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Murdered Elsie Scully-Hicks 'would still be alive if social services had not taken her'

Matthew Scully-Hicks described Elsie as 'Satan dressed up in a Babygro'. Credit: PA

The birth family of 18-month-old Elsie Scully-Hicks who was murdered by her adoptive father has said she would "still be alive today", if she had not been taken from them.

Matthew Scully-Hicks was jailed for a minimum of 18 years on Tuesday after being found guilty of the toddler's murder by violently shaking her and striking her head, just two weeks after he formally adopted her.

On Monday the 31-year-old was found guilty of inflicting a catalogue of injuries - including bruises, a broken leg and a fall down a full flight of stairs - on his adoptive daughter Elsie in the eight months he had care for her.

Elsie died in May 2016, four days after suffering brain damage, a fractured skull and fractures to her ribs.

Mrs Justice Davies, when sentencing Scully-Hicks, took into account a victim impact statement - which was not read in court - provided by Elsie's birth family.

In the statement, which can now be reported following the lifting of a restriction, the toddler's birth family said they were "numb with pain".

Elsie was named Shayla O'Brien by her birth family when she was born in November 2014.

Elsie Scully-Hicks was born Shayla O'Brien. Credit: South Wales Police

Speaking on behalf of the family, Elsie's birth grandmother Sian O'Brien said: "I accept that at the time of giving birth my daughter was living a chaotic lifestyle and was not in a position to care for Shayla and she was removed from the hospital five days after birth by social services.

"As a family, we continued to have contact with Shayla whilst she was in the care of the foster family."

Ms O'Brien said all of Elsie's family were "extremely attached to her and loved her very much".

She said: "In January 2015, I started proceedings in the family court to become the legal guardian for Shayla.

"I wanted to bring her up in a happy, healthy and warm family environment, that was all taken away from me when social services and the family court decided I would not be able to cope.

"We all continued to fight on even though every day we were numb with pain and hurt deep in the knowledge that Shayla was loved unconditionally by us all as a family and knowing that had she not been taken away from us, she would still be alive today.

"Despite this decision and Shayla being in foster care, we as a family were still able to have weekly contact with her and we saw her without fail at every opportunity," Ms O'Brien said.

"In August 2015, out of nowhere, we were told by social services that we had to go and see Shayla as soon as possible and say goodbye for the final time as a suitable adoptive family had been found for her.

"This was completely devastating for us all."

Ms O'Brien continued that the family hoped that they would one day be reunited with Elsie, but were visited by social services in January 2017 when they were informed the toddler had died in May 2016 after suffering bleeding in her brain and eyes, a fractured skull and fractured ribs.

"In itself this was devastating news but to then be informed that one of the parents who had adopted her had been charged with murder and was allegedly responsible for her death was completely incomprehensible," Ms O'Brien added.

"A person who had been deemed by the authorities to be a fit and proper person to bring up my granddaughter was responsible for her death, and they took her from me telling me I would be unable to cope."

Matthew Scully-Hicks stayed at home with Elsie while his husband worked. Credit: South Wales Police

During his trial, Scully-Hicks, who stayed at home with Elsie - who was renamed by her adoptive parents - while his husband worked denied that he found looking after her stressful or that he was unable to cope and insisted he never harmed her.

Yet Cardiff Crown Court was told that the 31-year-old branded his daughter "a psycho", "the exorcist" and "Satan dressed up in a Babygro" in text messages.

Giving evidence, neighbours of the family reported hearing the former lifeguard shouting "shut the f*** up" at Elsie and calling her a "little f****** brat" and a "silly little c***" when she cried.

When he dialed 999 on May 25, Scully-Hicks reported the toddler had collapsed and must have spontaneously suffered injuries after he changed her for bed at home in Llandaff, Cardiff.

  • In the 999 call Matthew Scully-Hicks made four days before Elsie's death he tells the call handler the toddler went "floppy and limp" when he was changing her for bed.

Yet when paramedics and police arrived at the property, they found Elsie not breathing, with no pulse, in the lounge.

Doctors discovered she had suffered from three separate areas of bleeding on her brain, retinal bleeding, a skull fracture, three rib fractures and a leg fracture.

The cardiac arrest caused further brain injury and Elsie died in the early hours of May 29.

Following the trial which lasted more than four weeks, jurors unanimously found Scully-Hicks guilty of murder after four days deliberating the case.

During the trial, 12 medical experts and six doctors who treated Elsie gave evidence and they discounted the defendant's version of events.

All the injuries suffered by the toddler allegedly took place when she was alone with Scully-Hicks.

Iwan Jenkins, head of the Complex Casework Unit for CPS Wales, said that while the CPS was pleased with the verdict, "ultimately there are no winners, there's no victory as such, it is a sad occasion...

"When the victim is so young and defenceless as this individual child was and that the perpetrator was someone who should have been looking after her, caring for her, making sure she avoided any injury, it deepens that sadness and the tragedy of what's happened in this case."

An independent Child Practice Review is now under way to examine the "tragic circumstances" of Elsie's death, a spokesman for Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Regional Safeguarding Children Board said.