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Toddler's eye injuries similar to those caused in 'severe' car crash, court told

Injuries to the eyes of a toddler allegedly murdered by her adoptive father were similar to those that would be caused in a "severe" car crash, a court has heard.

Credit: PA Images/South Wales Police

Elsie Scully-Hicks died in hospital in May 2016 aged 18 months after suffering from three separate areas of subdural bleeding, retinal bleeding in both eyes, a skull fracture and fractures to three ribs and her leg.

Matthew Scully-Hicks, 31, who is accused of inflicting those injuries on her, had formally adopted her with his husband Craig Scully-Hicks, 36, just two weeks before she was rushed to hospital on May 25, 2016.

Cardiff Crown Court heard Scully-Hicks, who denies murder, dialled 999 at around 6.20pm saying Elsie had gone all "floppy and limp" and that she was not breathing.

Elsie was rushed from the couple's home in Llandaff, Cardiff, to University Hospital of Wales but died there in the early hours of May 29.

On Friday in court Dr Richard Bonshek, a consultant ophthalmic pathologist who examined Elsie's eyes after she had died, said he found bleeding in the retinas of both eyes, the coverings of the optic nerves, the optic nerve sheaths and in the tissue around the optic nerve in both eyes.

Given the range of findings and their extent, the most likely cause is some form of severe trauma and in the absence of accidental trauma of considerable severity...then one is left with the likelihood of non-accidental injury.

– Dr Richard Bonshek, Consultant Ophthalmic Pathologist

Paul Lewis QC, prosecuting asked what level of trauma would cause the injuries.

Dr Bonshek said: "Comparing these changes (in Elsie's eyes) with changes I have seen in other cases ... I think that for accidental causes then one is talking of severe motor vehicle accidents, falls from heights (or) in cases when a child has been accidentally propelled down stairs or a child has been thrown down stairs."

Dr Bonshek added the injuries were so severe that had Elsie survived she would "most probably" have had problems with her sight.

"In terms of non-accidental injuries, these findings have been described in cases which have been ascribed to shaking as well of cases of shaking and impact and impact alone," he added.

Also today, evidence heard by the jury last week, which included audio recordings of two 999 calls to the emergency services, was released by the Crown Prosecution Service.

During a call on March 10 2016, Matthew Scully-Hicks said he had been sorting washing in a bedroom, with Elsie on the floor, before going downstairs, closing the gate behind him.

The court heard he came back upstairs and then saw Elsie at the top of the stairs, the baby gate had then opened and that Elsie had tumbled down the stairs.

  • Excerpt from 999 call on 10th March 2016:
  • Female: And what caused the fall?
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: I didn't push the gate closed properly and she fell down
  • Female: "OK - what part of the body is injured?"
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: "Umm, I don't know she's just, she's just lying there, she's just all floppy"
Cardiff Crown Court was shown the stair gate which Matthew Scully-Hicks said had opened. Credit: Courtesy of Crown Prosecution Service
The court was shown this image of the stairs. Credit: Courtesy of Crown Prosecution Service

On the tapes, which were heard by the jury last week, Scully-Hicks can be heard following the instructions of the operator to administer CPR to his daughter and saying "oh my god".

  • Excerpt from 999 call on 25th May 2016:
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: "I was just changing my daughter for bed and she went all floppy and limp and now she's not, she's not doing anything she's lying on the floor"
  • Female: "How old is your daughter?"
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: "Umm she's eighteen months"
  • Female: "Okay, is she awake?"
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: "No"
  • Female: "Is she breathing?"
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: "No"
  • Female: "Okay are you right by her now?"
  • Matthew Scully-Hicks: "Yeah, I'm trying to do CPR"
  • Female: "Okay listen carefully now, i'm organising for you now, can you stay on the line and I can tell you what to do exactly next, okay"

Neighbours have claimed they heard Scully-Hicks, a part-time fitness instructor, from Delabole, Cornwall, shouting and swearing at Elsie when she cried.

But they added they had no concerns over her welfare.

Craig Scully-Hicks described the home as "filled with love and happiness".

The defendant is also accused of describing Elsie, who was removed from her natural mother within days of her birth in November 2014 and went to live with the couple in September 2015, as "a psycho" and "Satan dressed up in a Babygro" in messages.

She fractured her right leg in two places in November that year and suffered bruises to her head in December and January 2016.

On March 10, she was taken to the University Hospital of Wales after falling down the stairs.

The court previously heard Elsie's injuries in May were consistent with her being "shaken violently" and having her head "rocked backwards and forwards so that her head was flexed down on to her chest and flexed backwards".

Dr Stephen Rose, a consultant paediatrician, also said of Elsie's skull fracture: "The only mechanism for a skull fracture is if there was a blow to the head, either during the shaking injury which culminated in Elsie being thrown against a hard floor, or possibly her head being knocked against a wall."

Scully-Hicks denies one charge of murder. The trial, expected to last five weeks, continues.

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