Nursery worker jailed for 14 years for manslaughter of baby girl

A nursery worker has been jailed for 14 years for killing a baby girl she strapped face down on a bean bag for more than 90 minutes.

Kate Roughley tightly swaddled nine-month-old Genevieve Meehan before she further restrained her with a harness and then covered her with a blanket.

The 37-year-old (pictured) then failed to carry out adequate checks on the distressed child before discovering her unresponsive and blue on the afternoon of May 9 2022.

Her colleagues at Tiny Toes nursery in Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, and paramedics tried to revive Genevieve but her condition was irreversible and she was pronounced dead in hospital later that day.

On Monday, a jury at Manchester Crown Court unanimously found Roughley guilty of manslaughter by ill-treatment after the prosecution said she “persecuted” the youngster for occupying too much of her time.

Genevieve, the daughter of barrister John Meehan and solicitor Katie Wheeler, died from asphyxiation brought on by a combination of pathophysiological stresses created by a “very unsafe sleeping environment”.

Roughley put Genevieve in “mortal danger” because she was “banished” to the bean bag for not sleeping long enough for her liking, the court heard.

Jurors were in tears at the start of the trial as they watched nursery CCTV footage of the baby room, which captured the tragedy unfolding as Genevieve was left “virtually immobilised” from 1.35pm to 3.12pm.

The defendant’s case was that Genevieve’s death was a “terrible and unavoidable accident” after she claimed she placed her on her side, that she was “not unduly restrained” and that she made regular visual checks.

Sentencing, Mrs Justice Ellenbogen told Roughley: “Her death was absolutely avoidable, the result of your unlawful acts on that day.

“As the harrowing video and audio footage of that day shows, you left Genevieve in that position carrying out only the most cursory and infrequent checks for over 90 minutes, during which time her increasing distress was readily apparent.

“She can be seen desperately moving her lower body and heard crying and coughing, in her ultimately futile struggle to breathe.

“I am certain that every person in this courtroom who watched the footage was willing for you to pick her up and remove her from the danger in which you had placed her, knowing of course that you would not.”

The judge said it was “common knowledge even among lay people” that a baby of Genevieve’s age and developmental stage should be put to sleep on its back and on a firm, flat surface.

But despite working in the baby room for more than two years Roughley “failed to adhere” to any of the key requirements of safe sleep practice, she said.

Mrs Justice Ellenbogen continued: “It is apparent that, at best, you considered Genevieve to have been a nuisance and at times displayed considerable exasperation and antipathy towards her.

“On the morning of May 9, in obvious exasperation, you berated her for having slept for only 20 minutes, having called her ‘vile’. I am quite satisfied that you used that word to describe Genevieve herself and not, as you claimed in evidence, her cough.

“The last photograph which Genevieve’s mother took of her, the weekend before she died, is of a bright, happy and healthy baby full of personality, grinning at the camera in her new swimming costume.

“By your callous acts, you have deprived her of the future which she should have had and left an enduring void in her family’s lives.”

Roughley, of Heaton Norris, Stockport, joined Tiny Toes straight from college at the age of 18 and said she gained most of her knowledge of working with babies and young children from her colleagues.

She said the ratio of staff to children at the nursery “gradually worsened”.

In April and May 2022, the staff-to-children ratio was at various times one to nine, two to 11, two to 13 and one to 16, the court heard.

In mitigation, Sarah Elliott KC said Roughley’s behaviour leading up to and on May 9 should be seen in the context of “gross understaffing and inadequate support” at the nursery.

She said the court should not be satisfied that Roughley was “callous and cold-hearted” but “more accurately should be described as “uncaring and not thinking”.

It was the behaviour of a woman “at the end of her tether”, said Miss Elliott, who was trying to cope with a situation she “should never have been left in”.

She said: “Kate Roughley failed herself for allowing the impossibility of looking after sometimes 10, sometimes 16 babies on her own to affect the level of her care and nurturing.”

She invited the judge to consider whether the defendant was also failed by “more senior people” at the nursery who the court “may think kept taking fees from parents…and kept packing them (children) in”.

Miss Elliott added: “We invite you to consider whether she was also failed by external organisations responsible for monitoring the nursery because anyone viewing the CCTV sees there was regularly not enough staff actively looking after the children.”

In her sentencing remarks, Mrs Justice Ellenbogen said she acknowledged the ratio of staff to children in the baby room on May 9 and other days “apparently fell well short” of statutory requirements.

However she told Roughley: “But that does not explain and cannot justify your own conduct on May 9.

“It did not bring about the circumstances in which you placed Genevieve to sleep. It did not bring preclude you from checking on her in an appropriate manner, or with suitable frequency, and it did not compel you to leave her in mortal danger.”

A separate health and safety investigation is continuing into into the now-closed Tiny Toes, formerly owned by Franck Pelle, 59, and his wife, Karen, 66.

A second Tiny Toes nursery worker, Rebecca Gregory, 25, of Stockport, is due in court in August after she was charged with four counts of child neglect that are not related to Genevieve.

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