Let's make sure we remember tragic Eleanor

Eleanor Easey when she was just a few weeks old.

Eleanor Easey when she was just a few weeks old. - Credit: Family picture supplied by Norfolk Constabulary.

This week, Christopher Easey was convicted of killing his baby daughter Eleanor. Reporter PETER WALSH, who sat through most of the ten week trial, says it is now time to make the victim - not her killer - the focus of our attention

It is a photograph that might come from any family album from any home in the country.

A child, just a few days old, lies asleep in her car seat, her dummy and blanket reassuringly nearby.

Yet this picture of contentment is at stark odds with what we know of the tragically short life of the baby herself.

Within weeks of the photograph being taken, Eleanor Easey was dead from injuries inflicted by her father, Christopher, at the family home in Morton on the Hill, near Taverham.

This week, following a trial at Norwich Crown Court, he was convicted of her manslaughter and an offence of cruelty. Eleanor's mother Carly - now divorced from Christopher - was found guilty of cruelty. Both will be sentenced at the end of this month.

Christopher and Carly Easey who are both on trial following the death of Eleanor Easey.

Christopher Easey and his former wife Carly Easey who have been convicted following the death of their baby Eleanor. - Credit: From Facebook

It is a terribly sad case which has once again thrust the issue of child welfare to the forefront of people's minds.

Verdicts in the case came on Wednesday, the same day as it was announced Tracey Connelly, the mother of Baby P, could be freed from prison.

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Justice Secretary Dominic Raab will ask the Parole Board to reconsider the decision to release Connelly, who was jailed at the Old Bailey in 2009 after admitting causing or allowing the death of her 17-month-old son, who died after suffering more than 50 injuries.

That case was so harrowing that more than a decade on, the name of Baby P - or Peter, as he was actually called - remains lodged in the public consciousness.

So too are the names of more recent child victims.

Like Star Hobson, a toddler from Keighley, who died in September 2020 after months of neglect, cruelty and injury by her mother and her partner.

And Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, aged six, who died in Solihull in June 2020. His stepmother was convicted of murder and his father of manslaughter.

Young Arthur's death, and the court case that followed, led to an outpouring of rage and grief in the area where he lived and died.

Since the spiteful and sadistic details of the abuse he suffered came to light Birmingham City, the football club he supported, has renamed its family zone Arthur's Area in his memory.

A giant flag and memorial bricks will also be placed outside the club's St Andrew's stadium to remember Arthur, who fans also commemorated with a march before a match in December.

He had a tragically short life, but in death Arthur has been remembered.

My hope is that Eleanor Easey's memory could last here too.

I sat through almost every day of the 10-week trial of her parents.

Christopher Easey (left) and Carly Easey (right) who have gone on trial following the death of three-month-old Eleanor Easey.

Christopher Easey and his former wife Carly Easey who have been convicted following the death of their baby Eleanor. - Credit: Brittany Woodman, Archant Norfolk

It was an obviously horrendous experience which has left me troubled.

One reason for this is that despite the trial being all about the dreadful things which happened to that three-month old girl, it was a case in which her abuser in chief, Christopher Easey, and, to a lesser extent, Carly, took centre stage.

Christopher Easey is on trial accused of the murder of his three-month-old daughter Eleanor.

Christopher Easey who has been found guilty of the manslaughter of his daughter Eleanor as well as a charge of cruelty. - Credit: Brittany Woodman, Archant Norfolk

Eleanor herself was actually little more than a sideshow in the events which took place in the courtroom.

The focus of attention - necessarily - had to be on the awful things that were done to her - and the man who did them - rather than who she was.

We heard in literally microscopic detail about 'body maps', bruises, fractures to ribs, arms, legs, bleeding to her brain and cervical spine, the dates at which those injuries might have occurred, and the catastrophic chain of events those horrendous injuries set about.

These were deeply harrowing details. I am a father of three girls, but this was evidence that everyone would have found incredibly difficult to listen to. But it did not tell us much about Eleanor herself.

She might only have been three-months old, but she was a life, she was a person and she was so much more than the sum of the injuries that were inflicted upon her.

Yet her life had been cut so short that we could know so little about her. There was, at that point, not even any photo of her publicly available.

The public could read details of the abuse she had suffered in newspaper reports, but could not even picture what she was like.

Morton on the Hill, near Lenwade where Christopher and Caryl Easey lived when Eleanor died in December 2019.

Morton on the Hill, near Lenwade where Christopher and Carly Easey lived when Eleanor died in December 2019. - Credit: Peter Walsh, Archant Norfolk

With that thought hanging heavy on my mind each night as I left court, I vowed to pursue the police and prosecutors for a picture of Eleanor, in happier times, that we could use at the end of the case - to show our readers who this little girl really was.

I was initially told that officers would not be releasing a picture of Eleanor. But I persisted with my requests and eventually the police relented. Once the verdict came, we were able to publish Eleanor's photo.

It was, I felt, an important moment in making sure she is remembered. It showed her as she was and how she should have been.

During the trial, Tina Easey, Eleanor's grandmother, said her granddaughter was "happy and contented" at the time this picture was taken, in the days following her birth.

That beautiful baby girl should now have learnt to walk, talk and be full of joy and smiles as she approaches her third birthday later this year.

She deserved love, affection and care from her parents to ensure that she grew from an infant into a thriving young girl who could make her own choices. But she was never given that chance.

With Eleanor being a "concealed pregnancy" - meaning Carly never told health professionals that she was pregnant until she went to hospital with stomach pains shortly before the birth - additional support was put in place for the family.

QEH

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn where Eleanor Easey was born in September 2019. - Credit: Chris Bishop

It meant there were midwives, health visitors, social workers and other health professionals on hand with the family in the days and weeks following Eleanor's birth.

Detective Inspector Lewis Craske, who worked on the investigation, said the family had more support than most and despite the fact they were inexperienced, first-time parents had all the help they needed to cope.

It is easy with hindsight to ask the question why was Eleanor's abuse not picked up by those many health professionals when she had so much support.

After all, marks were seen on her and raised as concerns.

The Easeys tried to explain away a mark on her face as being the result of an ill-fitting car seat strap which had caught on her face as she travelled to see her grandparents.

The spotting of that mark led Eleanor to be seen at the doctor's surgery and then at the hospital where she was examined by experts who ultimately found no cause for concern.

Other marks were spotted, raising yet more concerns, but despite this social services withdrew from supporting the family in November 2019, just a month before Eleanor's death.

The case has led to a safeguarding review commissioned by the Norfolk Safeguarding Partnership (NSCP) which has come up with a number of recommendations, including that social workers better understand the impact of concealed pregnancy and its impact on parental bonding with babies.

Health practitioners were also urged to consider more clinical examination of babies, including weight monitoring, where there have been safeguarding concerns, and better communication between social care and partners when a case is closed.

While it would be easy to blame social services and others for not having spotted the signs sooner or doing more to act on them, the truth is that the person ultimately responsible for her death is in prison awaiting his sentence.

Yet we all have a part to play in trying to avoid tragedies like this happening again.

I can only hope that this picture of Eleanor can be seen by others as a sign, or a prompt, to do their bit to look out for other young children, those who cannot speak up for themselves but who might be in trouble and need help.

You do not have to be a police officer, social worker, midwife or health worker to be able to make a difference to young lives which are being blighted by abuse.

We all have eyes and ears and through lived experience know whether something is right or might not be.

I would not ask or expect others to take the law into their own hands and act on suspicions themselves, but there are multiple agencies out there - even if not the police or social services - who will act on information received to check out whether there is anything to worry about or not.

It must be horrendous for genuine, law abiding parents or guardians to have the finger of suspicion pointed at them and be investigated for something they have not done.

But surely it would be even worse for a child to die, and for others who might have seen or heard something to have not acted.

Babies and infants do not have a voice for themselves and need others around them - if that is not their parents - to keep an eye out for them.

Please have this picture of Eleanor Easey in your mind when making a decision on such difficult matters, and let her legacy be the fact that in death she is helping to protect others in a way her parents could not do for her while she was alive.