A careworker who killed his girlfriend’s disabled daughter after she refused to eat her ham sandwich lunch has been jailed for 11 years.
A court heard Paul Marsh reacted ‘in anger and frustration’ with three-year-old Jessica Dalgleish while he was trying to watch football scores on Sky Sports.
After taking the ‘extremely vulnerable’ youngster upstairs, he threw her recklessly but forcefully onto her bed, causing her to hit the back of her head against a hard surface.
But despite being trained in first-aid, the 27-year-old not only delayed calling for an ambulance, but also took off a seriously injured Jessica’s pyjamas and moved her to a sofa.
The toddler’s skull was fractured and she died three days later on Christmas Eve 2019 from what was described as a ‘catastrophic’ brain injury.
Marsh had only been living with Jessica and her mum for a few months when the fatal assault occurred.
STEVE FINN PHOTOGRAPHY)
He claimed to have found the youngster at the bottom of carpeted stairs after hearing a series of thuds at the family home in Sandgate, Kent.
But medical experts concluded that such a head injury being caused by a fall was ‘implausible’ and required severe blunt force impact equivalent to a ‘significant speed’ road crash.
Doctors also found extensive, pre-existing bruising to her face, head and neck consistent with gripping and poking.
Marsh, from Hythe, Kent, denied manslaughter and child cruelty but was found guilty of both charges after jury deliberations lasting just over seven hours.
Ironically, having been on bail since his conviction last month at Maidstone Crown Court, Kent, his first full day behind bars tomorrow will fall on the second anniversary of the little girl’s death.
In a victim impact statement, Jessica’s mum described her former boyfriend as ‘a monster’ who treated her daughter’s life as ‘worthless’.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Cavanagh said he accepted the household would have been a ‘very challenging and stressful experience’.
But he told Marsh that as he struggled to cope he became ‘ever more resentful’, before fatally assaulting the toddler, either by throwing or swinging her ‘very roughly and with considerable force’ so that her head hit a hard surface.
“I’m sentencing you on the basis that you didn’t intend to kill Jessica or cause her serious injury that day. But you assaulted this small child angrily and aggressively in circumstances which any reasonable person would have realised their actions carried the risk of some physical harm to Jessica,” said the judge.
“As soon as you had assaulted Jessica, you realised that something was seriously wrong but your first thought was for yourself. Jessica was unconscious and rigid. You decided immediately to try to cover up what you had done.
“Tragically, the injuries that you had inflicted on Jessica were catastrophic and, despite the admirably skilful and professional efforts of the first responders and the hospital staff, there was no hope from the outset of Jessica surviving them.
“The whole family mourns the life that Jessica will not now have, and suffers from the trauma of knowing how she did.
“It is clear that the death of this lovely small child has caused great pain and suffering to a large number of people.
“Jessica was a tiny child, whose age and learning difficulties meant that she was extremely vulnerable. They also meant that she had to be, and deserved to be, cared for patiently and sympathetically.
“You were the only adult in the house that day and Jessica had been left in your care. To the extent that she did anything that was challenging or annoying, it was obvious that it was not deliberate and was not her fault.
“There can be no conceivable excuse for you taking out your frustrations on Jessica.”
Mr Justice Cavanagh added that Jessica’s pre-existing injuries were caused by ‘rough handling in a fit of temper’, and described Marsh’s actions of delaying the call for an ambulance and concocting a story as ‘cowardly’.
STEVE FINN PHOTOGRAPHY)
He also said that while Marsh was ‘out of his depth’, he could have sought help or moved out, and it offered no excuse for his treatment of the little girl.
The court heard Jessica had been diagnosed with global developmental delay, could only speak a few words, had impaired vision and was small for her age in height and weight.
She also had behavioural difficulties, was known to head-bang, and required constant care and supervision.
But despite her learning disabilities and possible autism, she was described as a ‘cheeky, funny and loving’ little girl ‘with a twinkle in her eye’.
At the start of his trial, prosecutor Jennifer Knight QC told the jury Marsh not only unlawfully killed the tot but had also ‘wilfully assaulted’ her in the three weeks prior to her death.
He also sent a series of ‘vitriolic and graphic’ texts to the little girl’s mum, complaining about her poor eating habits and that she needed harsher discipline.
Miss Knight told the court: “Paul Marsh began to assault Jessica when angry with her and these assaults led to her sustaining bruising during December 2019.
“On December 21 2019 Paul Marsh, angered by Jessica’s refusal to eat her lunch, carried her upstairs and assaulted her once more, probably by throwing her forcefully down onto her bed and causing her head to be struck against the rail at the top of the bed, the wall or the side of the bed – a hard surface – causing the serious injury that led directly to Jessica’s death.”
Marsh had met Jessica’s mum, described by the judge as ‘dedicated and loving’, while working together at a residential home for adults with learning difficulties.
He had no children of his own and no experience of looking after a child when he moved in with her in August 2019 but was said by Miss Knight to have ‘willingly’ taken on the role of father figure.
A witness later told police Marsh was strict and would shout, describing him as ‘an angry man’.
Miss Knight said that by September he had ‘demonstrated his increasing anger and frustration’ with childcare issues in text and Facebook messages to his girlfriend, and less than two weeks before she died, nursery school staff began to notice bruising to the youngster’s eye, neck and left side of her head.
Her mum was so concerned that she took the tot to A&E at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent. However, no ‘high level’ safe-guarding issues were raised. Marsh himself described the hospital visit as ‘pointless’.
Sadly, her brain injury was irreversible and her life support was switched off three days later on Christmas Eve.
In Pictures via Getty Images)
Home Office pathologist Dr Nathaniel Cary told jurors the possibility that the fatal head injury occurred as a result of a stair fall was implausible due to a child’s short stature He added that Jessica had no other injuries consistent with such a tumble,
and that fatal accidental head injury in a domestic environment is ‘vanishingly rare’.
Her older injuries included a separate head injury and bruising caused by the gripping of her face and poking by knuckles, the court heard.
Giving evidence, Marsh admitted that at the time of Jessica’s death he was stressed with work and his mechanical engineering studies.
But he maintained he had never hurt her and that the abusive messages were just his way of ‘venting’.
Oliver Saxby QC, defending, told the court Marsh, who has no previous convictions, was ‘simply ill-equipped to deal with the responsibility’, and that the offences occurred against ‘a backdrop of real stress’.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.