Mother and ‘monster’ boyfriend guilty over death of two-year-old Lola James
A mother and her “monster” boyfriend have been found guilty over the death of a two-year-old girl who was fatally attacked at her home in Wales.
Lola James died in hospital four days after suffering “catastrophic” brain injuries in the early hours of July 17 2020.
Lola’s stepfather, Kyle Bevan, denied murdering the youngster a few months after moving in with the family in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, claiming Lola had fallen down the stairs after being jumped on by the pet dog.
But a jury at Swansea Crown Court convicted the 31-year-old of murder on Tuesday.
Sinead James, Lola’s mother, had denied causing or allowing her death but was found guilty.
It took the jury just under 10 hours to reach a verdict.
Judge Mr Justice Griffiths thanked the jury for their service, describing the case as “more difficult than most”.
He ordered pre-sentence reports to be carried out before sentencing on April 25.
During the four-week trial prosecutor Caroline Rees KC said Bevan, a self-confessed “spice head”, had launched a “murderous” attack on Lola and used the hours after to cover his tracks instead of calling for an ambulance.
The court heard Lola had previously sustained injuries including a damaged nose, black eyes and a cut lip while in Bevan’s care.
It was accepted that mother-of-three James was asleep at the time and did not take part in the vicious assault that led to her daughter’s death.
But it was the prosecution’s case that James, a previous victim of domestic violence, failed to protect Lola from Bevan, “instead choosing to prioritise her relationship with him over her own daughter’s physical safety”.
Ms Rees added: “She knew her children had sustained injuries whilst in Kyle Bevan’s care in the past and knew that he had a nasty and violent temper, particularly when under the influence of drugs.”
Giving evidence, James called Bevan “a monster” and told the jury: “I never thought he would kill my children, never in a million years.
“If I had gotten him out of the house my daughter would still be alive today.”
Photographs taken by Bevan of marks on Lola’s back and extensive swelling and bruising to her head, eyes and lips were shown to the jury.
Prior to that, on the night of July 16, Bevan had been taking photographs of the young girl using Snapchat filters.
A video of Lola that Bevan had taken in the morning and sent to his mother, Alison Bevan, was played in court.
The disturbing footage showed Bevan demonstrating how Lola was unconscious, by picking up her limp body and attempting to stand her on her feet before letting her fall to the floor, telling the camera: “She’s gone.”
Internet searches made on his phone at about 6.30am included “Two year old just taken a bang to the head, gone all limp and snoring”, the court was told.
The prosecution also noted that none of the searches included reference to a child falling down the stairs.
Bevan did not ask his mother to phone an ambulance for Lola until almost 7.30am, having only woken James up at about 7.20am.
Pictures taken inside the house showed the state of the property, which was described by Ms Rees as “generally dirty, messy and cluttered”.
In contrast, investigators discovered the bath was “spotless, as though it had recently been cleaned”, Ms Rees said.
A child’s wet, vomit and blood-stained grey Frozen onesie was found in the corner of the living room, and when paramedics arrived at the house they noted that Lola appeared wet.
Police believed Bevan had tried to clean up after putting Lola in the bath, either to revive her or to clean her of blood and vomit after his attack.
Ms Rees said: “Rather than face up to that which he did to the little girl, he immediately tried to save himself.
“Rather than immediately call the emergency services as would surely be natural had this been an accident, as he now says, he took time to concoct excuses and lies.
“He tried to take a coward’s escape by trying to place false blame upon the family dog and suggesting that Lola must have fallen down the stairs.”
James told the court how just after midnight she heard “a bang and a scream” coming from Lola’s bedroom.
She said she ran to the room and found Lola sitting on Bevan’s lap, with no visible injuries.
James told the court that Bevan reassured her, saying “I’ve got this”, before she went back to bed.
Hours later she said Bevan woke her to say Lola had fallen down the stairs, and presented a piece of her daughter’s tongue on his finger.
After seeing her daughter unresponsive on the sofa James dialled 999 in tears, and told operators Lola’s face appeared “swollen” and that she was “really scared”.
The court heard Bevan became threatening and aggressive with hospital doctors who questioned him over Lola’s injuries while she was in a life-threatening condition.
Text messages from Bevan to James showed him repeatedly telling her their American bulldog Jessie was responsible for the incident, and questioning her about what she was going to tell the police.
James, who had been helped by domestic abuse support workers in the past, admitted Bevan “petrified” her and described an incident when he used a hammer to smash up her home after consuming Xanax and alcohol.
James was contacted by the mother of his previous partner, warning him about his background.
Bevan had refused to give her his date of birth so she could make a Clare’s Law application, which allows police to disclose to a person their partner’s previous abusive or violent offending.
Friends of James gave evidence that they disliked Bevan and did not think he was suitable to have around children.
Despite repeated warnings James did not end the relationship and said “he was too far into my head. I can’t explain it”.
She claimed to have become a “shadow of herself” during their relationship.
James’ barrister, David Elias KC, said she had “done right by” Lola throughout her short life and she could not have known the significant risk of harm he posed.
Bevan’s defence counsel John Hipkin KC said the fact his client took drugs “does not make him a child murderer”.
It was heard that Bevan was a regular user of Xanax, Valium and cannabis, and that the couple both took amphetamines when the children were at James’ mother’s house.
More than 100 scratches and bruises were recorded on Lola’s body, and she also had extensive damage to both her eyes. Her brain injuries were compared with those found in car crash victims.
A number of medical experts said the injuries were inconsistent with an accidental fall down carpeted stairs and were more likely the result of “abusive head trauma and physical abuse”.
NSPCC Cymru’s assistant director Tracey Holdsworth said a review into Lola’s death must establish whether more could have been done by agencies to prevent her death and called for the Welsh Government to make child protection a national priority.
Ms Holdsworth said: “This is another tragic case where a young child has died at the hands of those who she depended on.
“Lola deserved a happy and healthy future, but that was cruelly taken away by the horrendous actions of Kyle Bevan and the failure of her mother, Sinead James, to intervene.
“The Welsh Government has rightly committed to transforming children’s social care and it’s crucial this leads to systemic changes that ensure children like Lola are better protected.”
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