Stepfather guilty of murdering two-year-old while mother slept upstairs
A man has been convicted of murdering a two-year-old girl while her mother lay asleep upstairs.
Stepfather Kyle Bevan inflicted “catastrophic” brain injuries on Lola James in the early hours of July 17 2020. Lola died in hospital four days later.
The 31-year-old “monster” denied harming the toddler, claiming the family dog had pushed her down the stairs.
It took a jury at Swansea Crown Court 10 hours to find him guilty of the killing on Tuesday.
Lola’s mother Sinead James, 30, who had been in bed when the vicious assault is believed to have happened, was found guilty of causing or allowing her daughter’s death.
After the verdicts were read, Daniel Thomas, Lola’s biological father, called the pair “cruel, evil people” and said he hoped they would “suffer pain and torment until they take their last breath”.
He said: “The pain and grief I feel every time I close my eyes and see your perfect little face is unbearable.
“I’m so sorry your short life was filled with so much pain. You are so loved Lola and so missed every single day.
“The outcome here will never stop the hurt you felt or the hurt that lives inside of me, it’s been a long time coming to see justice and I can only pray that these cruel, evil people that hurt you and allowed you to be hurt, suffer pain and torment until they take their last breath.”
The girl’s grandmother, Nicola James, added: “She will forever be our diamond up in the sky, we will never ever forget her, and we will continue to keep her memory alive.
“Lola we love you, we will always love you, and we will miss you forever.”
NSPCC Cymru said a child practice review, which will carried out into Lola’s death, should establish whether more could have been done by agencies to prevent her death.
Despite a multi-agency referral being submitted in January 2020 after reports of a domestic incident with James’s former partner at her home, no visits were made to the address after February 10.
Tracey Holdsworth, assistant director of NSPCC Cymru, said: “This is another tragic case where a young child has died at the hands of those who she depended on.
“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.”
Following the verdicts, 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.
Bevan was remanded back into custody and James was again given conditional bail, but was warned she faced imprisonment.
During the four-week trial, the court heard how Bevan and James met on Facebook in February 2020 and that Bevan moved into the family home in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, within days of them knowing each other.
He remained living in the house throughout the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Lola suffered a number of injuries while in his sole care – including a damaged nose, black eyes and a cut lip.
Prosecutor Caroline Rees KC said Bevan, a self-confessed “spice head”, then launched a “murderous” attack on Lola after staying up late with the youngster taking pictures of her on Snapchat.
She said he used her final hours to cover his tracks instead of calling for an ambulance.
Ms Rees said: “Rather than face up to that which he did to the little girl, he immediately tried to save himself.
“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.”
The jury were shown photographs Bevan had taken on his phone of marks on Lola’s back and extensive swelling and bruising to her head, eyes and lips.
A disturbing video Bevan sent to his mother Alison showed him picking up Lola’s limp body, 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”.
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.
More than 100 scratches and bruises were recorded on Lola’s body, and she also had extensive damage to both her eyes, with the injuries to her brain comparable with those found in car crash victims.
Medical experts said the injuries were likely the result of abusive head trauma and physical abuse, rather than an accidental fall down carpeted stairs.
Police officers attending the family home found it was “generally dirty, messy and cluttered” – but noticed the bath was “spotless, as if it had recently been cleaned”, Ms Rees said.
A child’s wet, vomit and blood-stained grey Frozen onesie was recovered 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.
James told the court how she heard “a bang and a scream” coming from Lola’s bedroom just after midnight and ran there to find her daughter sitting on Bevan’s lap, with no visible injuries.
She described how Bevan reassured her, saying “I’ve got this”, before she went back to bed.
Hours later, she was woken by Bevan saying that Lola had fallen down the stairs – showing her a piece of the little girl’s tongue on his finger.
James dialled 999 in tears after finding her daughter unresponsive on the sofa, telling operators that Lola’s face appeared “swollen” and she was “really scared”.
In hospital, 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 that 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 had previously used a hammer to smash up her home after consuming Xanax and alcohol.
She had been contacted by the mother of Bevan’s previous partner, warning her about his background.
Bevan refused to give her his date of birth so she could make a Clare’s Law application, which allows police to disclose a partner’s previous abusive or violent offending.
Jurors heard how Bevan regularly used Xanax, Valium and cannabis, and that the couple both took amphetamines when the children were at James’ mother’s house.
Speaking after the verdict, Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Roberts of Dyfed-Powys Police, said Lola had died on July 21 following the “frenzied and extremely violent attack” by Bevan.
“Lola had 101 external injuries to her body and her death was caused by a catastrophic brain injury, likely caused by blunt force trauma – punching or slapping – shaking, or a combination of both,” he said.
“Bevan delayed raising the alarm and seeking medical attention for at least an hour after he inflicted the fatal injuries and in the time since he has shown no remorse, emotion or any care for Lola.
“Consumed by his own self-preservation, Bevan lied and fabricated an accidental stair fall to try and cover his tracks but, with the help of medical experts, we have been able to prove that his actions were deliberate, abhorrent and evil.”
Bevan and James will be sentenced at Swansea Crown Court on April 25.
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