Nursery deputy manager caused death of nine-month-old baby girl, court told

A nursery deputy manager caused the death of a baby girl who she placed face down, tightly swaddled and strapped to a bean bag for more than an hour and a half, a court has heard.

Kate Roughley, 37, is accused of the manslaughter by ill-treatment of nine-month-old Genevieve Meehan who she found unresponsive and blue on the afternoon of May 9 2022 at the Tiny Toes Nursery (pictured) in Cheadle Hulme, Stockport.

Staff and then paramedics attempted to revive Genevieve, known to her family as Gigi, but her condition was irreversible and she was pronounced dead later that day in hospital.

Opening the case on Tuesday at Manchester Crown Court, prosecutor Peter Wright KC told jurors that strapping a child to a bean bag on their front was an “obvious recipe for disaster” and led to the death of the youngster from a combination of asphyxia and pathophysiological stress.

He said the reason for Genevieve’s decline was not fully realised at the time but the picture became “much clearer” when CCTV within the baby room was later viewed.

The defendant, a qualified nursery nurse and early years practitioner with 17 years of experience, was the duty baby room leader and in charge of sleep arrangements on May 9.

Mr Wright said: “Genevieve had been put down to sleep in the baby room that afternoon by Kate Roughley. Doing so had involved her swaddling Genevieve so tightly that the child was effectively unable to move.

“The child had then been placed not on her back but on her front and thus in reality, and for all purposes, face down.

“The risk to a baby as young as Genevieve in wrapping them tightly in this way and not putting them down on their back was, we say, obvious. All the more we say when you discover that she had not placed Genevieve onto a cot or a sleeping mat but onto a bean bag.

“As if that wasn’t bad enough, we say, Genevieve was also strapped front down onto the bag by means of a harness. The obvious effect of such a method of restraint in such a position was, we say, bound to restrict even further the ability of Genevieve to move or breathe freely.

“Finally, a blanket was placed over her that covered her practically from head to foot. The inevitable consequence of this would make any observations of her even less easy to undertake and the risk to a child suffering from overheating ever more likely.

“Unsurprisingly, Genevieve was distressed by this treatment but her cries were ignored and she was left tightly swaddled, restrained and covered in this position.”

The prosecutor said Genevieve was left virtually immobilised and face down from 1.35pm to 3.12pm.

He went on: “Throughout the time of one hour and 37 minutes during which Genevieve had been left unable to move other than minimally, her cries and distress – sometimes accompanied by efforts to move or reposition herself – were simply ignored.

“Any level of interest in her wellbeing was during this period, we say, sporadic and, at best, fleeting.

“The risk to Genevieve of asphyxiation and death was both serious and obvious. Yet Kate Roughley ignored it and by the time she checked Genevieve with anything vaguely representing any genuine interest in her condition it was too late.

“The defendant treated Genevieve in a way that all sober and reasonable people would recognise was both dangerous and would, unless averted, subject Genevieve to the risk of some harm.

“The risk of asphyxiation if left in this position and condition was obvious for all to see.

“The lack of any effective monitoring of Genevieve over this period of time simply increased the probability of what was so obviously likely to happen unless averted.”

The prosecutor said Roughley’s primary concern was her own convenience rather than the needs of Genevieve, the daughter of Katie Wheeler and her partner John Meehan.

CCTV footage timed at 1.44pm, the court heard, showed the defendant checking adjacent cots before she headed for a toilet break and told a colleague: “Just ignore anyone if they start.”

Five minutes later Genevieve was moving her head side-to-side and raising her legs, the court heard.

Mr Wright told the jury: “What you will see, we say, is entirely consistent with an increasingly exhausted child desperately thrashing in order to survive.”

Genevieve continued to move and cry in the minutes that followed as the defendant placed her right hand towards the child’s head but “none of this apparent distress appears to have caused Kate Roughley to respond”, said the prosecutor.

Between 2.10pm and 2.12pm crying and coughing can be heard for several seconds as Roughley walked over to Genevieve and pulled up the outer blanket covering the child’s head, jurors were told.

The crying and struggling continued until 2.24pm when Genevieve’s final leg movements can be seen as the defendant was in the kitchen area, said Mr Wright.

The prosecutor said: “Approximately 10 minutes later at about 2.35pm and then at 2.41pm Kate Roughley checked other children in the room, but not Genevieve. She remained on the beanbag seemingly unchecked and motionless.

“The sad reality is that by this time she had, in all probability, succumbed to the stresses placed on her body and its ability freely to breathe, and had asphyxiated.”

Mr Wright said CCTV from the baby room on May 5 and 6 revealed that “for some inexplicable reason Kate Roughley appeared to have taken against Genevieve”.

On May 5 Genevieve was placed front down and strapped onto a bean bag for nearly two hours, the court heard, before Roughley unwrapped the child from her blanket and restraint in what the Crown said “would appear to any casual observer to be overly abrupt and lacking in any degree of tenderness or affection”.

Mr Wright said: “The lack of affection we say is not merely visible but palpable.”

Matters did not improve on May 6, said the prosecutor, as the defendant can be heard telling Genevieve to “stop your whinging” and later referred to the youngster as “stress head”.

Later when faced with a crying Genevieve in a highchair, Roughley is heard to say “Genevieve go home”, the court heard, and then added: “Do you have to be so loud and so constant? Change the record.”

The defendant’s “displeasure” continued further in the afternoon when she said: “Genevieve go home. Please, I’m even asking nicely. You are driving me bananas.”

Mr Wright said: “We say what this behaviour demonstrated … was an unhealthy and troubling indisposition on her part towards Genevieve that was a precursor to what was to take place on May 9.

“Her hostility to Genevieve was, we say, as illogical as it was disturbing.”

In a brief summary of the defence case, Sarah Elliott KC told jurors: “Genevieve’s death was a terrible and unavoidable accident and not caused by any acts of Kate Roughley that were unlawful.

“You will hear that she was devastated by the events of that day and left heartbroken by what happened.”

Roughley had worked at the nursery from the age of 18 when she first visited on work experience as part of a college course, said the barrister.

Ms Elliott said: “Apart from her college training, everything she learned about looking after young children and babies she learned from those people who worked there and ran the nursery.

“In those 17 years Kate Roughley had never been in trouble. There were no complaints about her work, in fact quite the opposite.

“Her case is that on that terrible day she did nothing different to any other day. She looked after the babies in her care as she did every day of her working week.

“She will say that her care of Genevieve was no different to any other child.

“She managed looking after a large number of children, often single-handedly, as she often did in a practical, no-nonsense and caring way.”

Roughley, of Heaton Norris, Stockport, denies manslaughter and an alternative count of child cruelty.

The trial, estimated to last four weeks, continues on Thursday.

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