A toddler died after being bound and forced to sleep face down in a “cage” bed, a court has heard.
Ellie-May Minshull-Coyle, aged 19 months, was tied to the mattress of her bed with tight ligatures across her chest and legs and a duvet placed over her, a jury at Liverpool Crown Court was told.
Her bed had been pushed against a wall and the open sides enclosed by the slatted sides of a cot lashed together with ligatures and tied to the bed frame, the court heard.
Sheets and bedding were placed over the sides of the “monstrous cage” to prevent her seeing outside, no lights were working inside her bedroom and a mattress and sheet was also covering the window.
Her ankles were also tied together, it was alleged, and the sleeping position compromised her breathing, causing her death, the jury was told.
There were also marks on the child’s wrists and ankles, suggesting she had been tied to the “cage” at some point.
It is alleged that all three, at the time, lived with the child in a two-bedroom flat in Ward Street, in Lostock Hall, Preston, and everyone in the household knew what was going on.
Christopher Tehrani QC, opening the case for the prosecution, told the jury: “It is the prosecution’s case Ellie-May was caged and forcibly restrained in her bed by those who had care of her.
“This would have caused Ellie-May immense suffering, distress and upset.
“By being restrained in her bed in a face-down position, the prosecution say, Ellie-May’s breathing would have become compromised.
“She would not have been able to move off her front due to being restrained to allow her to resume breathing properly.
“The prosecution’s case is that Ellie-May’s death was unnecessary, pointless and wholly avoidable.”
Mr Tehrani told the jury that Ellie-May struggled with her sleeping patterns but was an otherwise normal child with no health problems.
Ms Coyle told police that, from around January 2017, Mr Hitchcott began to bind her daughter to the bed to “help her settle in a sleep routine” – though she did not approve.
Mr Hitchcott, aided by Mr Kirby, had enclosed the open side and end of her bed with the slatted side of a cot or cots tied together with ligatures and electric flex from a lamp.
A blue blanket and a pink one were passed underneath the mattress, the blue one to secure Ellie-May to the bed across her chest and the pink one around her legs, the court heard.
On 22 March last year, Ms Coyle took her daughter to the local Jobcentre where the child was “mischievous and full of life”.
Around 7.30pm, Mr Hitchcott and Mr Kirby put the child to bed when she slept until midnight but was then unsettled during the rest of the night, prompting Ms Coyle to send a Snapchat message to a friend saying: “This child is pissing me of [sic] tonight.”
Around 6am, she messaged her father, Sean Coyle, to say her daughter was still crying but she had left her to cry for two hours, adding: “She’s taking the Mick now.”
When Mr Coyle arrived at the flat at 9am, he went to the toddler’s bedroom and realised there was a “terrible problem”.
Ellie-May was not breathing and an ambulance was called as resuscitation attempts were made.
The child was pronounced dead at 10.47am despite the efforts of doctors and nurses at the Royal Preston Hospital.
A post-mortem examination carried out by Dr Alison Armour, a Home Office consultant forensic pathologist, concluded the child’s death was caused by “forcible restraint by ligatures in a face-down position complicated by hyperthermia”.
Mr Tehrani continued: “Furthermore, Dr Armour noted that Ellie-May had wrist and ankle injuries consistent with being tied and restrained by ligatures attaching her to the caged structure that she was placed in.
“In Dr Armour’s opinion, Ellie-May’s injuries show that she had been forcibly tied to the bed on more than one occasion.
“Other injuries indicate the attempts Ellie-May may have made to release the ligature on her left wrist. She got scratch marks.”
A second expert concluded that the restraint placed the child at risk of “positional asphyxia”.
Ms Coyle, of Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston, Mr Hitchcott, of The Fieldings, Fulwood, Preston, and Mr Kirby, of Octavia Court, Huyton, Liverpool, have all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.
They also each deny a count of causing or allowing the death of the child, one count of child cruelty by “caging” the child in her bed, and another count of child cruelty by restraining her in the bed.
The trial continues.
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