Man guilty of murdering 10-month-old stepson with mother guilty of allowing his death

A man has been found guilty of murdering his 10-month-old stepson who was found dead in his cot with dozens of injuries.

Jacob Crouch was found dead at his Derbyshire home on the morning of December 30 2020 and was later discovered to have 39 rib fractures, 19 visible bruises and several internal injuries.

Stepfather Craig Crouch (pictured), 39, was convicted of murder and three counts of child cruelty after a jury deliberated for four days following a seven-week trial at Derby Crown Court.

Jacob’s mother Gemma Barton (pictured), 33, was cleared of murder, an alternative charge of manslaughter, and two counts of child cruelty, but was found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child and a third count of child cruelty.

Opening the case in June, prosecutor Mary Prior KC said: “Neither sought medical help for Jacob at any stage for the pain and suffering caused when his bones were broken or in the few days that followed.”

She added: “Neither got Jacob out of what must have been a life with episodes of significant pain and suffering.

“Jacob was not given the care that as a baby he needed and deserved.”

Mrs Prior said that Jacob died at his home in Foxley Chase, Linton, near Swadlincote, following a “vicious assault” which was the culmination of regular abuse within a “culture of cruelty”.

Dr Sarah Dixon, a consultant paediatrician, told the court Jacob suffered “repeated physical abuse” in the weeks, days and hours prior to his death and that it was “not remotely” possible that the injuries could have been self-inflicted.

They included a traumatic bowel perforation which led to a fatal infection, which forensic pathologist Dr Michael Biggs said could only have been sustained through blunt force trauma such as a punch, kick or stamp.

He also said that he would expect to see such injuries in car crash victims or those who had suffered a multi-storey fall.

While Dr Biggs said that Jacob’s injuries would have left him “systematically unwell” in the time before his death, Crouch claimed in a 999 call that Jacob was “fine” just two hours before he was pronounced dead by paramedics.

Giving evidence, Crouch, a forklift driver at JCB, said that Jacob’s injuries had “nothing to do with me”, stating that he “didn’t see anything” and “didn’t see anyone do anything to hurt” his stepson.

Barton, 33, also denied ever harming her son, and when asked who could have inflicted the injuries said: “It was not me so that leaves Craig.”

She claimed her son was her “bundle of joy” and said it felt like her “whole world had just ended” when she was awoken by Crouch screaming that Jacob was dead.

Both defendants remained silent as the verdicts were read out, with people in the public gallery weeping.

In text messages from June 2020, Crouch told Barton that she needed to be “more regimental” with Jacob to “not let this take over us”, claiming he was “starting to get really pissed off with him” in a later text.

Other messages revealed that the pair at one stage referred to Jacob as the “devil”.

In September, when Barton told Crouch she was bathing Jacob, he replied “3 foot deep, just hot water and some bleach xxxx”, a comment he later labelled in a police interview as “banter”.

After the pair were arrested on January 5 2021, they resumed their relationship despite their bail conditions saying they should not contact each other.

This, Mrs Prior said, was evidence that “what mattered to them was their love affair and their love story”.

Discharging the jury, Mr Justice Kerr said: “It remains for me to thank you for your public service that you have done these last couple of months that must have been a very difficult task, and is very much appreciated.

“If you wish to be excused from future jury service, you are excused for a period of 10 years from today.

“You are now discharged with heartfelt thanks from me.”

Barton, of Ray Street, Heanor, Derbyshire, and Crouch, of Donisthorpe Lane, Moira, Swadlincote, will be sentenced at the same court on Friday.

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