Mother found guilty over manslaughter of her three-year-old daughter

Breaking news
Breaking news

Lesley Dunford, 33, of Rydal Mews, Windermere Close, Exeter, was convicted at Lewes Crown Court today, Wednesday 20 June, of the manslaughter of her three year old daughter Lucy at the then family home in Pelwood Road, Camber, East Sussex, on 2 February 2004. She was sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sloan of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said; “This was tragic case for everybody. There was a thorough police investigation at the time but the forensic evidence then did not support a prosecution. However my team has carried out a very thorough analysis of all the evidence and we are very glad to see that justice has now been done for Lucy.”

“Several of the witnesses who gave evidence in support of the prosecution have had to revisit a very harrowing episode of their lives and we pay tribute the dignified way in which they conducted themselves.”

The death of Lucy was immediately treated as suspicious by Sussex Police. Her mother was arrested and interviewed and there was a thorough investigation. However, based on the information available at the time, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision was that there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution. The CPS decision turned largely on reports from two pathologists, which were conflicting.

Nevertheless, there was concern about the safety of another child of the same family, which was sufficient for East Sussex Social Services to remove her into care. At a subsequent Family Court hearing for care proceedings in respect of that child, further medical experts provided opinions regarding the deaths of Lucy, and Harley, the seven-month old son of the couple, who had been found dead at the same family home in August 2003.

At the conclusion of those proceedings a police application was made to the Family Court judge for police access to all the expert medical evidence given during the proceedings, a copy of his judgement and a transcript of Lesley King’s (now Dunford) evidence. The Judge issued an order authorising disclosure to police of the expert evidence and his judgement.

A police decision was then made in 2005 not to re-submit the case to the CPS in respect of the death of Lucy, and the CPS did not therefore have sight of the evidence of the experts who gave evidence in the Family Court.

When the inquest into the death of Lucy Dunford began in 2009, HM Coroner for East Sussex adjourned the proceedings on learning of the extra evidence acquired from the Family Court proceedings, and Sussex Police carried out a complete re-investigation of the case. This resulted in the arrest and, on the authority of the CPS, the charging of Lesley Dunford in July 2011.

Detective Chief Inspector Sloan added; “”We openly accept that when the Family Court evidence was received, it should have been reviewed and then referred back to the CPS, and the force now has systems in place to ensure that happens in such cases. Since the Coroner’s referral, we have made organisational changes which ensure that a review is carried out whenever there is a finding of civil liability in another court in these circumstances, and we have researched all our unsolved murders or similar cases to ensure that they have been subject of a review process for that purpose.”

The death of seven-month old Harley in August 2003 was fully investigated by police at the time and there was no evidence to justify any criminal proceedings, No evidence has emerged since and there are no plans to re-open that investigation.

Simon Ringrose of the CPS said; “This was a difficult and complex case that involved evidence from a number of medical experts. The reinvestigation into the circumstances of Lucy Dunford’s death included obtaining further medical evidence. This evidence effectively ruled out a natural cause of death and was consistent with Lucy having been suffocated. The only person who could have done this was her mother, Lesley Dunford.

“Lucy’s death was a tragic waste of life. Lesley Dunford’s conviction finally brings a conclusion to what has been a lengthy process to establish how she died.

“The CPS, police and prosecuting counsel worked closely in reviewing the case and ensuring that a compelling case was presented to the Jury.”