Five years for man who killed month-old daughter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A father was jailed for five years today for killing his month-old baby daughter after becoming annoyed with her crying while he was playing a computer game.

Christopher Sellman slammed baby Tiffany down on to a changing mat within an hour of being left to look after her on his own for the first time, Inner London Crown Court was told.



Her death in November 2008 could have been prevented if information had been shared about the risk Sellman posed to children, a serious case review by Kent Safeguarding Children Board found.



The baby girl, who was only 25 days old and already had a fractured skull from a difficult birth, died after suffering heart failure and bleeding to her brain.



Today, trial judge Mr Justice Bean said it was a "tragic case".



Jailing Sellman, he told him: "Your daughter, Tiffany, was left in your care for the first time when she was only one month old.



"Within an hour she was effectively dead."



He went on: "It seems you were playing a computer game and were annoyed when she cried.



"You picked her up and slammed her down on to a padded changing mat with a view to changing her nappy."



But the judge said the baby girl turned blue and, despite "desperate and frantic" attempts by the defendant and emergency services to save her life, later died.



The judge said: "You intended her no harm but you treated her roughly and unlawfully killed her."



He said Sellman made up a story about having slipped and dropped her, which the jury - who convicted him of manslaughter but cleared him of murder in March following a six-week trial - did not believe.



The judge added that Tiffany was "more than usually vulnerable because of a skull fracture she suffered at birth".



But he said: "Any one-month-old baby is tiny, fragile and vulnerable."



The judge added that he found Sellman was a devoted father who was thrilled to have a daughter and showed her no animosity before this incident.



It was a "single incident without pre-meditation", he said.



Sellman, 24, had a conviction for assault, and hazard warning flags were placed against his name by authorities after he was cautioned for child neglect before he was found guilty of killing Tiffany.



Two other children under his care had been taken away from him and a former partner in the past by children's social services following concerns about them.



But the court was told today that the caution, when Sellman was 17, was for the "untidy and unsanitary conditions in which they lived and in which a child was being brought up".



Opportunities to protect Tiffany were missed by children's social services and health agencies, the serious case review, published in March, found.



Relatives twice sought to alert agencies that Sellman's partner, Pamela Burdge, was pregnant with Tiffany, but the information was not passed on and was never registered.



Had Sellman been identified as the father and the extent of Ms Burdge's childhood problems known, "in all probability, care proceedings and action to protect Tiffany as soon as she was born" would have been implemented, the report said.



Tiffany's death "might well have been averted", it found.



She died at King's College Hospital in London on November 1 2008 after Sellman called an ambulance earlier that day, telling the operator that Tiffany was losing colour and had gone "all floppy".



She was taken to the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells before being transferred to the London hospital where a CT scan showed the extent of her injuries.



Sellman, previously of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was arrested on suspicion of her murder the next day.



During the six-week trial, Maidstone Crown Court was told that, throughout the police investigation, officers found Sellman could not give an accurate account of what had happened to the baby girl prior to his 999 call.



He told a number of people at least five different versions of events, the court heard.



In mitigation, Sarah Forshaw QC told the court that Sellman suffered "a momentary lapse in care which occurred, in any view, in an instant".



Sellman, who wore an open-neck white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, sat in the dock with his head bowed throughout the hearing.



Ms Forshaw told the court he had been "treated as something of a pariah" and assaulted twice during his year in prison on remand.



"Nothing will bring back Tiffany in this tragic case," she said.



"If Mr Sellman could, he would."



When asked for a comment on the sentence outside court, Ms Burdge told reporters: "Not a chance."



Later, Detective Chief Inspector David Chewter, of Kent Police, said: "Pamela's life has been turned upside-down and, to this day, she continues to struggle with her terrible loss."