A man who murdered his ex-girlfriend’s two-year-old son has been jailed for at least 25 years.
Kemar Brown, 28, was jailed at the Old Bailey for life for murdering “happy and playful” toddler Kyrell Matthews.
“Defenceless” Kyrell, who was non verbal, was left with 41 rib fractures and internal injuries by the time of his death in October 2019 after weeks of cruelty at the hands of Brown and mother Phylesia Shirley, the Old Bailey heard.
Shirley, 24, had been acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter for her role in his death and was jailed for 13 years
Secret mobile phone recordings had captured the horrific abuse inflicted on Kyrell who died from a fatal liver injury.
Kyrell was subjected to repeated attacks in the weeks before he collapsed and died at his home in Thornton Heath, south London, the Old Bailey heard.
What happened to Kyrell Matthews?
The toddler had 41 rib fractures and internal bleeding from a 1.6in (4cm) cut to his liver by the time of his death on 20 October, 2019.
The fractures were caused by a twisting motion and the fatal liver injury was from a kick, punch or blow to the stomach, jurors were told.
The non-fatal injuries were inflicted in at least five separate attacks over 28 days, indicating a significant period of abuse, according to experts.
It was claimed on Brown’s behalf that the jury could not be sure Kyrell was not accidentally killed when Shirley gave him chest compressions, having been wrongly advised in a 111 call to use two hands rather than one.
However, experts for the prosecution told jurors there were no recorded cases of a child having a macerated liver from being given CPR.
The court heard distressing mobile phone recordings of both adults striking Kyrell on multiple occasions.
The audio had been secretly recorded by Shirley because she suspected her partner of being unfaithful.
Kyrell, who was described as a “happy, smiley” child, would have expressed the pain he was suffering in the final days of his life even though he could not speak, the court heard.
Jurors were not told that police had been called to an earlier domestic incident but no offences were identified and Kyrell was said to have appeared “safe and well”.
A passer-by had alerted officers on 17 July, 2019 after hearing shouting and screaming coming from their flat, with a female voice saying: “Stop hitting my face.”
It followed an incident in May 2019 when Kyrell suffered a significant injury to the side of his face and spent five days in Croydon University Hospital.
The hospital carried out an investigation and found Shirley’s explanation that the little boy had fallen off a sofa and hit his head on a highchair was “plausible”, police said.
Both defendants, who were unemployed at the time of Kyrell’s death, were cannabis users and are understood to have been visited by social services at least once.
Brown had convictions for robbery, battery, having a knife, drugs and resisting an officer, as well as being subject to a non-molestation order relating to a former partner.
During the period when Kyrell was being abused, he and his sole carers had become increasingly isolated from extended family.
What was said during sentencing?
Brown’s lawyer Mark McDonald said the audio clips were “horrendous” and argued “the only mitigation” was that he had not intended to kill the boy by inflicting the injuries.
Louise Sweet QC, defending Shirley, said the mother had admitted to allowing her son’s death prior to the trial, showing she “accepted at core the heart of her criminality, which was failing to protect Kyrell”.
Passing sentence, Judge Lucraft said: “Many others looking from the outside into this case, and particularly those who desperately seek to have a family, will struggle to understand how those primarily responsible for this little boy’s nurture and day-to-day care can have acted so cruelly to take his life.
“He was just a month over his second birthday when he was killed. The photographs and video clips show him to be a bright and bubbly little boy.”
On multiple audio files heard by jurors Kyrell could be heard being hit repeatedly, with Brown saying “Shut up”, causing the toddler to cry and scream.
On one occasion, Brown inflicted several blows on the little boy before telling him: “You have to ruin the fun.”
Another recording captured Shirley striking her son and causing him to cry in distress.
Addressing Brown Judge Lucraft said: “In one of the recordings Brown you are heard to say the words: “You have to ruin the fun.” Those six words show your disregard for him or his life.”
He told Brown that his actions had been “cruel and brutal” as he imposed a life term on him: “You were living with Phylesia Shirley and with Kyrell and were entrusted to look after him. You should have been caring for this 2 year old not abusing him.”
The judge told Shirley: “I recognise that you will have to live with the responsibility and consequences your actions and inaction had in the killing of your child, but any normal parent’s response is to love and protect their child and you did neither when it really mattered.”
What has Kyrell’s family said?
Kyrell’s father Kyle Matthews paid tribute to his “happy, playful and loved little boy taken from us in the cruellest of ways”.
In a written statement read on Friday, he said the killing had left him racked with guilt for not being able to save his son, despite the court hearing the couple “conceal(ed)” the abuse from family members.
“We take comfort in the fact that Kyrell was very much loved by me and my family and I and we will carry him in our hearts forever,” the statement said.
“We have been left with a huge hole in our lives.”
Kyrell’s paternal grandfather Karl Matthews said the audio tapes left the family feeling the little boy had been “tortured”.
He added: “We really wish you all could have seen Kyrell as the little boy we loved who had such bright eyes and the most infectious smile.”
What have the police and CPS said?
Detective Chief Inspector Kate Kieran said: “This was a horrific case and the injuries inflicted on Kyrell were truly appalling. It is impossible to understand how someone can brutalise a child in this way. This was not some sudden loss of temper - these injuries show that the abuse of Kyrell went on and on. It was during one final brutal assault that Kyrell’s sad, short life was brought to an end.
“Today his mother and her boyfriend had been sentenced for their part in Kyrell’s death. Frankly I find it hard to understand how they could have committed such appalling acts on a defenceless child. A jury has quite rightly found both Shirley and Brown culpable for Kyrell’s ill-treatment - they will now face the consequences.”
The Met Police officer said finding audio recordings of the harrowing child abuse was “unique” and had affected the whole team.
She said: “They are harrowing, there’s no other word for it. I know that the jury have had to listen to them but my investigation team had to listen to them over and over and over again, in order that we could make sure we’ve understood and heard everything on those recordings.”
Senior Crown Prosecutor Samantha Yelland said: “It’s been a horrific case for us all to work on. Kyrell was two years old and would have been able to explain the fear he was feeling, the pain he was feeling to those that cared for him.
“We are used to dealing with cases of a serious nature on the homicide unit but this one was particularly horrific because of the graphic content of those recordings and because of the defenceless young child who couldn’t do anything to help themselves.
“The two people who were supposed to look after him the most were those that caused injury, and in the end his death.”
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