Convictions and Sentence in Birmingham Baby Murders – Oliver Saxby QC and Nina Ellin Prosecuting

August 6, 2019

The trial of Louise Porton concluded on Thursday with sentence being passed on Friday. Miss Porton was convicted of murdering her two children, Lexi and Scarlett, and received a sentence of Life Imprisonment with a minimum term of 32 years. Oliver Saxby QC and Nina Ellin were instructed by Anjuli Shergill at CPS West Midlands Complex Case Unit.

On the evening of 2nd January 2018, Miss Porton called the emergency services to report that her eldest daughter, Lexi, aged 3, had just had what she thought was a fit. Lexi was examined by doctors, found to be well and allowed home. Courtesy of the history given, the diagnosis made was ‘first fit with no neurological sequellae’.

In the early hours of 4th January, Miss Porton called the emergency services again reporting that Lexi had had another fit and was in need of urgent medical attention. When paramedics attended, they found Lexi dangerously ill. She was unconscious (her Glasgow Coma Score was 6/15), her lips, fingers ears and nose were cyanosed and she was having difficulty breathing. In particular, the paramedics noticed that her breath sounds were ‘extremely crackly’ and that she had been vomiting. Lexi was resuscitated and taken to hospital. There, signs of an infection were discovered and she was admitted to the High Dependency Unit where she was treated. 4 days later, she was discharged home, the working diagnosis being a second fit brought on by a severe respiratory infection of some sort.

At just past midnight on 15th January, Miss Porton called the emergency services for a third time. When paramedics attended, it was clear that Lexi was dead (and had been dead for some time): Her skin was mottled, she was cold to touch and rigor mortis had set in. Miss Porton explained that she had gone to check on Lexi and found her unconscious and not breathing, the inference being that Lexi had sustained another fit – this one fatal – and that Miss Porton was a mother the victim of a tragic bereavement.

A coronial post mortem conducted by a paediatric pathologist, Dr Philip Cox, uncovered no natural cause of death. On the other hand, Dr Cox found nothing suspicious, either. For instance, Lexi’s weight was appropriate for her age, she appeared well nourished and well cared for, there were no obvious external injuries and whilst her lungs were firm and pale, this was consistent with the previous diagnosis of a chest infection. Samples were sent off for analysis, Lexi’s sister, Scarlett (aged 17 months), was given a full examination and Miss Porton was given advice to contact the emergency services if her health declined in any way.

On the evening of 1st February, Miss Porton called the emergency services once more. She was in a car park on her way to hospital to have Scarlett checked out. Scarlett was quiet and had been sleeping a lot and Miss Porton was worried about her. The operator having asked her to examine Scarlett more carefully, Miss Porton realised that in fact she was not breathing. A short time later, paramedics attended but nothing could be done and Scarlett was declared dead in the early hours of the following morning.

In due course, a full, forensic post mortem was conducted on Scarlett. A breakdown product of blood, haemosiderin, was found in her lungs. This suggested previous alveolar bleeding. Fresh blood was also found in her lungs. There were marks around her mouth and nose. There were petechial haemorrhages on her face. There was bruising to her head. And there was bleeding within the structure of her neck muscles – bruising, in short – consistent with some sort of neck compression.

A forensic post mortem was then conducted on Lexi, her first post mortem having been coronial in nature. Haemosiderin was found in her lungs, too, marks were noted on her face and a very small area of bleeding was found within her neck muscles.

A number of experts were then instructed to examine the circumstances surrounding the death of both children. Professor Al Sarraj, a neuropathologist, assisted with an examination of their brains – in relation to Scarlett, finding a degree of axonal damage consistent with some sort of minor trauma. He could find nothing explaining why either had died, however.

Dr Mark Rosenthal, a consultant respiratory paediatrician, assisted on whether there could have been some sort of respiratory cause for Lexi’s symptoms on 2nd and 4th January, and the deaths of each on 15th January and 1st February respectively. Noting the presence of various viruses on 5th January, Dr Rosenthal was of the view that had they been the cause of the fit, it is inconceivable that Lexi would have recovered so quickly. Plus, he said, Lexi’s normal ‘C-protein’ readings effectively ruled out any material infectious illness. As to 15th January, Dr Rosenthal pointed to the negative microbiological, radiological and toxicological investigations and formed the view that there was no respiratory cause to Lexi’s death. He came to the same conclusion with regards to Scarlett.

Dr Judith Timms, a virologist, assisted on the issue of virology in the context of Lexi’s case and in particular the taking of the various samples, and their relevance. There were 3 samples in all. The first two were nasopharyngeal aspirates. No viruses were detected in the first of these. The second showed weak positives for RSV, Rhinovirus and Entero-virus and Bocca virus. These were at levels that Dr Timms would not expect to cause an illness.

Finally, there was Professor Charles Mangham, a histopathologist, who assisted on the bleeding found in the neck muscles.

Thereafter, two Home Office Pathologists – Dr Nat Carey and Dr Brett Lockyer – provided a pathological overview of the case; and then, finally, a consultant paediatrician – an eighth expert in total, Dr Gerard O’Hare, provided an overarching analysis of all of the medical evidence.

In the case of Lexi, the position was as follows: 1) Her cause of death remained unascertained. 2) It was possible that she had died from Sudden Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) – this was not something which could be excluded. 3) She may have had a fit on 2nd January. 4) The medical evidence suggested that she had had a fit on 4th. 5) However, this had not been caused by an infection. 6) Instead, the signs of an infection noted at hospital were present because, unconscious and having vomited, Lexi had aspirated her vomit and an aspiration pneumonia had developed. 7) The likely cause of her fit on 4th had been airway obstruction – something that explained the symptoms on 4th, the crackling sounds in her lungs noticed by the paramedics and the haemosiderin found at the post mortem examination. 8) The bleeding to her neck muscles was minimal and may have been caused during the first post mortem. 9) Her presentation on 15th January was consistent with airway obstruction, albeit there was insufficient for this to be regarded as the cause of death.

In the case of Scarlett, the position was this: 1) Her cause of death was most likely airway obstruction. 2) Some sort of heart arrhythmia could not be discounted, albeit there was no family history of heart problems and ECGs conducted on Lexi, her full sibling, before her death in January had revealed no cardiological abnormalities. 3) There was no evidence of an infection. 4) As with Lexi, there was no genetic or metabolic issue. 4) The haemosiderin in Scarlett’s lungs was consistent with previous airway obstruction. 5) It was clear that Scarlett had old injuries relatively minor in nature but consistent with some sort of previous trauma.

The trial was a complex one to present. All eight experts were called by the Crown during the course of the trial. Their opinions were subjected to close scrutiny and various alternatives were raised including SUDEP, heart arrhythmia and Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). Possible causes for the events of 2nd and 4th January were also canvassed, as was the causation and aging of the older injuries.

Needless to say, it was essential that the jury were able to follow the detailed expert evidence; and it was also crucial that the concessions the experts made in cross-examination be seen within the wider context of the case. The Crown’s presentation of the case ensured both.

In addition to the expert evidence, there was also a quantity of relevant internet and phone activity. This suggested a lifestyle not compatible to the care of two young children; and it also revealed web histories suggesting Lexi and Scarlett may have developed their symptoms earlier than Miss Porton claimed. This information was refined down into a comprehensive Timeline which ran to 83 pages/774 entries.

The Timeline also included CCTV stills, the footage itself establishing the good health of both children in the lead-up to their deaths. The Crown also called evidence from witnesses who had come into contact with Miss Porton and her children over the same time period. References to this evidence was contained within the Timeline as well; and in due course the live evidence – including the evidence of the paramedics and many treating doctors – was called chronologically, the Crown’s case in effect moving through the Timeline with the eight experts giving evidence at the conclusion of the evidence.

Aside from its factual complexity, the case involved substantial issues of law – in particular in relation to cross-admissibility (and its adaptability from its more orthodox use in the context of multiple sexual allegations, for instance, to a case of double homicide).

Miss Porton gave evidence over the course of two days and the jury retired on Wednesday 31st August. They returned with unanimous verdicts of guilty on both counts the following day.

Miss Porton was sentenced on Friday 2nd August. Courtesy of this being a case involving the killing of two people, the relevant Schedule 21 starting point was 30 years’ imprisonment. There was the aggravating feature of the vulnerability of the deceased. On the other hand, there was the defendant’s relatively young age at the time, 21.

Please use the links below for news coverage of the case:-

Click here for news report in the Daily Mail

Click here for Sky News Report

Click here for report in The Standard

Click here for report in The Mirror

Click here for report in The Metro

Click here for BBC News Report

Click here for report in The Sun

Click here for ITV News Report

Click here for report in The Guardian

Click here for report in The Daily Telegraph