The mother of an 11-month-old baby who died in horrific circumstances has spoken about her ‘beautiful baby boy’.
Zakari William Bennett-Eko died at the Royal Bolton Hospital after his father threw him into the River Irwell in Radcliffe on September 11, 2019. He had been in the water for 45 minutes.
A year after the tragedy, his 23-year old father, Zakari Bennett-Eko, was convicted of a manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and sentenced to a hospital order.
READ MORE: The catalog of failings that led to drowning of ‘happy’ baby at hands of dad
Senior coroner for Manchester North, Joanne Kearsley, sitting at Rochdale, is presiding over an inquest likely to last at least three weeks.
On its opening day (Monday, February 7), she heard from the baby’s mother Emma Blood, who said she and Mr Bennett-Eko were very happy when, in 2018, Zakari arrived weighing a healthy 7lbs 6oz.
“He was the most beautiful baby boy,” she said. “We both fell in love with him. I went home with him the day after giving birth.”
Emma said the whole of her large extended family were ‘over the moon’.
“It was a really proud moment when we both registered the birth with our names on the certificate as his parents.”
The inquest has heard how the troubled dad had been a cannabis user since the age 12 and as a teenager had assaulted his mother.
He suffered from drug-induced psychosis and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and was on prescribed medication but Emma, his partner with whom he shared a home in River Street, Radcliffe, told of a constant battle to get him to take it.
From May to September 2019, he did not take the medication for his illnesses. Although he summarized taking it just before the tragedy, on September 11 he took his little son out in his pram and, in front of two witnesses, threw him into the river.
Senior civilian police investigating officer Duncan Thorpe said when interviewed Mr Bennett-Eko admitted throwing his son into the water.
“He said he had been having mad thoughts,” said Mr Thorpe. “And he demonstrated with his arms how he did it. He said the people were challenging him to ‘carry out witchcraft’.”
Zakari’s mum Emma and Mr Bennett-Eko had been friends at school, but lost contact with each other until 2017 when they started a relationship.
In fact, Mr Bennett-Eko, in the intervening time, had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act on two occasions and had been detained at Prestwich Hospital, unknown to his girlfriend.
Emma told the hearing: “The relationship was good at first and we spent a lot of time together, although I was aware he suffered from mental illness.
“He said that he suffered drug-induced psychosis and that he took medication, but that it was under control. I didn’t understand what psychosis was, and he said he had ADHD.”
As well as his illnesses, he had learning difficulties and couldn’t read.
In February, 2018, Emma discovered she was pregnant and the couple were eventually housed by Manchester City Council’s homeless services in River Street, Radcliffe.
After her baby was born, Emma said a health visitor was engaged and they were aware of Mr Bennett Eko’s mental health issues. he was then referred to social services for assessment to see if there was any further support needed.
“But they didn’t come back to speak to us about his mental health or give us any information about what they had found out,” she said.
When Zakari was three months old, Emma found out she was pregnant again, this time with a girl. She said Mr Bennett-Eko was pleased, but by this time the behavior of her partner de ella was beginning to worry her.
He would go to the GP and get his prescription to get his medication but ‘he just didn’t want to take it’.
In August, 2019, she found out he had not even been picking up the medication.
Emma said: “He was acting strangely. He was always disappearing and causing problems within the family. He would act like he was depressed then he would be OK the next minute. It was like he was faking it.”
She said her partner had been violent to her once. She said: “We argued about something and he slapped me.”
Emma said that in 2019, Mr Bennett-Eko started using cannabis again.
“He would go out with his friends, and come back high and go to bed, but he was always denying it,” she said.
She said it was at this point she found out there was a link between drugs and her partner’s mental health.
“I didn’t know that he also had schizophrenia,” she said.
Emma said that by August, 2019, she had decided she ‘didn’t want to be with him anymore’. “It was just too much,” she said.
“He was going around slagging me off to everyone,” she said. “I didn’t like him anymore. He was just a horrible person.”
She spoke of an incident where Mr Bennett-Eko was screaming at her accusing her of cheating on him with a rapper from Moston.
Emma also said he was obsessed with Beyonce because she looked like his late mother.
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She also spoke of a visit to the accident and emergency department at North Manchester General Hospital when Mr Bennett-Eko had become depressed.
Emma visited the hospital with her son and waited while her partner was seen by the mental health team, but saw them alone ‘so he could be honest’.
“Afterwards they invited me into the room and said he was depressed because he had lost his mother,” she said. “They just advised him to go home and take his medication from him. They did n’t ask to speak to me alone at that point.”
She said the man who saw them seemed to be in a hurry for them to leave.
“He said he could go home, take his meds and he would be fine,” she said. But just three days later, his son died as a result of being thrown into the river.
Pathologist Charlie Wilson said that the cause of little Zakari’s death was immersion in cold water. The tragedy occurred when Emma was eight months pregnant with her daughter.
The quest continues.