Kandyce Downer sentenced to life in prison for 'barbaric' murder of 18-month-old

A "barbaric" woman who murdered an 18-month-old girl in her care and tried to blame the toddler's death on her teenage son has been jailed for life, with a minimum tariff of 18 years.

Kandyce Downer, 35, had been Keegan Downer's legal guardian for eight months when she died as a result of "horrific" systematic abuse.

  • The victim

Baby Keegan Credit: SWNS

Shi-Anne Downer was removed from her biological mother, a heroin addict, days after her birth in March 2014.

She was looked after by an experienced foster carer, Jane Murray, who described her as a "sweet, placid little girl" before Downer - a distant relative - applied to care for the child.

The baby was placed in Downer's care in January 2015. Downer changed Shi-Anne's name to Keegan.

She died eight months later at Downer's home in Weoley Castle, Birmingham, after months of abuse.

  • The killer

Kandyce Downer was made Keegan's guardian in January 2015 Credit: West Midlands Police

Downer, a mother-of-four, was a business student when she applied to care for Keegan.

Murray raised concerns with a social worker that Downer was primarily motivated by the £125.09 a week she would receive for Keegan's care, after she cancelled a visit with her would-be foster daughter while she was awaiting a decision about funding.

At the time of Keegan's death, Downer was in the process of divorcing her husband - a cousin of Keegan's biological dad - and was pregnant by her married boyfriend.

  • The attacks

It's thought that Downer began abusing Keegan a few months into her care, when her relationship with her boyfriend ran into trouble.

The baby had suffered a "horrific" catalogue of between 150 and 200 untreated injuries, including broken ribs, leg fractures and injuries to her spine, face and neck.

She was in "excruciating pain," consultant paediatrician Dr Ben Stanhope said in a written statement to the court.

Keegan suffered more than 200 injuries that eventually killed her

He said that injuries to the baby's lips were the "most severe" he had seen in more than 20 years in his profession.

A spiral leg fracture that had left Keegan with one leg shorter than the other, jurors heard.

Prosecutor Nigel Power, QC, told the court: "The fractures would have caused pain and would have been obvious to anyone around her."

Keegan suffered a cardiac arrest and died from a combination of septicaemia, blunt chest trauma an old head injury and a bacterial infection.

Keegan died at Downer's home on Beckbury Road, Weoley Castle, Birmingham
  • 999 call

On the morning of Saturday 5 September, eight months after baby Keegan was placed in her care, Kandyce Downer called 999 to report that Keegan wasn't breathing.

Listen to the call:

  • Cover up

Before Downer called to get help for the baby, she to drove to a nearby skip to dump the child's bloodstained mattress.

She was captured on CCTV driving away from her home to dispose of the bed:

Before calling 999, Kandyce Downer drove Keegan's bloodstained mattress to a nearby skip
  • Arrest

Downer was arrested at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where baby Keegan had been pronounced dead on arrival.

  • Trial

During her trial, Downer denied any knowledge of Keegan's injuries and tried to blame them on her eldest son, who was 17 at the time.

She said that prioritising the dumping of Keegan's mattress while the baby was lying "unwell" in her cot was down to "panic" because she feared she or her son would be blamed.

  • Verdict

A jury at Birmingham Crown Court took just over two and a half hours to convict Downer of murder.

Keegan Downer was murdered by her legal guardian
  • Sentencing

Sentencing Downer to life with a minimum term of 18 years, Mrs Justice Frances Patterson said: "It is a horrible tale of callous conduct and at no stage have you showed any remorse.

"Why you changed from a loving mother to a brutal attacker of a defenceless child is a mystery."

She said the baby had "flourished" before she was adopted by Downer.

  • Police reaction

Det Insp Harry Harrison said the case was the worst he had seen in 26 years on the force.

He called Downer's actions "completely barbaric, inhuman and downright evil."

  • Keegan's grandmother Elaine Downer

Elaine Downer never met her grandchild. She spoke of the loss she feels outside court:

  • Foster carer's reaction

Referring to Keegan by her birth name Shi-Anne, Murray described the toddler's murder is "devastating" in a victim impact statement read out to court.

Keegan had 'flourished' before she was adopted by Downer, a judge said
  • Child protection charity

The NSPCC said it "defied belief" that the abuse had happened at the hands of a woman who was entrusted with bringing up Keegan.

The organisation said in a statement: "This is the latest in a series of tragic cases of very young children killed by their parent or guardian. Everything possible must be done to prevent this from happening again."

  • Birmingham children's services

Birmingham City Council's Children's Services have been under scrutiny over the past eight years, following the preventable deaths of Khyra Ishaq and Keanu Williams, who were both known to social workers and who were both killed by their parents.

In 2013 the department was branded a "national disgrace" and in March 2014 Lord Warner was appointed independent commissioner tasked with overseeing improvements to services. He is currently undertaking a three-year review of the system.