Jail for father who shook his baby to death

Tony Burns
Tony Burns

A father who shook his four-month-old daughter to death has been jailed.

Tony Burns, 29, was sent to prison for two years for the manslaughter of little Darcey Burns.

The tot’s mother Victoria Smith, 25, pleaded guilty to neglect following the incident in 2009. Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday Burns admitted to shaking his daughter ‘briefly but vigorously’ at their former family home in Stanningley Drive, Mixenden,Halifax.

On the morning of the attack, Burns, who has learning difficulties, said he tried to settle a crying Darcey who was on antibiotics for a cough.

Prosecuting, Nicholas Campbell told the court Burns gave her a bottle to try to stop her cries. As she continued to cry, he vigorously shook the crying baby. A screaming Darcey went floppy as she turned white in the face and struggled to breathe.

The court heard Darcey would have collapsed immediately at this point. Burns then woke a sleeping Smith, who also has learning difficulties, who then proceeded to give her daughter mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The couple waited nearly two hours before seeking medical attention and the court heard Burns went to the shop to buy credit for his mobile phone to contact their local GP even though they could have called 999 free.

Burns told the medical receptionist that his daughter had recently had a cough and seemed better but was due an immunisation that day and enquired as to whether he should take her for the appointment.

Later that afternoon, Burns carried Darcey in a blanket to their doctors surgery where, the court heard, a nurse thought she appeared dead before she noticed faint breathing and bruising to her breast bone.

Darcey was then rushed to Calderdale Royal Hospital by ambulance where staff described her as grey and waxy with a death-like mask expression. Smith arrived at the hospital with her son, that afternoon.

Darcey was later transferred to Leeds Paediatric Intensive Care Unit with bleeding on the brain but at 4am, the following morning, she was pronounced dead.

That afternoon, Burns and Smith were arrested on suspicion of murder.

Burns, who now lives at Hawthorn Terrace, King Cross, Halifax, told medical staff Darcey had collapsed spontaneously but later pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his daughter at court.

Smith, of Charlesworth Grove, Pellon, Halifax, admitted neglect. She as given a two year community order.

Mitigation for Smith, Philip Ainge, said: “Her daughter would have been approaching her sixth birthday, had this not happened. Smith’s grief is almost tangible.”

Mr Ainge said his defendant had asked her series of ‘what if’ questions ever since the tragic incident.

The court heard the couple had a strained and sometimes violent relationship.

An emotionally immature Burns, who had given up work to care for their children after Smith was struggling to cope, had become the primary carer for the couple’s daughter, their elder son, now aged eight, and Burns’ son from a previous relationship.

Mitigation for Burns, Jeremy Lindsay, said: “The defendant cannot shake-off the awful long-term damage caused by a moment of thoughtlessness.”

Both defendants families grew increasingly concerned for their ability to cope as parents, the court heard.

The defendants had previously called an ambulance and sought medical attention, on several occasions, for their son, who was born in 2007.

A post mortem examination found Darcey’s death would not have been preventable if the couple had sought medical attention earlier.

Judge Peter Collier QC said to Burns: “You found it difficult to cope after giving up your job to care for your children as Smith found it difficult to cope. There were tensions between you both and your relationship was described as volatile.

“You were trying to cope with life’s stresses as best as you could; you were at the end of you tether which was a tether limited because of your disability. I accept you did not intend to kill Darcey but deep down you must have known there was a risk when shaking her. That risk was fatal.”

The case took so long to come to court for sentencing due to a family court matter concerning the defendants son.

Detective Superintendent Chris Walker of Protective Crime Services, said: “The death of any young child is always tragic, the events of March 3, 2009 which saw the death of 18 week old Darcey Louise Burns and the start of a detailed and protracted police investigation were no exception.

“Justice has now been served with the family and close relatives of Darcey finally being provided with an explanation as to what happened on that fateful morning.

“This hearing and sentence finally draws to a close what has been a very sad case”.