Little Lucy Dunford was forcibly held face down in a pillow with hands around her neck says a forensic expert.
Home office pathologist Dr Nathanial Carey, an expert on death by asphyxiation, was giving evidence at Lewes Crown Court today where Lesley Dunford is standing trial for her three year old daughter’s murder in 2004, at her Camber home.
Dr Carey said: “There were a number of scratches and bruises on her neck typical of fingernail markings.
“There was evidence of some sort of grappling around the neck which paints a picture of how the airways had been interfered with.”
He said bruises, discovered on dissection, would be “consistent of hands around the neck”
He also ruled out that Lucy could have choked on her own vomit: “I would not expect this to happen in a previously fit and healthy three year old. It can be ruled out. It is likely to have happened during resuscitation.”
Dr Carey says he was able to confirm signs of asphyxia due to tiny haemorrhages in the veins of Lucy’s face and the lining of her eyes.
He told the court: “This is typical of asphyxia caused by interference with the normal mechanics of breathing.
“You could get bit as a result of disease process, such as a rash or from violent sneezing or coughing, but this would have to be prolonged and happen day after day.
“You would not expect to get this during the normal cause of things.
“There is no way that a virus could cause patterns just on the face like this. It would be all over the body.
“There were widespread bleeds in the deeper tissue of the face that support an asphyxial event. It would be as a result of compression of the neck, and, or chest. I have never seen that causes by resuscitation.
“The cut on Lucy’s head is as a result of a forceful blunt impact. The lack of blood indicates that death must have occurred soon after impact or even at the same time.
“The lack of blood on the bedding makes me believe it has happened in association with the circumstances that caused her death. There was not a lot of blood for such a deep gash.
The edge of the headboard is an object capable of causing such a wound and with the blood mark found on the headboard it says to me there may have been an impact with the headboard and she ended up dead not long after.”
Referring to traces of a virus found in Lucy’s lungs and spleen, Dr Carey said: “The organism was present but at a very low level and there was no evidence of infection in the blood.
“This was a child who was clearly not suffering from any infection. You cannot be fit and healthy one minute and dead or dying from infection the next. A disease can come on quickly but it takes hours not minutes.
“In my view natural disease can be excluded.
“I believe the cause of death was imposed obstruction of an airway. It is likely she was forcibly held down in a pillow with hands around her neck.
“Bruising found on her nose is consistent with being pushed into a pillow, or from a hand over her face.
“I would expect a child of this age to struggle vigorously to prevent her airways from being blocked.”
On being cross examined by the defence lawyer on the possibility that Lucy could have choked on her own vomit, Dr Carey said: “In that case you expect the bed linen to be covered with vomit and there would be vomit all around her face.
“There would inevitably have been some ejection of the vomit.”
Asked if that would still happen if Lucy had been knocked unconscious before vomiting, Dr Carey said: “I would find that very unlikely.”
The trial was continuing this week and is expected to run into next week.