March 2009

Father who murdered his baby son jailed for life

murder

A MAN who brutally killed his own baby son has been jailed for life. In court it emerged he had previously fractured the skull of one of his children from another relationship.

Brian Martyn Saunders has been jailed for 18 years for the murder of five-week-old Rilee Saunders

The judge, the Hon Mr Justice Burnett, described the level of violence as “horrific” – and said it was clear that Saunders had shaken the baby violently, swung him around by one leg and smashed him down onto a hard surface “with the force of a car crash”.

Child protection teams have admitted baby Rilee was not being monitored despite Saunders’s conviction for child cruelty in 2005, for fracturing his daughter’s skull the previous year.

Rilee’s mother, 20-year-old Alicia Clark, said after the sentencing: “The time that Brian will serve will never make up for my little boy’s life, but Rilee has got justice and can rest in peace.”

Following a request by The Herald to lift a Section 39 order, allowing the judge’s remarks to be reported in full, the court also heard that Saunders, a DJ, had a history of violence.

Saunders, now aged 31, and of Quarry Street, Torpoint, was convicted in 1999 of common assault against his then partner, throwing her onto a sofa and dragging her by the neck.

And the judge revealed that, in 2004, Saunders had fractured the skull of his eight week-old daughter, a child by a different woman, in “remarkably similar circumstances”.

Saunders initially denied all knowledge of the injury, leading to his partner being arrested and her mother being questioned.

Later he admitted he had lied and had injured the baby, but claimed it was an accident.

Saunders was charged with assault causing grievous bodily harm, but a Plymouth court accepted a plea of child cruelty on the basis that he had failed to provide information which would have enabled the infant to get medical care.

The judge commented: “Happily, your daughter made a full recovery, but there are striking similarities with what happened to Rilee.”

The court heard that Rilee was just four-and-a-half weeks old when Saunders inflicted the fatal injuries between 11am and 2.30pm on March 3, 2008.

He was rushed to a specialist children’s hospital in Bristol, but nothing could be done to save him and his life-support system was turned off four days later.

During the trial, medical experts compared Rilee’s injuries – including a fractured skull, severe brain damage and internal bleeding – to those caused by being dropped from a first-floor window or being in a car crash.

The judge said Rilee’s mother was “young and vulnerable”, and became pregnant within weeks of starting a relationship with Saunders.

He told Saunders: “It is clear that in the relationship you were manipulative and domineering.

“There is no doubt that you have a foul temper and resort to violence all too readily.

“You are self-centred, demanding of attention, manipulative but also calculating and cunning.”

The judge said Saunders presented “grave danger” to any child of his own or of any woman he was with.

He said this case was very different from one in which a baby cried incessantly for weeks, depriving its parents of sleep until they snapped.

“Rilee needed feeding like all small babies, but he was a good baby,” he said.

“There is no evidence that he was crying or was in any way being noisy.

“Alicia was asleep only feet away, and if Rilee had been crying she would have woken up.

“This leaves a puzzle: what was it that caused you to do such dreadful violence to your four-week-old son?

“Alicia’s attention was focussed on him, not you, and resentment bubbled beneath the surface the previous day – Mothering Sunday.

“Something happened which made your anger burst to the surface and led you to turn on Rilee.”

The judge said the effects of the case on Alicia and her family were appalling, but she had even coped with suggestions that she had killed Rilee, because just the two of them were with him in the flat.

The judge said aggravating features included the baby’s age, Saunders’ breach of trust and the horrifying degree of violence used.

He said Saunders may not have planned to kill Rilee, but the level of violence suggested he was indifferent to the seriousness of his injuries or even if he died.

Saunders will serve at least 18 years in prison, less 228 days spent on remand, before he can be considered for parole.