Mother and partner guilty of killing toddler Kyrell Matthews after 'harrowing' abuse caught on phone

Tap above to watch video report by Ronke Phillips

A mother and her ex-boyfriend have been found guilty of killing the woman's two-year-old son, who suffered weeks of abuse before he died in south London.

Kemar Brown, 28, hit two-year-old Kyrell Matthews repeatedly at his Croydon home, before the boy died from his injuries in October 2019, the Old Bailey was told.

Brown was found guilty of murder on Friday, while Kyrell's mother Phylesia Shirley, 24, was acquitted of murder but found guilty of manslaughter.

Kyrell Matthews was described as a “happy, smiley” child.

Jurors had heard “harrowing” secret audio recordings of violence against the child that had been captured on Shirley’s phone.

Kyrell was found to have 41 rib fractures by the time he died on October 20 2019, as well as internal bleeding and a 4cm cut to his liver.

The fractures were caused by a twisting motion and the fatal liver injury was from a kick, punch or blow to the stomach, jurors were told.

The non-fatal injuries were inflicted in at least five separate attacks over 28 days, indicating a significant period of abuse, according to experts.

Court artist sketch of Phylesia Shirley, and her partner, Kemar Brown, appearing at the Old Bailey Credit: PA

"Kyrell had his ribs crushed or broken by blows within the four weeks before October 20," Prosecutor Edward Brown QC told a previous hearing at the Old Bailey.

"At least one of the defendants plainly inflicted a significant number of injuries in at least five separate incidents in the four weeks leading up to … Kyrell’s death.

"The pain and distress in those four weeks when he was abused was brought vividly to the fore by those harrowing recordings.

"On October 20, his ribs were crushed once more – it killed him."

Kyrell Matthews was beaten by Brown at his home in Thornton Heath in Croydon

Police later discovered secret audio files on Shirley’s mobile phone – the apparent results of attempts to catch Brown being unfaithful – which inadvertently captured the abuse, the prosecution said.

They included a number of audio files where it appeared Kyrell was hit repeatedly, with Brown saying “shut up”, causing the toddler to cry and scream.

On another occasion, Brown, who has a string of convictions for violence, inflicted several blows on the little boy before telling him: "You have to ruin the fun," prosecutors said.

Shirley was heard swearing at, and striking her son and causing him to cry in distress in another file, the prosecution said.

Shirley and Brown, of separate addresses in Thornton Heath, had denied murder.

Brown had denied two further charges – causing or allowing death, and causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child.

  • Tap below to watch a video report by Ronke Phillips during the trial of Kemar Brown and Phylesia Shirley

His legal team claimed that the jury could not be sure Kyrell was not accidentally killed when Shirley gave him chest compressions, having been wrongly advised in a 111 call to use two hands rather than one.

However, experts for the prosecution told jurors there were no recorded cases of a child having a macerated liver from being given CPR.

The jury was played a recording of Shirley’s 111 call after Kyrell collapsed at home.

Shirley sobbed as she was told by a clinical adviser to use both hands and “push down hard and fast” and “go for it”.

Shirley, who had previously worked in children’s services at Croydon Council, admitted allowing the death and allowing serious physical harm to a child.

Both defendants, who were unemployed at the time of Kyrell’s death, were cannabis users and are understood to have been visited by social services at least once.

  • A recording of the 111 call Kyrell's mother Phylesia Shirley made on the day of his death

Brown told jurors that Shirley put her relationship with her ex-partner above her own child.

He said: “She was prepared to reject what should have been motherly care in protecting Kyrell in favour of abuse by her – his own mother – and in favour of the abuse carried out by a man she knew was abusing her child.

“The truth is that his death came when once more he was abused in that flat, once more in a very similar way, causing very similar injuries, except on this occasion it was so much more serious, the abuse and the results were catastrophic.”

Brown had convictions for robbery, battery, having a knife, drugs and resisting an officer, as well as being subject to a non-molestation order relating to a former partner.

Kyrell, who was non-verbal, was described as a “happy, smiley” child, would have expressed the pain he was suffering in the final days of his life even though he could not speak, the court heard.

Kyrell died the same day he was taken to Croydon University Hospital

Jurors were not told that police had been called to an earlier domestic incident at Kyrell's home but no offences were identified and the child was said to have appeared “safe and well”.

A passer-by had alerted officers on July 17 2019 after hearing shouting and screaming coming from their flat, with a female voice saying: “Stop hitting my face.”

It followed an incident in May 2019 when Kyrell suffered a significant injury to the side of his face and spent five days in Croydon University Hospital.

The hospital carried out an investigation and found Shirley’s explanation that the little boy had fallen off a sofa and hit his head on a highchair was “plausible”, police said.

Kyrell was described as 'the most loving little boy' by his paternal step-grandmother

Adjourning sentencing until March 25, Judge Mark Lucraft QC noted that the court had heard some “harrowing” recordings made by Shirley of the abuse, saying she ought to feel “utterly ashamed”.

Speaking outside court, Kyrell’s paternal step-grandmother Christine Ernest said the family were happy with the verdicts, saying they both “deserved” it.

She said: “I wish they would throw away the key with them but we know that’s not always going to happen.”

On Kyrell, she said: “He was very lively. He was a happy little character and the most loving little boy, always smiling.”

Senior Crown Prosecutor Samantha Yelland said: “It’s been a horrific case for us all to work on. Kyrell was two years old and would have been able to explain the fear he was feeling, the pain he was feeling to those that cared for him.

“We are used to dealing with cases of a serious nature on the homicide unit but this one was particularly horrific because of the graphic content of those recordings and because of the defenceless young child who couldn’t do anything to help themselves.

“The two people who were supposed to look after him the most were those that caused injury, and in the end his death.”