Tue 9 Mar 2004

1:06pm (UK)
Father Murdered Baby after Series of Attacks, Court Told

By Martin Halfpenny, PA News
A father murdered his 10-week-old daughter by banging her head and shaking her in the culmination of a series of attacks which left the child suffering 32 fractures, a court was told today.

Charlotte Latta suffered extensive brain damage after the back of her head was banged on a solid surface and she was shaken violently by her father, Mark Latta, 41, on December 2, 2001, Winchester Crown Court heard.

Jamie Gibbons QC, prosecuting, told the jury that Latta was feeding his daughter upstairs in their detached four bedroom house in Byron Close, Bishop’s Waltham, Hants, when it is alleged he lost his temper and attacked his daughter while the rest of the family sat down to Sunday lunch.

Mr Gibbons said: “She may well have been difficult about feeding and he lost his temper, he banged her head hard against a solid surface of some kind and shook her.”

Charlotte was taken to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester where doctors found she had a fractured skull and pressure from blood in the brain. A skeletal scan showed that she had 32 fractures to her ribs, limbs and collar bone.

Mr Gibbons said that some of these were old injuries and alleged that Latta had attacked Charlotte at least three times, including the time he murdered her.

“It became clear to the doctors that in the past she had been repeatedly and cruelly mistreated by someone who had used considerable and overwhelming force,” he said.

“She had been squeezed with such force her ribs had fractured.

“Just imagine how hard you would have to squeeze a baby to fracture her ribs,” he said to the jury.

The court heard that that wealthy businessman and his now wife Sharon had had problems with Charlotte’s feeding and she had spent several nights in hospital during November 2001.

On the day of the alleged murder, Latta had taken her to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital for a check-up and she had been fine.

Mr Gibbons explained to the jury that very few people looked after Charlotte and, if they discounted that the other carers, a stranger or hospital staff had attacked her more than once then as a process of elimination it must ultimately come to her father as the murderer.

Mr Gibbons explained that the banging of the head on a solid surface and the shaking had been “extreme violence”. He said that it might not have been Latta’s intention to kill his daughter but he’d intended her considerable harm, even if he regretted it.

The court heard that Latta and his wife were well off and lived in a detached four bedroom property, had a nanny and drove a BMW and an Audi TT but Mr Gibbons said: “Respectability notwithstanding, this baby was being abused.”

Mr Gibbons told the jury that Charlotte’s head injuries were so severe she was dying and at 6pm on December 4, 2001 her life support machine was switched off.

Latta was then arrested and interviewed at length. He told detectives nothing strange or untoward had happened to his daughter as he fed her alone upstairs.

He said that she was feeding fine until, he told detectives, she “spluttered and some of the milk came out of her mouth in a fine spray. Almost instantly her eyes started to shut. I remember thinking she ’cannot go to sleep’, so I took the bottle out of her mouth and she started to make a strange deep wheezing sound and I saw her eyeballs roll back into her head and she started to go limp. I called out, ’Sharon, Sharon, come upstairs there is something wrong, something wrong with Charlotte’.”

But Mr Gibbons told the jury: “The bit the defendant missed out was the cause of all this. He knew perfectly well he had banged her head, probably against the floor. Babies do not suddenly keel over with bruised scalps out of the blue.”

He also told the jury that Charlotte had been cuddled by her grandmother and aunt in the moments before she was taken upstairs by Latta and she had been fine.

He said it was important to remember “how suddenly and dramatically Charlotte’s condition changed after going upstairs with the defendant and coming down unconscious a short time later”.

He said that if Charlotte had been banged against a solid surface she would have become immediately ill. Her colour would have changed, there would have been abnormalities of colour, she would have gone floppy, she would have vomited and she would have made abnormal noises. He said all these things had happened to Charlotte.

Mr Gibbons told the court that the old rib fractures to Charlotte were between four days and eight weeks old and that the fractures to her arms and legs, which he had said had been caused by twisting them, were between seven days and four weeks old.

In a short opening address to the jury, defence counsel, Anthony Jennings, QC, said that Latta was a loving and committed father who had never harmed his child. He explained that 13 professionals had examined Charlotte during her brief life and Latta had shown no hesitation about this and had in fact told many they had not examined her fully enough.

Latta, formally of Byron Avenue, Bishop’s Waltham, Hants, denies murder and two counts of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Charlotte, between October 1 and December 2, 2001. The trial, which is expected to take five weeks, continues.