Man convicted of murdering toddler two weeks after adoption

Matthew Scully-Hicks described 18-month-old Elsie as a ‘psycho’, the ‘exorcist’

Cardiff Crown Court heard Matthew Scully-Hicks (31) struggled to cope with being the primary carer for Elsie as his husband, Craig Scully-Hicks (36), worked full-time. File photograph: South Wales Police/PA Wire

Cardiff Crown Court heard Matthew Scully-Hicks (31) struggled to cope with being the primary carer for Elsie as his husband, Craig Scully-Hicks (36), worked full-time. File photograph: South Wales Police/PA Wire

 

A British fitness instructor has been convicted of murdering his daughter by violently shaking her and striking her head – just two weeks after adopting her.

Matthew Scully-Hicks (31), described 18-month-old Elsie as “a psycho”, “the exorcist” and “Satan dressed up in a Baby grow” in text messages.

Cardiff Crown Court heard he struggled to cope with being the primary carer for Elsie as his husband, Craig Scully-Hicks (36), worked full-time.

Neighbours heard the former lifeguard shouting “shut the f***” up at Elsie and calling her a “little f****** brat” and a “silly little c***” when she cried.

Scully-Hicks, who denied murder, gasped and wept as jurors unanimously convicted him on their fourth day of deliberations.

Prosecutors allege that Scully-Hicks, from Delabole, Cornwall, also inflicted a catalogue of injuries upon Elsie in the eight months he had care of her.

These injuries, including bruises, a broken leg and a fall down the stairs, all took place before Elsie was formally adopted by the couple.

During this period, the Vale of Glamorgan Council shared parental responsibility for Elsie with the couple – with social workers regularly visiting their home.

A child practice review has been commissioned “into the tragic circumstances” of Elsie’s death, a spokesman for the Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Regional Safeguarding Children Board said.

Elsie was formally adopted by the couple on May 12th last year and suffered fatal injuries at their home in Llandaff, Cardiff, on May 25th.

Hours before the attack, Matthew Scully-Hicks had taken her shopping at Marks & Spencer for an outfit to wear at a party celebrating her adoption.

In a 999 call at 6.18pm, he claimed: “I was just changing my daughter for bed and she went all floppy and limp.”

Paramedics arrived at 6.26pm and Elsie was taken to the University Hospital of Wales, where she died four days later.

Bleeding on her brain

Tests showed she had suffered three separate areas of bleeding on her brain, bleeding in both eyes, a skull fracture and three rib fractures.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Stephen Rose said Elsie’s injuries could be explained by her being “shaken violently”.

Dr Rose said her fractured skull would have been caused by a blow to her head, with Elsie thrown against a hard floor or her head knocked against a wall.

Elsie’s rib fractures were likely caused by Scully-Hicks gripping her, the court heard.

Prosecuting, Paul Lewis QC highlighted “the nature and the extent of the injuries” Elsie suffered at the hands of her adopted father.

Scully-Hicks insisted he never harmed Elsie, but the jury rejected his account after hearing from 12 medical experts and six doctors who treated her.

Elsie was placed with Scully-Hicks and his husband in September 2015, aged 10 months. The couple had married in Portugal in 2012.

Jurors heard the toddler, described as “brash and bouncy” by Craig Scully-Hicks, could be difficult at meals and bedtime.

In November 2015, she was brought into hospital and found to have fractured her right tibia above her ankle.

However, a second fracture – above her right knee – was not spotted until the x-rays were reviewed after death.

Dr Sarah Harrison said the defendant’s account that Elsie had fallen from an activity table was unlikely.

“I have never seen fractures of both bones like that in a child of this age,” she said, adding that in adults they had been seen in “major traumas such as car accidents”.

Large bruise

In December, Elsie suffered a large bruise to her forehead, which lasted for eight weeks.

This was seen by social workers and a health visitor, who advised Scully-Hicks to seek medical attention. He lied and said he had already done so.

Elsie suffered a further bruise to her forehead in January 2016, which Scully-Hicks gave no explanation for.

An ambulance was called to the family home in March after Elsie apparently fell down the stairs.

The court heard he downplayed her condition to doctors, who allowed her to return home after four hours of observation.

All of Elsie’s injuries took place when she was alone with Scully-Hicks, who was nicknamed “safety boy” by his husband.

“She was defenceless and vulnerable,” Paul Lewis QC, prosecuting, told the jury.

Scully-Hicks regularly took Elsie for medical appointments, to see family members and to activities such as toddler gym.

Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said after the verdict: “This was a defendant who had – and much was made of it – regular access to health visitors, social workers.

“He could have disclosed that he was unable to cope. He could have said ‘I’m struggling’.

“The defendant didn’t disclose to Craig Scully-Hicks that when Craig wasn’t present he couldn’t cope.”

The judge will sentence Scully-Hicks at 2pm on Tuesday.

Speaking outside court, temporary detective chief inspector Stuart Wales, of South Wales Police, said: “This case represents an extremely rare and distressing set of circumstances.

“We at South Wales Police continue to respect and value the role that adoption, and those involved, play in our society.” – Press Association