A mother and her ex-boyfriend have been found guilty of killing a two-year-old boy after their abuse was caught on secret mobile phone recordings.
Kyrell Matthews, from Thornton Heath in south London, had 41 rib fractures and internal bleeding from a 4cm cut to his liver when he was killed on 20 October 2019.
The capturing of the abuse on mobile phone recordings has echoes of similar cases in recent months. Sixteen-month-old Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, six, were both killed as a result of physical abuse and, like Kyrell, both children had been referred to social services.
Kyrell’s mother, Phylesia Shirley, 24, who had previously worked in children’s services at Croydon council, admitted allowing her son to be harmed but pleaded not guilty to his murder. Her ex-boyfriend, Kemar Brown, 28, who has a number of violence-related convictions, also denied murder.
Jurors heard the fractures were caused by a twisting motion and the fatal liver injury was from a kick or punch to the little boy’s stomach. Other injuries were inflicted in at least five separate attacks over 28 days, indicating a significant period of abuse, according to experts.
The court also heard distressing mobile phone recordings of both defendants hitting Kyrell, who was non-verbal, on multiple occasions. The audio was secretly recorded by Shirley as she suspected Brown of cheating.
On several occasions, Kyrell could be heard being hit repeatedly, with Brown telling him to “shut up”, causing the toddler to cry and scream.
In one recording, Brown could be heard beating Kyrell several times before taunting him: “You have to ruin the fun.” Another audio recording captured Shirley hitting her son, making him cry.
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. But experts for the prosecution told jurors there were no recorded cases of a child having a such a liver injury from being given CPR, the PA Media news agency reported.
The jury heard a recording of Shirley’s 111 call after Kyrell collapsed at home. She sobbed as she was told by a clinical adviser to use both hands and “push down hard and fast” and “go for it”.
Brown was found guilty of murder and causing or allowing Kyrell’s death, while Shirley was acquitted of murder but found guilty of manslaughter. Judge Mark Lucraft QC said the court had heard some “harrowing” recordings made by Shirley of the abuse and said she ought to feel “utterly ashamed”.
The 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 not 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.”
DCI Kate Kieran, of the Metropolitan police, welcomed the verdicts, adding: “I hope that the conviction of both Shirley and Brown today at least gives [Kyrell’s family and friends] some peace in coming to terms with what happened to Kyrell.”
She said discovering audio recordings of the child abuse was “unique” and had affected her team. “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.
“And it’s really affected the team. We all choose to become part of the murder investigation team but I’ve never, ever uncovered evidence like this in one of these cases.”
The sentencing hearing is due to take place on 25 March.