Mother tells murder trial of fears about British nanny

The mother of baby Matthew Eappen finally took the stand in the trial of the British nanny accused of killing him, Louise Woodward, in Boston yesterday. As David Usborne observed, Mrs Eappen's testimony was compelling and often chilling. For the jury it may have been deeply affecting.

Deborah Eappen testified yesterday that she was allowed to examine her own child, eight-month-old Matthew, moments after he was admitted to hospital in Boston suffering from severe neurological calamity last February and that she immediately recognised symptoms of severe retinal bleeding.

In testimony that could prove to be critical to the prosecution's assertion that Louise Woodward killed Matthew by violently shaking him and slamming his head against a hard surface, Mrs Eappen said: "I knew what that meant, I just couldn't believe it, I just couldn't believe it, when I saw it."

Mrs Eappen, an ophthalmologist, did not need to tell the jury what medical experts had testified in the courtroom earlier - that retinal bleeding is itself a symptom of distress caused by severe shaking inflicted on a child - or shaken baby syndrome.

The remark was at the heart of an hour of testimony by Mrs Eappen under direct questioning by the prosecution. By bringing Mrs Eappen to the stand, the prosecution was hoping to bring its case to the most powerful conclusion possible after several days of often very technical medical testimony.

At the defence bench, Ms Woodward and her lawyers sat grim-faced as Mrs Eappen described serial difficulties she and her husband had encountered with her as their nanny from 18 November 1996, when she first joined them. In mostly negative testimony about Ms Woodward's character Mrs Eappen described, for instance, returning from church on Christmas morning to find her in the kitchen, with a quiche that had meant to have been in the oven all over the floor. She had also "opened her Christmas presents without us".

One week later, on New Year's Eve, Mrs Eappen recalled that Ms Woodward failed to return to the home all night. She added that it was "kind of embarrassing", because her mother was staying with them and also did not know her daughter's whereabouts.

The deepest chill settled over the courtroom, however, when she described the moment of Matthew's death five days after his initial admission. Joining her at his bed were her husband Sunil, Matthew's brother, Brendan, a priest and other extended family members."We were at Matthew's bedside. We all took turns holding Matthew, we played some children's music, we lit my grandmother's candle, we were holding Matthew, we prayed and then he died," she said.

Mrs Eappen described leaving her home in Newton, a Boston suburb, on 4 February. Matthew had been crying; it was the last time she saw him in good health. "Matty just had a little tear on the side of his eye and I dabbed it and I said I didn't like to hear him cry like that. I kissed him and I left."

She said she and her husband had had deepening concerns about Ms Woodward's reliability from the moment of joining the family. Specifically, they included Ms Woodward's repeated late nights in Boston and her failure often to wake up on time to begin her duties in the home. In the first month of her stay at the Eappens "in spite of the fact that [she had said] she wanted to be part of the family, she stayed home only one night".

One morning in mid-January, for example, after Ms Woodward had been confronted about the late nights, she, according to Mrs Eappen, "came home at 2.48 in the morning". She added: "The reason I know the time is that she was wearing big boots and she made a lot of noise. We were just in disbelief."

Mrs Eappen also said she was worried that Ms Woodward failed sometimes to properly supervise Matthew and two-year-old Brendan, while she and her husband worked during the day. She was worried about her being "on the computer doing e-mail, being on the phone for long periods of time and being in the shower when she was supposed to be with the children".

The Eappens gave her the choice on 30 January of either leaving or agreeing to new rules, including a night curfew. Then the Eappens decided not to fire Ms Woodward. "We felt that she was capable, we felt that the kids liked her and we felt that she was motivated to change," Mrs Eappen said.

She told the court that she saw no signs of ill-health in Matthew in the days and hours before the alleged incident on 4 February. She testified that she spoke to Ms Woodward by telephone from the hospital as her son underwent emergency treatment. Ms Woodward, she testified, could offer no clue as to how Matthew may have hurt himself. "She said that he did not bump his head and had not been left unattended".

In cross-examination, defence lawyer Andrew Good asked Mrs Eappen about the discovery in hospital of a wrist fracture that, according to radiological assessments, appeared to have been two to three weeks old. The defence is hoping to demonstrate that Matthew died as a result of an earlier, undetected, injury to his head for which Ms Woodward cannot have been responsible.

If convicted, she faces life in prison without parole.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory