painful for him,” she said.

Lawton must serve a minimum of 17 years in prison before he can be considered for parole.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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