A 31 year old mother and her civil partner have been jailed this week for the murder of her 2 year old son.
Liam Fee was found dead at the home of his mother, Rachel Fee (nee Trelfa), and her civil partner, Nyomi Fee, 29, in Fife in March 2014.
The toddler was found with a ruptured heart caused by severe blunt trauma. Doctors added that he looked as though he had been in a car crash, such were the extent of his injuries. Double fractures of his thigh bone and arm were also discovered. In total, more than 30 injuries were found on Liam’s body.
Both Rachel & Nyomi immediately denied killing Liam, instead accusing another child in their care of their son’s murder. Livingston High Court heard how the couple told a 999 operator that the other child had strangled Liam, putting his hand over his mouth to keep him quiet.
The ambulance technician first to attend the scene following the emergency call, James Graham, told the jury that Nyomi Fee had shouted at the other young boy:
“You tell these men what you’ve done.”
Mr Graham added:
“He just stood there with a look to say, ‘I don’t know what I’ve done but it must be bad.’”
The child in question is one of two young boys who also suffered terrible abuse at the hands of the two women.
The two surviving boys were questioned by both a specially trained officer and a social worker as part of a ‘complex and challenging investigation’. Over the course of several interviews with the primary school children, who had been in the house on the day of Liam’s murder, it became clear to investigators that they had no involvement in his death.
During the interviews, it also became apparent that they had been abused by the two women themselves. Throughout the seven week trial, the jury watched over 20 hours of video footage in which the children detailed the harrowing abuse they had been subjected to.
One of the boys explained that the women would not allow him to use the toilet during the night and so he would often wet the bed. As punishment, he would be forced to stand under a cold shower for prolonged periods of time.
He also described how the women would call him ‘pudding hands’, in reference to how swollen his hands became after one particular incident were he was tied up with cable ties & locked in a man-made cage overnight.
The other child told police how the women had tied him naked to a chair, leaving him in a room filled with boxes containing snakes and rats overnight. He also described how he was once made to stand in a cold shower for a whole day.
Surviving children now ‘thriving’
The two surviving children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are now “thriving”, attending school and “doing really well”, according to DI Rory Hamilton of Police Scotland’s major investigation team east.
DI Hamilton has praised the courage shown by the boys. He added:
“Details of Liam’s murder and the abuse carried out by the two women emerged during the course of interviews with two other boys in their care.
“During joint interviews with specially trained detectives and officials from Fife council, the evidence began to build towards a picture of horrendous abuse which directly contributed to the version of events being put forward by the two accused being utterly discredited.”
Rachel and Nyomi Fee were convicted of a total of eight charges. As well as Liam’s murder, the couple were found guilty of assaulting the toddler in the two years prior to his death. They were also found guilty of four charges relating to the abuse of the other two children. The couple are due to be sentenced on 6 July.
Failure to prevent abuse
Questions are now being asked as to why the abuse of three young children was allowed to continue without any intervention from authorities – in particular Fife Council, its social work department, the NHS and Police Scotland. It has been reported that concerns were raised about Liam Fee’s welfare on around three separate occasions and yet no action was taken.
Staff at the nursery Liam attended alerted social services after they spotted that he had sustained a number of injuries and had lost weight. His childminder also voiced her concerns, as did neighbour Patricia Smith – whose child attended the same childminder. Mrs Smith apparently phoned social workers after seeing the Fee’s in the street. During the encounter, Liam was in his pram and Mrs Smith recalled how she did not know if he was sleeping or dead, such was his demeanour.
A senior social worker in Fife admitted to jurors that Liam ‘fell off their radar’ when an employee took time off due to illness and no one else was reassigned to Liam’s case.
Significant case review
A significant case review has now been set up by Fife’s Child Protection Committee (CPC) – the body representing all the agencies involved.
Former lead paediatrician for child protection in Edinburgh, Professor Jacqueline Mok, will head the review. Professor Mok will interview all staff members who were involved in the circumstances leading up to Liam’s death, as well as reviewing all records relating to the case.
Douglas Dunlop, the vice chairman of Fife’s CPC, has said:
“The circumstances of supporting families in situations such as this can be complex and there were a range of agencies involved in supporting Liam and his family and the details of that will be looked at through the Significant Case Review.”
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