‘Considerable force’ needed to cause injuries inflicted on Sheffield toddler in weeks before her murder, court told

A Sheffield toddler suffered fractures to her arm and spine believed to have been caused by impacts with ‘considerable force’ in the weeks before she was murdered, a court heard.

By Sarah Marshall
Thursday, 31st January 2019, 8:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 31st January 2019, 8:33 pm
Martin Johnson, 20, denies murdering Erin Tomkins on May 22 this year
Martin Johnson, 20, denies murdering Erin Tomkins on May 22 this year

Erin Tompkins was just 23-months-old when she died from head injuries in the early hours of May 22 last year. 

Her step-father, Martin Johnson, is alleged to have caused Erin’s fatal injuries, and is also accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm on the toddler on two separate occasions prior to her death. 

Martin Johnson, 20, denies murdering Erin Tomkins on May 22 this year

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During the course of the trial, the jury of eight women and four men have been told how Erin was taken to the accident and emergency department at Sheffield Children’s Hospital on March 13, 2018 for a broken arm she suffered while Johnson, 20, was looking after her alone. 

Johnson, of Leighton Avenue, Gleadless Valley claimed Erin’s injury was caused when she fell off the sofa, which was accepted by both Erin’s mum, Kira, and staff at the hospital.  

Following Erin’s death, the pathologist who conducted her post-mortem examination asked for an expert analysis from bone specialist Professor Charles Mangham, who concluded the injury to Erin’s arm was a ‘spiral fracture’ that is unlikely to have been caused by falling off the sofa. 

He told the jury today that the fracture is likely to have been caused by a ‘sort of twisting’ movement. 

“I would regard it as a high impact fracture and I don’t think falling from a sofa is a high impact way of producing such a injury,” said Prof Mangham, adding that it is more likely to have been caused by a ‘more dramatic, traumatic event’. 

Prosecutor, David Brooke QC, asked Prof Mangham: “How would one cause such a fracture in a young child?”  

He said: “Considerable force against a hard object or a sort of snapping, as you might break a stick.”

Erin’s post-mortem examination also revealed she suffered fractures to her spine.

Prof Mangham said Erin had a fracture line ‘running from the top to the bottom of the vertebrae’; adding that the level of healing on the fractures allowed him to determine that the toddler had suffered the injury between five and 10 weeks before her death.  

He said it was not possible to tell whether the 10 to 11 areas of injury to Erin’s spine were caused by a single incident, or by multiple impacts. 

“[The injury would require] considerable force. It’s not something that occurs in play or rough play. It’s something we don’t see in children of that age, it’s usually seen in elderly ladies, but that’s due to osteoporosis,” said Prof Mangham, adding there was no evidence of any illness or underlying medical condition that could have caused Erin’s fractures.

Bryan Cox QC, representing Johnson, asked Prof Mangham how he was able to tell that Erin’s injuries were caused up to 10 weeks before her death, and had not been caused before that. 

“Is it not possible that the fracture could have been caused around the previous Christmas, five or six months before her death,” asked Mr Cox. 

Prof Mangham said he did not believe the fracture could have been caused that long before Erin’s death, due to the fact there was evidence of ‘immature healing’. 

Johnson denies all charges. 

The trial, which is expected to conclude next week, continues.