Man jailed for killing two-week-old baby girl in Plymouth 45 years ago

Terence McArthur told a nurse he had shaken and killed his 14-day-old daughter and that it had been considered cot death. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police.

A man who killed his 14-day-old daughter more than 45 years ago has been jailed for nine years.

Terence McArthur, 67, admitted the manslaughter of Tracy McArthur, who died in Plymouth on 1 June 1976.

McArthur lived with his partner Linda in Plymouth at the time of his baby daughter's death and was a heavy user of LSD.

Exeter Crown Court heard that two weeks after Tracy was born, the couple woke up to the sound of her crying.

When she did not stop crying, Linda handed her to McArthur who said he would take her downstairs to sort her out. He took her away before shaking her until she went quiet.

Linda then found her lifeless with fluid seeping from her mouth and an ambulance and the police were called.

McArthur told Linda he "didn't mean to do it", the court heard.

Terence McArthur has been jailed for nine years. Credit: Liz Cooke

A post-mortem revealed the baby girl, who was the couple's second child, suffered a brain haemorrhage but no other concerns were raised. 

The court heard Linda lived in fear of McArthur, who she called Mac. It was a violent relationship which deteriorated after the birth of their first child in 1972 and she did not feel safe reporting him to the police at the time.

He was jailed for nine years during a hearing at Exeter Crown Court on Friday 30 July. He will serve at least two thirds of his sentence in custody.

The court heard McArthur had 36 previous convictions for 109 offences which were mostly drug-related.

Why did justice take so long? 

A fresh investigation was launched in 2017 when McArthur was living in Salford and was found unwell on the streets.

While telling police officers about his drug issues he said 'it's my fault he's dead'. He went on to tell a nurse he had shaken and killed his 14-day-old daughter and that it had been considered cot death.

He was arrested in August 2020 in Rochdale. 

The court heard an opportunity had been arguably missed in 1982 whenLinda applied for formal adoption of their first daughter as she settled with a new partner.

Social services required consent from McArthur and he told the social worker he thought he had killed his second daughter.

The social services officer reported her concerns to the police at the time but was told the case was closed and no further action was taken.

The judge acknowledged the case may never have come to light if it was not for the confessions made to the police by McArthur.

"It was clear it had played on his conscience throughout his life in what was an extremely sorry case.

A statement was read on behalf of Linda Wilks - Tracy's mother - in court in which she said thoughts of her daughter are never far away.

"There are times when it all comes flooding back," she said.

"I cannot hate him because if I did I would be consumed by hate."

Speaking after the sentencing, she said: “I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me through all of this, and Devon and Cornwall Police who have worked hard to get justice for Tracy after 45 years.”

  • A "complex" inquiry - police statement outside court

Detective Inspector Stephanie Blundell, of the Major Crime Investigation Team, welcomed the sentence.

She said: “This has been a protracted and complex enquiry, undertaken over four years, regarding the unlawful killing of a two-week-old baby in 1976 by her father.

“The detailed and meticulous investigation gathered witness and medical evidence; the strength of which left McArthur with no choice but to plead guilty on 22 June, just two weeks prior to the scheduled trial. 

“I would like to pass my thanks to the witnesses in this case - who were ready and prepared to attend court to give their evidence - for their support and assistance to the investigation.

“In particular, I pass my thanks to Tracy’s family, who have demonstrated great patience, courage and understanding throughout the enquiry. I hope that today’s sentence helps to bring some closure to the tragic loss they have suffered.”