A man accused of killing his new girlfriend’s baby had repeatedly responded “I’m not the father”, which caught the attention of paramedics, a court has heard. Mitchell Gibbs, 28, allegedly shook a nine-month-old baby, causing fatal “whiplash” injuries, whilst he was high on cannabis and his partner was at a nearby cafe.
Paramedics were called to Sophie Crowther’s flat in Dagenham, East London, on October 5, 2018, after she returned to the first-floor flat to find her son Albie Johnson “turning blue”. Despite the best efforts of the emergency services, he tragically died at Great Ormond Street Hospital two days later.
Gibbs, from South Ockendon, has denied manslaughter, whilst Crowther, 22, of Bethnal Green, denies three charges of child cruelty. Jurors heard that the pair had only been in a relationship for four weeks, and Crowther had left Albie in her new boyfriend’s care whilst she went to a cafe to buy a bacon roll.
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During the 12 minutes she was away from the flat, Albie suffered “severe injuries” that were caused by “being forcibly shaken so that his head went violently backwards and forwards”. The 999 call was made at 11:16am, with Crowther telling the call handler: “He was drinking his bottle and then he just started choking and now he’s gone all limp and he’s turning blue.”
However, just three minutes earlier, Gibbs had allegedly told a friend “he was smoking a zoot”. It is the prosecution’s case that Gibbs returned to smoking weed after shaking the small child, with prosecutor Sally O’Neill telling the jury: “If that was true and Mitchell Gibbs was the person who had deliberately and forcefully shaken Albie, he went back to smoking his cannabis after he had done so.”
Giving evidence today, paramedic Nicola Latham said that mum Sophie Crowther had been “hysterical and crying” at the scene, as medical staff attempted to resuscitate her baby. Speaking of Gibbs, she said: “He just kept saying ‘I’m not the father, I’m not the father, I’m the step-dad’, which I found unusual.”
Of Albie’s condition, she said he was “pale, floppy and un-rousable”, and that she had noticed a milky fluid in the airways, whilst his eyes were “fixed and dilated”. Albie, who was about to turn 10 months old, never succeeded in breathing on his own and remained in respiratory arrest.
Another paramedic, Steve Kirton, had also observed that the two had been standing by the bedroom door whilst the emergency crew worked to save the baby’s life. When Mr Kirton asked Gibbs what had happened, he replied: “He said that he had given the baby a milk bottle and then left the bottle with the baby and then left the room, and he heard a gurgling noise and that’s where he found the baby.”
Mr Kirton, a clinical team manager, continued: “He said he’d picked the baby up and that he tried to wake the baby and he made a motion, a light motion with his hands. It wasn’t a violent shake, just waking someone up, and after that he did call for help.
“I made the comment of I couldn’t believe he’d left a nine-month-old baby with a bottle of liquid or food, I didn’t think that was right, he didn’t reply.” When asked if Gibbs had told him anything else, Mr Kirton replied: “He repeated he wasn’t the father of the baby”.
All of the paramedics had reported seeing a milky fluid around the baby’s mouth and nose, with paramedic Melanie Hayes telling the court that she had found it “odd” that the milk was dry, given the reports that Albie had only recently been choking.
Speaking of Albie’s injuries, Ms O’Neill QC said: “There is no issue that this is what was done to Albie and that he died as a result of what was done to him. It must be apparent that whoever did that to him was acting unlawfully in the full knowledge that they were causing at least some harm to the baby.
“That is manslaughter and the prosecution case is that the person who acted in that way with Albie, also probably throwing him onto a hard surface, was Mitchell Gibbs. He denies that, which leaves the only other person as far as he is concerned who could have done it was Sophie Crowther.”
Given that Albie’s mum was out of the flat at the time, Ms O’Neill QC continued: “Her responsibility for what happened was for having left her 10-month-old son in the care of someone she had been in a relationship with for only four weeks, and who was smoking cannabis at the time.”
Crowther’s three child cruelty charges are in relation to her allegedly assaulting her son twice by hitting his leg and foot, and pulling him from his cot by his clothes and throwing him onto the sofa between July 1 and August 31, 2018. She has also been charged with child cruelty for leaving Albie alone with Gibbs on the day he became fatally injured.
The two had initially both lied about what had happened to Albie, by claiming that Albie had started choking whilst he was in his cot drinking juice. They said this occurred before Gibbs picked him from the cot and “shook him a bit”, before Crowther began to perform CPR.
Jurors were told that Crowther has already pleaded guilty to one count of perverting the course of justice, in relation to the lies she told the emergency operator, a doctor and the police. The trial continues.
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