August 2023

Jacob Crouch: stepfather found guilty of murdering baby in Derbyshire

A man has been found guilty of murdering his 10-month-old stepson, Jacob Crouch, who was left with dozens of injuries, including at least 39 rib fractures, in the run-up to his death.

Craig Crouch, 39, was convicted of murder and three counts of child cruelty towards his stepson, who died alone in his cot on 30 December 2020 at home in Linton, near Swadlincote in Derbyshire.

The baby’s mother, Gemma Barton, 33, was also on trial for murder but was acquitted. However, she was found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child and one count of child cruelty.

During a seven-week trial at Derby crown court, the jury heard how Crouch was accused of causing dozens of rib fractures to Jacob in at least five separate assaults.

The child was found dead in his cot after contracting peritonitis, an infection of the lining of the abdominal organs, and was later discovered to have 39 rib fractures, 19 visible bruises and several internal injuries.

Dr Sarah Dixon, a consultant paediatrician told the court the 10-month-year-old suffered “repeated physical abuse” in the weeks, days, and hours before his death.

One of the injuries was a traumatic bowel perforation which led to a fatal infection, which forensic pathologist Dr Michael Biggs said was the result of blunt force trauma such as a punch, kick, or stamp.

It was an injury that he likened to car crash victims or those who had suffered a multi-storey fall.

Prosecutor Mary Prior KC said Jacob’s “bones were broken on at least five occasions” and “he was assaulted with such force that he had a tear in his stomach which became perforated and that caused him to die”.

Dr Michael Biggs, a forensic pathologist, said the perforation could have been sustained only through blunt force trauma such as a punch, kick or stamp, and it was the type of injury he would expect to see in car crash victims or those who had suffered a multi-storey fall.

Crouch claimed in a 999 call that Jacob was “fine” just two hours before he was pronounced dead by paramedics, but Biggs said he would have been “systematically unwell” in the run-up to his death.

The jury were shown text messages sent between the pair in which they referred to Jacob as “the devil” and said he was “pushing us to our limits”, and one in which Barton said she had “put back what Jacob threw back down him”, referring to vomit.

In one message Crouch sent to Barton he said: “You need to be harder on him with this and not let this take over us. This will only get worse if not addressed now.”

The court heard that Barton met Crouch, a forklift driver at JCB, when she was four months pregnant with Jacob and the pair became close quickly, soon referring to the baby as “our little boy”. He was born on 17 February 2020 and Crouch was named as his father on the birth certificate.

Crouch denied any knowledge of the baby’s injuries, telling the court: “It wasn’t me and in front of me I didn’t see anything. He never gave us any reason to think that he was in pain.”

Barton also denied ever harming her son, and when asked who could have inflicted the injuries said: “It was not me so that leaves Craig.”

She claimed Jacob was her “bundle of joy” and it felt like her “whole world had just ended” when she was awoken by Crouch screaming that the baby was dead.

After the pair were arrested on 5 January 2021, they resumed their relationship despite their bail conditions saying they should not contact each other.

Both defendants remained silent as the verdicts were read out, while people in the public gallery were weeping.