Derbyshire Constabulary – A 10-month-old baby’s stepfather was found guilty of murder. Craig Crouch systematically abused his brother Jacob over the course of several months, leading up to his murder in December 2020. Gemma Barton, Jacob’s mother, was found guilty of murder or permitting the murder of her son. Jurors at Derby Crown Court were told that it was obvious to them that Jacob was in excruciating pain in the hours before his death.
The court heard that had they rushed Jacob to the hospital after the fatal injury, he might have been able to avoid dying from the peritonitis that ultimately led to his demise. An expert pediatrician testified that the condition, brought on by a bowel rupture, was brought on by a kick, stamp, or punch so powerful that the victim’s injuries were comparable to those of victims of major car accidents.
It all started at 7 a.m. on December 30, 2020, when Crouch and Barton called 999 to report that they had found Jacob motionless in his cot. Paramedics found Jacob with obvious bruising and evidence of rigor mortis when they arrived at the couple’s home on Foxley Close, Linton, Swadlincote, indicating that he had been dead for a significantly longer period of time than the couple had stated.
After receiving a call from the East Midlands Ambulance Service, police were sent to the location. Jacob’s parents were interviewed by doctors at the Royal Derby Hospital after their son’s body was sent there to determine the cause of death. They painted an image of a healthy infant who, on his last night of life, refused to take a bottle.
If Barton hadn’t checked on Jacob at 5 a.m., he likely would have died or been close to death. Additional procedures and testing were conducted to determine the cause of Jacob’s death, and the results made it evident that it was no accident. In addition to numerous injuries, it was discovered that Jacob had up to 41 rib fractures from multiple attacks. Jacob’s final hours were marred by some of these, while others had their origins months earlier.
Evidence showed that fractures that had healed had been re-broken by successive attacks, suggesting that these breaks had been induced by the squeezing of adult hands. Jacob would have been in a lot of pain from the fractures, but it was another assault-related injury that ultimately proved fatal.
Jacob had peritonitis, as determined by the autopsy. Injury to the bowel, such as from a kick, stamp, or punch, leads to the disorder. On March 29, 2022, Barton and Crouch were apprehended after medical examiners determined that Jacob had been abused and had not died of natural causes.
Once the two were in police custody, their phones were confiscated, providing new details about their cruel treatment of Jacob. Text chats between the duo heard them call Jacob the “devil”, joked about soaking him in bleach and outlined how they would hit him if he wept for “no reason”. Police also discovered audio notes in which Crouch explained to Barton his twisted views on parenting and the need for a clear family hierarchy.
Both defendants initially disputed the murder accusation against them and maintained their innocence throughout the trial. Craig Crouch, 39, of Donisthorpe Lane, Moira, Swadlincote, and Gemma Barton, 33, of Ray Street, Heanor, were both convicted guilty of murder after the jury deliberated for four days and rejected their version of events. The two have been remanded to custody and will receive their sentences on Friday, 4 August, at Derby Crown Court.
Paul Bullock, a detective, said, “Jacob Crouch was born into a culture of cruelty, where both the people who he should have been able to trust above all others allowed him to be subjected to assault after assault.” Heartbreakingly, Jacob would have been in substantial pain as a result of the terrible, repetitive assaults throughout a good portion of his brief life. Text messages, films, and audio recordings discovered on Barton’s and Crouch’s phones show that they are both to blame for the culture of cruelty that led to Jacob’s abuse.
As a father, I just don’t know how to make sense of what happened in that house, and my prayers are with Jacob’s loved ones as they cope with the tragedy. As the judge said, “I hope that today’s verdict brings with it a degree of closure for them and that it begins the process of them being able to grieve for Jacob and remember the happier times with a much-loved child.”
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