Burned, beaten, murdered: What happened to three-year-old Dwelaniyah Robinson

Tom Barton was in court to hear the horrifying scale of abuse Dwelaniyah Robinson suffered at the hands of his mother

* Warning - this article and video report contains distressing details about child cruelty and murder

On the night of 4 November 2022, three-year-old Dwelaniyah Robinson soiled the bed.

The following morning his mother, Christina Robinson, threw the dirty mattress out of his bedroom window.

Later that day, she beat him multiple times with a garden cane.

Shortly before 3.51pm she shook him, or banged his head, so badly that his brain was injured.

At 5.22pm the little boy was declared dead.

These are the details that have been heard during a three-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court which led to Robinson being found guilty of murder and four cruelty charges.

What happened to Dwelaniyah Robinson?

Dwelaniyah Robinson's death on 5 November was the end of a reign of cruelty and neglect that had begun at least 18 days earlier.

On 19 October, just like on the day he died, he had soiled himself. That day, though, Robinson, 30, did not shake him, or beat him with a cane. She deliberately and forcibly lowered him into a bath of scalding-hot water.

The ordeal, a “textbook” example of forced immersion in hot water, left Dwelaniyah with burns on his legs and bottom covering between 15% and 20% of his body. Much of this burning was the highest-category “full thickness” burn that would have been “extremely debilitating, extremely painful”.

Dwelaniyah would have been “obviously in pain and obviously distressed,” and if he had been taken to hospital he would have immediately been referred to a burns unit.

There he would have been given morphine for pain relief and would likely have needed six or seven operations to treat the injuries.

But Robinson did not take her son to hospital. Instead she treated his burns at their home in Ushaw Moor, County Durham, using aloe vera gel and bandages, relying on internet searches for “natural remedies to burn wounds” and “how to treat first degree minor burns”.

Over the following days she bought bandages, dressings, Nurofen and hydrocolloid dressings from Amazon.

Christina Robinson denied all charges against her. Credit: Durham Police

At night, Dwelaniyah, whimpered in his bed. A neighbour, Alan Hirst, whose semi-detached house was connected to Robinson’s home in Ushaw Moor, said he heard a sound like a child who needed something.

“I assumed it was either a dummy had been spit out, or taken from the child, and they wanted it back,” he said. “There was no crying, no shouting.”

While Dwelaniyah was suffering, his father, Gabriel Adu-Appau, 33, was oblivious to the cruelty being inflicted by his wife.

The trained pharmacist, originally from Ghana, was away in Aylesbury on his initial training, having recently signed up with the RAF.

Meanwhile Christina Robinson, originally from Tamworth, Staffordshire, was in regular contact with her lover, Innocent Onoja, 27, from Middlesbrough, who she had met on the dating app OkCupid.

A week and a half after burning him, on 28 October, with his injuries still untreated, she told Mr Onoja that Dwelaniyah needed “an ass kicking”. She complained that he had soiled himself, and that he had spilled her medication on the floor.

“I feel like slapping someone,” she wrote, “these damn kids.” Later in a WhatsApp voice-note she told Mr Onoja “he’s going to get his ass kicked,” adding: “He will get exactly what he deserves. No more, no less.”

Christina Robinson sent this voice-note, released by Durham Police, after her son Dwelaniyah found her medication

After sending those messages, despite claiming she was ”just venting”, Robinson told the court she would have slapped him.

“I was going off of the scriptures, and there was a scripture that said to correct your child and I was going off that,” she said.

Robinson follows a new religious movement called the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose members believe themselves to be the descendants of a lost tribe of Israel that was displaced to Africa and then sold into slavery.

She said she follows the Old Testament, the New Testament, as well as a series of non-canonical books called the Apocrypha, very closely.

She hit Dwelaniyah on 28 October, she said, because “that’s what the book says”.

The next day, 10 days after Dwelaniyah was injured, Robinson’s lover Innocent Onoja travelled to Ushaw Moor to stay with her.

He saw burns, covered by blood-stained bandages, on a boy who was “in pain,” “squinting and grunting” and who needed help getting from sitting to standing.

Mr Onoja told Robinson “it looks like he’s in pain”, and she said she was going to take Dwelaniyah to hospital. 

Robinson did go to hospital. She did not, though, go to seek help for her injured son.

Instead Christina Robinson, who told the court she wanted children numbering into the “double figures”, went for a checkup with the maternity department at the University Hospital of North Durham after getting pregnant using a sperm donor. 

While she was at the hospital, Robinson left the badly-injured three-year-old, and his two-year-old brother, alone at home for around two hours.

Over the 18 days between burning Dwelaniyah and killing him, she left him and his brother at home on their own at least seven times - something she said was “commonly done”.

Police vehicle parked outside the home of Christina Robinson in Ushaw Moor, County Durham. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

On 5 November, the day Dwelaniyah died, Christina Robinson threw his soiled mattress out of the window. He had “had an accident”, she told the court, and there was a “good amount” of urine and faeces on the mattress.

Later that day, while watching a YouTube video of Black Hebrew Israelite religious teachings, which “quoted certain scriptures which did promote using the rod for correction”, she took a garden cane out of the garage and used it to beat Dwelaniyah.

A post-mortem documented 19 bruises, mostly on the front of his body and on his right shin, that were consistent with being hit with a cane.

In two locations, three of the bruises were aligned to form a “Z” shape. Robinson admitted being responsible for all of the bruises, but denied that the shape was deliberate.

The garden cane Christina Robinson used to hit her son Dwelaniyah. Credit: Durham Police

Within a couple of hours, Dwelaniyah was unconscious. Robinson had picked him up and shaken him. His head, experts said, had likely also come into contact with an object.

A post-mortem found a blood clot, called a subdural hematoma, described by the Home Office pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper as “completely fresh”. That injury, the court heard, was the cause of Dwelaniyah’s death.

Despite her little boy being unconscious, Christina Robinson did not call an ambulance immediately. Instead she sent a WhatsApp message to Dwelaniyah’s father, Gabriel Adu-Appau, saying “call me please”. Then, after trying to call him, she searched YouTube for videos on “how to resuscitate a child”.

Fifteen minutes after that first message, Mr Adu-Appau phoned her back and, after a three-minute conversation, he told her to phone an ambulance.

Durham Police released the 999 call Christina Robinson made after her son stopped breathing

In total, 19 minutes passed between Robinson’s first message to Dwelaniyah’s father and her calling for professional help. But when that help arrived, Robinson’s lies began.

Speaking to police, her demeanour was “quiet, calm, unpanicked”. Asked by officers what had happened, she was recorded on body-worn video cameras saying he had choked after eating a cheese roll.

“We were downstairs, he was eating his food," she told them, adding: “And then all of a sudden, sort of a spluttering sound and then he just went limp.”

The idea that Dwelaniyah had choked was rejected by pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper, who carried out his post-mortem. He told the court he had not “seen any objective evidence that his airway was blocked".

He added: "But you would expect a sizeable chunk of something to be wedged in his airway. As far as I know, nobody found anything wedged in the airway at any point.”

Body-worn footage from Durham Police captures the moments after officers arrived at the home of Christina Robinson

Asked how Dwelaniyah had come to be so badly burned, Robinson told police, paramedics and doctors that he had been playing on his own in the shower.

“I was downstairs, I was cleaning and I just heard screams,” she told a doctor at the University Hospital of North Durham.

“He was trying to get out, he couldn’t get out. That's what happened, I tried to cool him down with cold water and everything.”

But by the time she stood in the witness box to give evidence, her story had changed. Dwelaniyah was not playing on his own in the shower, she told the jury. Rather, she claimed, she had put him in the shower to wash him after he had soiled himself.

The water, she suggested, became much hotter than she realised and she burned him by accident.

CCTV footage released by Durham Police shows Christina Robinson visiting a shop and then hospital on 2 November

That claim was rejected by experts, including consultant burns and plastic surgeon Timothy Burge, who said the burns could not have been caused by a shower and who was “convinced this was a forced immersion in hot water".

Throughout the trial, Robinson denied the charges of murder and child cruelty that were brought against her.

As it drew to an end, after giving nearly nine hours of evidence from the witness box, she sacked her legal team of solicitors and barristers and chose to represent herself during the closing stages, including making a closing statement to the jury on her own behalf.

In an extraordinary moment, standing in front of the jury and taking on a role that would normally be filled by a trained barrister, she spoke calmly and without emotion for an hour and eight minutes.

Robinson accepted the lies that she had told in the aftermath of Dwelaniyah’s death.

“One of the reasons I lied was because I didn't believe that anyone would believe the truth," she said. "Look at where I am. I was right. I simply did not kill my child. I did not deliberately burn my child.”

The jury, of eight women and four men, disagreed and found her guilty of murder and all four counts of child cruelty.

Anyone who has concerns about the welfare of a child should contact Durham Constabulary on 101, or 999 in an emergency, your local children’s social care team or the NSPCC.

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