Kyrell Matthews: Family’s tribute to boy, 2, ‘robbed of life’ by mother who abused and killed him

Phylesia Shirley and her then-partner Kemar Brown subjected non-verbal toddler to repeated attacks in the weeks before his death

<p>A couple has been found guilty of killing two-year-old Kyrell Matthews after their abuse was captured on secret mobile phone recordings</p>

A couple has been found guilty of killing two-year-old Kyrell Matthews after their abuse was captured on secret mobile phone recordings

A mother and her violent ex-boyfriend have been found guilty of killing her two-year-old son after their horrific abuse was captured on secret mobile phone recordings.

Kyrell Matthews was found to have 41 rib fractures and internal bleeding from a fatal 1.6-inch cut to his liver after he collapsed and died at his home in Thornton Heath, south London, on 20 October 2019.

The toddler’s mother, Phylesia Shirley, denied murder and was found guilty of manslaughter by jurors at the Old Bailey on Friday. Her then-partner Kemar Brown was found guilty of murder.

In a moving tribute following their convictions, Kyrell’s family said the youngster had been “robbed” of his life.

They said in a statement released through the police: “Kyrell – you were robbed of the life God had intended for you. Our family have been robbed of the joys of watching you grow up and seeing what you would have become. You have left a void in our hearts that will never be filled. We carry you in our hearts forever.”

Jurors heard how Kyrell, who was non-verbal, was subjected to at least five separate attacks over 28 days indicating a significant period of abuse, according to experts.

The fractures were caused by a twisting motion and the fatal liver injury was from a kick, punch or blow to the stomach, jurors were told.

Still from mobile phone video footage showing Phylesia Shirley with her son Kyrell during his second birthday celebrations

Phylesia Shirley, who had previously worked in children’s services at Croydon Council, admitted allowing her son to come to harm but denied his murder.

Kemar Brown, who has a string of convictions for violence, also denied murder and causing or allowing Kyrell’s death and harm.

It was claimed on Brown’s behalf that the jury could not be sure Kyrell was not accidentally killed when Shirley gave him chest compressions, having been wrongly advised in a 111 call to use two hands rather than one.

But experts for the prosecution told jurors there were no recorded cases of a child having a macerated liver from being given CPR.

The court heard distressing mobile phone recordings of both adults striking Kyrell on multiple occasions.

The audio had been secretly recorded by Shirley because she suspected her partner of being unfaithful.

Photo shown in court at the Old Bailey of two-year-old Kyrell

Kyrell, who was described as a “happy, smiley” child, would have expressed the pain he was suffering in the final days of his life even though he could not speak, the court heard.

A jury deliberated for more than three days to find Brown guilty of murder and causing or allowing Kyrell’s death.

Shirley was acquitted of murder but found guilty of the alternative charge of manslaughter.

Adjourning sentencing until 25 March, Judge Mark Lucraft QC noted that the court had heard some “harrowing” recordings made by Shirley of the abuse, saying she ought to feel “utterly ashamed”.

Speaking outside court, Kyrell’s paternal step-grandmother Christine Ernest said the family were happy with the verdicts, saying they both “deserved” it.

She added: “I wish they would throw away the key with them but we know that’s not always going to happen.”

On Kyrell, she said: “He was very lively. He was a happy little character and the most loving little boy, always smiling.”

Police have released video footage of Kyrell Matthews smiling and laughing just weeks before his death in October 2019

Jurors were not told that police had been called to an earlier domestic incident but no offences were identified and Kyrell was said to have appeared “safe and well”.

A passer-by had alerted officers on 17 July 2019 after hearing shouting and screaming coming from their flat, with a female voice saying: “Stop hitting my face.”

It followed an incident in May 2019 when Kyrell suffered a significant injury to the side of his face and spent five days in Croydon University Hospital.

The hospital carried out an investigation and found Shirley’s explanation that the little boy had fallen off a sofa and hit his head on a highchair was “plausible”, police said.

Both defendants, who were unemployed at the time of Kyrell’s death, were cannabis users and are understood to have been visited by social services at least once.

It can now be reported that Brown had convictions for robbery, battery, having a knife, drugs and resisting an officer, as well as being subject to a non-molestation order relating to a former partner.

Kemar Brown was found guilty of Kyrell’s murder

During the period when Kyrell was being abused, he and his sole carers had become increasingly isolated from extended family.

During the trial, jurors listened to the distressing audio recordings taken from Shirley’s mobile phone.

On multiple audio files Kyrell could be heard being hit repeatedly, with Brown saying “Shut up”, causing the toddler to cry and scream.

On one occasion, Brown inflicted several blows on the little boy before telling him: “You have to ruin the fun.”

Another recording captured Shirley striking her son and causing him to cry in distress.

Prosecuting, Edward Brown QC told jurors that Shirley put her relationship with Brown above her own child.

The two people who were supposed to look after him the most were those that caused injury, and in the end his death

Samantha Yelland, senior Crown prosecutor

He said: “She was prepared to reject what should have been motherly care in protecting Kyrell in favour of abuse by her – his own mother – and in favour of the abuse carried out by a man she knew was abusing her child.

“The truth is that his death came when once more he was abused in that flat, once more in a very similar way, causing very similar injuries, except on this occasion it was so much more serious: the abuse and the results were catastrophic.”

The jury was also played a recording of Shirley’s 111 call after Kyrell collapsed at home.

Shirley sobbed as she was told by a clinical adviser to use both hands and “push down hard and fast” and “go for it”.

Shirley, and Brown, of separate addresses in Thornton Heath, denied murder and declined to give evidence in their defence.

Phylesia Shirley has been found guilty of manslaughter over the death of her son Kyrell

Detective Chief Inspector Kate Kieran welcomed the verdicts for Kyrell’s family and friends, saying: “I hope that the conviction of both Shirley and Brown today at least gives them some peace in coming to terms with what happened to Kyrell.”

The Metropolitan Police officer said finding audio recordings of the harrowing child abuse was “unique” and had affected the whole team.

She said: “They are harrowing, there’s no other word for it. I know that the jury have had to listen to them but my investigation team had to listen to them over and over and over again, in order that we could make sure we’ve understood and heard everything on those recordings.

“And it’s really affected the team. We all choose to become part of the murder investigation team but I’ve never, ever uncovered evidence like this in one of these cases.”

She paid tribute to the toddler, saying: “I obviously never knew Kyrell but we saw videos of him and pictures of him and he just looked like such a smiley, happy, loving child.

“And that’s how I can only remember him – not the recordings that I’ve heard.”

Senior Crown prosecutor Samantha Yelland said: “It’s been a horrific case for us all to work on. Kyrell was two years old and would have been able to explain the fear he was feeling, the pain he was feeling to those that cared for him.

“We are used to dealing with cases of a serious nature on the homicide unit but this one was particularly horrific because of the graphic content of those recordings and because of the defenceless young child who couldn’t do anything to help themselves.

“The two people who were supposed to look after him the most were those that caused injury, and in the end his death.”

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