Birmingham & Black Country

Keegan Downer murder: Legal guardian Kandyce Downer jailed for life

Kandyce Downer and Keegan
Image caption Kandyce Downer became the legal guardian of Keegan Downer in January 2015

A woman who murdered a toddler she had subjected to "barbaric" abuse in her care has been jailed for life.

Kandyce Downer, 34, killed 18-month-old Keegan Downer less than a year after she was appointed her legal guardian.

The toddler had 153 scars and bruises and suffered what police described as "barbaric and evil" treatment, sustaining brain and spinal injuries.

Downer, who must serve at least 18 years, told Birmingham Crown Court her eldest son had caused the injuries.

Keegan died on 5 September 2015. Before calling 999, Downer dumped her blood-spotted mattress, the court heard.

The short, sad life of Keegan Downer

Forensic testing at the house revealed traces of the girl's blood in her cot and on the bedroom wall.

A post-mortem examination revealed the toddler died from a combination of old head injuries, septicaemia and blunt chest trauma but had suffered a catalogue of injuries in her life.

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Mrs Justice Frances Patterson told Downer: "It is a horrible tale of callous conduct and at no stage have you showed any remorse.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Kandyce Downer had denied murder

"Why you changed from a loving mother to a brutal attacker of a defenceless child is a mystery.

"You did not set out with the intention to kill Keegan but the repeated assaults on her made death as an outcome of your conduct increasingly likely passage of time."

She concluded: "Keegan suffered considerably in the last days and months of her life."

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption A computer-generated image shows injuries to Keegan's ribcage which were discovered after her death
Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Images of the toddler's left and right femur (thighbone) were also released by police to show the extent of her injuries

Foster carer to guardian

Keegan was placed in foster care from an early age after being born in March 2014 to a heroin addict. Whilst with a foster family, she was a "healthy and happy baby", the court heard.

Her foster carer had raised concerns with social services that Downer, who was a member of Keegan's extended family, may have had financial motivation.

However, a guardianship order was granted to the mother-of-four in January 2015.

The toddler attended nursery until June that year - described as "a turning point" by the judge because it ended any public scrutiny of Keegan's care.

She was not seen by any health, care or social services professionals in the three months before her death.

Her former foster carer, Jane Murray, said: "I spent the first 10 months of her short life loving, cuddling and teaching her, keeping her safe and helping her grow into the happy, pleasant little girl I knew."

Elaine Downer, Keegan's paternal grandmother, said: "I can't understand how no-one noticed (her injuries) and that shocked me."

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Keegan Downer was found with more than 150 injuries on her body

An NSPCC spokesman said: "We hope this sentence will serve as a warning to deter others who would subject children in their care to such astonishing cruelty.

"Little Keegan did not deserve to be treated so abhorrently in her short life.

"Questions must be asked about how a woman who was entrusted with caring for Keegan ended up killing her.

"A Serious Case Review must examine in detail the use of the Special Guardianship Order as well as the assessment and long term support arrangements in this case."

Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board will conduct the Serious Case Review to establish if lessons can be learnt from the tragedy.

It will publish its findings in summer.

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