Woman jailed for killing daughter


Tom Pugh
Thursday 21 June 2012 10:47

A woman is starting a seven-year jail term tonight after being found guilty of smothering her three-year-old daughter, six months after her baby son also died.

A judge said Lesley Dunford, 33, turned from "carer to killer" when she ended the life of her daughter eight years ago.

Dunford inflicted fatal injuries on the toddler, who was found with bruising under the skin around her shoulders and neck.

The child also had a cut above her left eyebrow which jurors heard could have been caused by hitting a hard surface such as the headboard of a bed.

Dunford, had denied murdering her daughter at her home in Sussex on February 2 2004.

As jurors at Lewes Crown Court convicted her of manslaughter but cleared her of murder, she stared at Judge Richard Brown, emotionless.

He told her: "It may well be that you are the only one who knows exactly what happened on that dreadful day in 2004 which took you from carer to killer.

"Since then you have done your level best to lie your way out of any responsibility."

The judge said Dunford, described by her defence barrister as "vulnerable", had exhibited "little or no remorse" for her actions.

He added: "The fact remains that whatever did happen you did, in fact, kill your child and the courts have to protect little people from being subjected to violence."

Her daughter’s death happened six months after the death of her seven-month-old son who was found dead in his cot at their home on August 3 2003.

Dunford was arrested two days after her daughter’s death but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to prosecute her based largely on conflicting reports from pathologists.

At an inquest into her death in February 2009, the East Sussex coroner adjourned the hearing for further examination of the case, and five months later Dunford was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Detective Constable Janice Dempsey, of Sussex Police, told the court that as she was arrested Dunford told her: "I have been waiting for this to happen."

She said Mr Dunford had comforted his wife and said: "We have been expecting this. We knew this was coming. It has been a long time."

Later, in a police interview, Dunford - who had no previous convictions - denied killing her child and said she had never struggled as a mother.

She told officers: "I did not kill her. I have no reason to kill her."

The jury heard that Dunford did not try to resuscitate her daughter when she found her because she was too frightened to touch her.

Instead she phoned a friend, who came round. It was only when she arrived at the family home that an ambulance was called.

Following today's sentencing, police said the death her baby son had been investigated and there was no evidence to justify a prosecution or any reopening of the inquiry.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sloan, of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: "This was a tragic case for everybody.

"There was a thorough police investigation at the time but the forensic evidence then did not support a prosecution.

"However, my team has carried out a very thorough analysis of all the evidence and we are very glad to see that justice has now been done.

"Several of the witnesses who gave evidence in support of the prosecution have had to revisit a very harrowing episode of their lives and we pay tribute to the dignified way in which they conducted themselves.

"The death of her daughter was immediately treated as suspicious by Sussex Police. Mrs Durnford was arrested and interviewed and there was a thorough investigation.

"However, based on the information available at the time, the CPS decision was that there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution.

"The CPS decision turned largely on reports from two pathologists, which were conflicting."

Simon Ringrose, of the CPS, said: "This was a difficult and complex case that involved evidence from a number of medical experts.

"The reinvestigation into the circumstances of her daughter’s death included obtaining further medical evidence.

"This evidence effectively ruled out a natural cause of death and was consistent with the child having been suffocated. The only person who could have done this was her mother, Lesley Dunford.

"Her death was a tragic waste of life. Lesley Dunford's conviction finally brings a conclusion to what has been a lengthy process to establish how she died.

"The CPS, police and prosecuting counsel worked closely in reviewing the case and ensuring that a compelling case was presented to the jury."

Mr Dunford left court without speaking to reporters.