June 2015

Aunt and grandmother who abused girl, 7, jailed

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The trusted aunt and grandmother of a seven-year-old girl have been jailed for a total of 12 years after being convicted of a sustained campaign of cruelty against the young child.

Slappings, beatings, ice baths and force-feeding were used to punish Shanay Walker and other children in what a judge today labelled “frequent and wicked” abuse which lasted more than two years.

Shanay was found dead in her home in Beckhampton Road in Bestwood, Nottingham, on July 31 last year.

Following an eight week trial at Nottingham Crown Court, Kay-Ann Morris, Shanay’s paternal aunt and guardian, was found guilty of cruelty towards her and jailed for eight years. The 24-year-old was acquitted of her murder.

Juanila Smikle, her paternal grandmother, was jailed for four years after being found guilty of cruelty towards Shanay and three other youngsters. The 54-year-old was acquitted of cruelty towards a fifth child.

Nottingham City Council has announced a serious case review is underway “to understand if anything could have been done differently.”

In a statement, independent chair of the Nottingham City Safeguarding Board, Paul Burnett, said: “We extend our sincere sympathies to those who loved and cared for Shanay.”

Morris did not give evidence during the trial, but the court was told that on the night Shanay died, she had claimed to police the girl had accidentally fallen downstairs. She had been okay at the time, Morris had claimed, but when she went to check on her later, she said she could not wake her.

In the weeks following, the court heard, investigating officers uncovered a disturbing history of abuse carried out by both Morris and Smikle.

Shanay had been with her grandmother in Top Valley on the evening of her death when she had run away from her care at about 8.30pm. She was spotted on CCTV running into a convenience store, before being found and taken home.

Later, at around 1am, Morris collected Shanay and headed home. Several phone conversations between her and her mother followed, resulting in Smikle hailing a taxi to the Beckhampton Road house at about 2.49am. She only stayed for a few minutes before returning home, the jury was told.

From 3am onwards, Morris sent a number of text messages to family members. One was to her twin sister Kerry-Ann Morris, who was in Germany, which read:

“sis I’m sorry I’m in shock right now thinking how it could happen but it’s the devils work. Shanay is no longer n so is the rest of my life.”

Upon receiving the message Kerry-Ann rang her sister, and subsequently alerted the police.

The court heard Morris’ guardianship of Shanay had been “very strict”, with witnesses revealing she would beat the small child with a hair brush or shoe, force feed her food she didn’t like and drag her along the floor.

Smikle behaved in a similar manner towards Shanay and other youngsters, the jury was told, with slapping, beatings, ice baths and physical assaults used as common forms of punishment.

Shanay’s school became so concerned that they made several referrals to social services – but each time, the jury heard, Morris had a reason for the girl’s injuries.

Sentencing Morris, judge Mr Justice McDuff said he would “be loyal” to the jury’s conclusion Morris did not murder the child, but said he was convinced she had beat her “over and over” shortly before she died.
Your ill treatment of that little girl was frequent and wicked and lasted over the two years. You hit her, you taunted her and you abused her in unimaginable ways.

This whole series of events culminated on the night of 30-31st July when Shanay died.

I will be loyal to the jury’s verdict. Maybe you were not responsible for the fatal head injury but whatever its cause I am wholly satisfied that you beat Shanay over and over shortly before she died.

– MR JUSTICE MCDUFF, NOTTINGHAM CROWN COURT