Girl of six 'kicked so hard her system collapsed'

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Six-year-old Lauren Wright was "cruelly abused, spitefully treated, and assaulted" by her father and stepmother for months before she was found dead, a court was was told yesterday.

Lauren's stepmother, Tracey Wright, 31, had kicked or punched her stomach so hard that her digestive system collapsed, Graham Parkins QC, for the prosecution, told Norwich Crown Court. The girl died three to five days later at the family home in the Norfolk village of Welney.

One witness said he had seen Mrs Wright punch Lauren so hard she fell in the street, but the waif-like child made not a sound, just cried quietly.

Mr Parkins said her father, Craig Wright, was so negligent he failed even to notice anything was wrong or "ensure his daughter received medical help".

Mrs Wright, a school worker, denies the manslaughter of Lauren, also known as Leanne Sophie Lauren Bennett, in May last year and wilfully neglecting her. Craig Wright, 38, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and wilful neglect.

Mr Parkins said: "Tracey Wright ... treated this child abysmally, physically assaulting her on numerous occasions, leaving bruises to her face and arms that were seen by friends, neighbours and villagers."

On one occasion, a visitor to the house noticed Lauren standing and looking distressed in front of a heater. She was told the child had messed the bed "and was to stand there until her father came home".

Mr Parkins said Tracey Wright would buy sweets at the village shop for her two children but not for Lauren. Some villagers described Lauren as looking like something out of an NSPCC poster and social services were called anonymously. But Mrs Wright always had a ready answer to explain the bruises, excuses which her stepdaughter seemed to agree were true.

"That little girl was undoubtedly too scared to say anything to the contrary," Mr Parkins said. "[Mr Wright] must have seen the decline in his own little girl from the happy and content chubby little girl to what she became at her death, emaciated and covered in bruises. He must have seen these bruises, he can't have been fishing or down the pub all of the time."

The QC said the fatal blow would have left the child in extreme pain and vomiting. "That decline must have been obvious to Tracey Wright and, when he was there, to Craig. The symptoms were such that neither could reasonably have missed them."

But Mrs Wright, he said, lied to her husband and staff at Lauren's school about taking her to the doctor when she had not. She insisted the child's condition had been caused by a wardrobe falling on her by mistake as well as gastro-enteritis.

The pathologist who examined Lauren's body found at least 60 bruises and described the injuries as "disgusting and terrible", said Mr Parkins.

He explained that the bruises on Lauren's shoulders, pelvic area and upper arms demonstrated that she had been gripped or pinched.

The heavy bruises on her cheek, chest and abdomen, along with 19 on her legs and shins, had been caused by kicks or blows with an object.

The trial continues today.