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BEXLEYHEATH: Baby death trial - mother guilty of son's murder
A MOTHER has been found guilty of murdering her 21-month-old son and sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in jail.
Bobby Louch died on December 29, 2008 at home in Halcot Avenue, Bexleyheath, after suffering a string of around 40 injuries including, bruising, bleeding to his abdomen and brain, a burnt hand and two fractured ribs.
Collette Harris, aged 30, of Chapel Close, Crayford, was given a life sentence this afternoon after being convicted of murder at the Old Bailey.
Her former boyfriend James Phillips, aged 25, of Dale View, Erith, was cleared of killing the toddler as well as alternative charges of manslaughter and causing or allowing the death of a child.
When the verdict was read out Harris shouted "oh my god". She then started crying and said: "I didn't hurt him."
Friends of Phillips shouted out in celebration as he was cleared.
Before Judge Peter Beaumont passed his sentence, Harris's barrister Nicholas Syfret said it was hard to comprehend what had changed Harris in the run-up to her son's death.
He said: "The court may never know why it was that a devoted mother like her came to behave in the way she did.
"The fact that it was her own child will be for her part of the punishment whatever sentence your lordship passes."
In an impact statement, Bobby's dad Dan Louch said: "Bobby's death has completely destroyed my life. Every day I ask why and how."
He said: "I feel that I didn't see the signs.
"I feel like I've let my little boy down."
Bobby was the victim of "deliberate and repeated violence".
The court heard how the injuries to his head and body were likely to have been caused by punches and kicks, while one bruise on his ear suggested he had been picked up by it.
Harris began a relationship with Mr Phillips, the boyfriend of a friend of hers, just weeks after splitting up with Bobby's father in October 2008.
The pair would snort cocaine together on nights out and Mr Phillips would smoke cannabis on a daily basis, the court heard.
Mr Phillips told police that during the relationship Harris claimed she "regretted Bobby" and that "he was just driving her mad and doing her head in."
Three weeks before his death, Bobby was taken to Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford, with a broken leg and bruising on his forehead.
Harris, who Bobby's dad Dan Louch described as "hysterical", claimed the bruises were caused by the baby headbutting his cot and said she had been out of the room when he broke his leg.
But despite some suspicions by hospital staff, who were on alert for abuse after the Baby P scandal, Bobby was allowed to return home with his mother the following day.
The jury was told that the fatal injuries were probably caused in the 48 hours before his death, though the fractured ribs could have been present during the previous hospital visit.
On the day before he died, a friend of the family saw the bruising to the child's body and witnessed him throwing up.
When he asked if Bobby should be given medical attention, Harris allegedly replied: "How can I take him to the hospital with bruises like that on his body?
"They will think I am beating him up or something."
That evening, as the baby lay sick and dying, the pair sat up watching Match of the Day, with Mr Phillips drinking lager and puffing cannabis in front of the television.
Mr Phillips told the court he suggested that Bobby sleep with them that night, but Harris had said no and the pair had sex before falling asleep.
By the next morning, Bobby had died from his injuries.
In the early hours of the morning, neighbour Derek Raymond said he heard "whimpering" through his wall with a noise that sounded like "mummy".
It was put to Harris that it was her making this noise, having realised that her son was dying or already dead.
A tearful Harris denied this, telling the court: "I did not hurt my baby. I worshipped him."
Outside court today, Detective Inspector Paul Maddox, who led the investigation, was accompanied by the Louch family as he read out a statement from them.
It said: "Bobby was our little angel and had his whole life to look forward to, but was so cruelly denied this for reasons we still can't fully comprehend.
"This can now bring to a close the traumatic and devastating quest to find some answers as to what happened to Bobby.
"Now we as a family can fully lay him to rest and complete our grieving process."