Ayeeshia Jane Smith: Mother and stepfather 'in it together'
For 16 weeks of her short life, Ayeeshia Jane Smith thrived in the care of a foster family. But within months of being returned to her mother she was dead after suffering a catalogue of injuries likened to a car crash.
"We're a family. Families stick together," Matthew Rigby confidently told police officers as he tried to cover up how his partner's 21-month-old daughter met her violent death.
The reality could not have been more different. Ayeeshia, known as AJ, suffered greatly during her short life, before dying at the hands of her mother Kathryn Smith, aided by her violent boyfriend.
Sixteen separate injuries were found on the toddler's body.
But it was a tear to her heart - probably caused by a stamp - that finally killed her on 1 May, 2014.
Birmingham Crown Court was told her mother routinely put her own needs above those of her little daughter, freely having relationships with violent men and putting Ayeeshia at serious risk. She even defended them when police and social services tried to intervene.
Her mother insisted she had nothing to do with the girl's death. But the prosecution told the court she "knew what was going on" because the flat she shared with Rigby was so small and "she watched her like a hawk".
"They were in it together. Neither was prepared to save Ayeeshia from her fate," the prosecutor said.
Ayeeshia faced a difficult start in life. Her mother - who had a history of self harm, substance abuse and mental health issues - lived in her father's garage in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, while she was pregnant.
Smith and Rigby later moved in together in a flat in Britannia Drive, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, where Ayeeshia died.
Derbyshire social services knew about Ayeeshia from birth and around the time of her first birthday, in June 2013, placed her with foster carers because her mother was in an abusive relationship with another man. The little girl thrived, putting on weight.
But after four months she went back to live with her mother and it soon emerged she was seeing Rigby. Medical records showed the little girl shed almost a kilo between February and April 2014.
Far from being a close family, Rigby and Smith, who most recently lived in Nottingham, had a volatile relationship. He damaged the front door of the flat and threatened to set their home on fire three weeks before the little girl's death.
Sequence of events
- 15 July 2012: Ayeeshia is born - Derbyshire social services is already involved with a pre-birth child protection plan
- June 2013: She is put into foster care
- October 2013: Ayeeshia is returned to her mother, Kathryn Smith, who has started a relationship with Matthew Rigby
- 3 February 2014: The toddler collapses. She is misdiagnosed with a seizure; after her death, a bleed to the brain is found. The hospital is unaware she was under a supervision order, so does not alert social services
- 10 April 2014: Social services meet Kathryn Smith to discuss Ayeeshia's safety
- 1 May 2014: Ayeeshia dies from crushing injuries, aged 21 months
Derbyshire social services met to discuss taking Ayeeshia out of harm's way once again.
Three weeks after that meeting she was dead.
What exactly happened in her final moments may never be known - with Rigby and Smith repeatedly changing their stories.
In contrast to their original police statements, the pair told the court the other had been the last to see Ayeeshia.
Far from appearing traumatised by the night's events, the couple, who have since split, were "uncooperative" and "hostile" to police at Queen's Hospital in Burton.
Det Con Sonia Milligan said: "Parents present all sorts of different emotions, but I have never experienced such hostility as was presented that evening at hospital."
She added: "[Ms Smith's] initial account of how the injuries were sustained was to do with (falling off) the potty."
The pair also appeared agitated at learning police wanted to search their home.
Smith later claimed this was because she kept cannabis in her daughter's Tommee Tippee cup. It emerged during the trial she also continued to claim child benefit for six months after the tragedy, using it to buy drugs.
Tests on Ayeeshia's lifeless body showed she had a violent end - with a historical bleed to the brain, spinal damage and bruising from "gripping" of her neck.
Further injuries were also discovered, including a large bruise to her back and buttocks, and bruising to her left eyelid and left leg.
Rigby insisted he had "never raised a hand" to the child, even claiming he may have caused injuries carrying out CPR while Ayeeshia was on the laminate floor of the front room.
One thing Smith and Rigby did agree on was that Ayeeshia's death may have been caused by a seizure - although in court they were accused of exaggerating her history of fitting.
In his attempts to give the impression of blissful family life, Rigby described Ayeeshia in court as a "lovely little girl" who had had a positive impact on his life. And Smith insisted she was a "good mum", adding "I love AJ - I look after her."
But the detailed evidence of brutality towards the little girl convinced the jury otherwise, as they convicted the mother of murdering her daughter and Rigby of allowing it to happen.