Her baby girl was gone, but it would be months before Kelly-Marie, 26, discovered the horrifying truth about her daughter’s death.
By Helen O’Brien Google
Kissing my beautiful baby girl goodbye, I had no idea it was going to be the last time I ever saw her alive.
I gave Kiera, who was four months old, to my boyfriend Ross, 29, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek too.
‘Be good for daddy,’ I ordered as I walked out of the door. I jumped in my car and drove to my nail appointment, ready for a party I was attending that night.
I’d met Ross six years earlier at work. Charming, funny and outgoing, we hit it off straight away. Within six months he moved into my parents’ house and after we’d found our own place to live, I fell pregnant.
We were both over the moon when Kiera was born by emergency caesarean in December 2012.
Since then, life had become all about late-night feeds and nappy changing, so I was determined to make an extra-special effort for my night out.
As I was getting my nails done, my phone starting ringing – it was Ross. I smiled, he probably wanted to ask my advice on how to stop her crying. Kiera had been clingy to me for a while now, and he often had problems settling her.
But when I picked up the phone, I could hear hysterical screaming – it was Ross. He handed the phone to my gran, who explained that she had popped in to see Ross, and he tried to feed Kiera with her bottle and she had choked.
‘She’s not breathing – you have to come back, paramedics are taking her to hospital,’ she said. I could hear Ross sobbing in the background.
‘I’ll meet you there,’ I said, and I got into my car and slammed it into gear.
My father and I met Ross at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, and I fell into his arms.
‘She just starting choking,’ he sobbed. ‘She stopped breathing, I didn’t know what to do.’ He was clammy with sweat. I hugged him tightly.
The doctors explained to us that our little girl had a blood clot on the brain. How? An anxious wait followed, and she was transferred to Southampton General Hospital.
There, they told us they were putting our beautiful girl on a life support machine, and the next day, we were asked to switch it off. There was nothing else they could do – it felt like some horrific nightmare.
Kiera passed away in my arms. My perfect little girl was gone.
I cried hard and Ross put his arms around me. But just as I was catching my breath, a doctor informed us that social services had been called.
‘It’s possible that Kiera could have suffered a fractured rib somehow,’ he said.
We left and stood in the car park, and we barely had time to process everything before Ross was called back into the hospital by a doctor.
The next thing I knew, he was being walked back out of the hospital in handcuffs, towards a police van which was parked outside.
I was horrified – Ross had just said goodbye to his baby girl – and now this?
Ross was arrested on suspicion of killing Kiera. It didn’t make any sense.
‘Help me – they think I’ve killed her,’ he shouted as he was marched past me. Without a doubt, my family and I believed him. He was Kiera’s daddy, and she was just a tiny baby.
I told police over and over in my witness statements that Ross would never harm his girl and when he was released on bail with no conditions attached I assumed it was some awful mistake.
Somehow, lost in grief, we had to try to move on with our lives.
Ross and I moved in with my parents for support and tried, as best we could, to get on with things. I found it difficult and often broke down.
Ross handled it differently – preferring to be alone with his thoughts. Now and again, he would confide in me about how he felt.
‘I miss my little girl,’ he would sob, and we would hold onto each other for dear life. It felt like Ross was all I had left in the world.
But my nightmare was only just beginning. Seven months after Kiera died, in December 2013, we were woken up to the sound of loud knocking on the front door.
My mum opened the door and four police officers came in. They marched through the house to our bedroom. I jumped out of bed in shock.
‘I think you need to sit down,’ one officer said, and she started reading me my rights.
I was charged with causing or allowing the death of a child. I looked at Mum in horror. Did they think I’d hurt my precious daughter?
The officer stood with me in the bathroom as I shakily got dressed. I couldn’t believe they could ever think I would hurt my own child. I was stunned.
Ross was also arrested a second time for murder, and we were whisked to different police stations and questioned for 24 hours.
My solicitor told me to answer all questions with ‘no comment’, because as far as he was concerned I had given the police everything they needed during my witness statement interviews. But I couldn’t stop myself from denying outright that I would ever harm my baby girl.
‘Did you ever hurt Keira?’ they asked me, and I just shook my head.
‘No. I would never hurt a child – let alone my own daughter,’ I answered firmly.
What happened next will stay implanted in my memory forever. Police revealed that Kiera had sustained three skull fractures, rib fractures and bleeding to the brain.
She had been shaken so violently she had suffered a heart attack. My blood ran as cold as ice. It didn’t make sense. I thought she’d choked on her milk bottle when Ross was feeding her.
‘No,” the officer explained gently. “Kiera was shaken so violently she had a heart attack and stopped breathing.’
My world crumbled around me. I let out a wail and completely broke down – police had to stop the interview.
I knew I hadn’t inflicted those appalling injuries on my baby, which left only one culprit… Ross. As the sickening realisation dawned, my love for Ross turned to hatred in an instant. How could he?
Post mortem examinations showed that some of the fractures had been inflicted between four and eight weeks before Kiera’s death.
I’d taken Kiera to the doctors when she’d been suffering with a bad cold but none of these injuries were picked up… so I had no idea. I felt sick.
My stomach knotted with guilt. I should have protected her, I should have known…
I spent an agonising six days in prison before I was released on bail, while Ross was kept in custody.
In June this year, a six-week trial began at Winchester Crown Court. I was acquitted immediately but on July 11, Ross was convicted of Kiera’s murder and three counts of causing grievous bodily harm.
I shook as I listened to the judge, Mr Justice Royce, who said Kiera’s injuries were caused by Ross gripping and squeezing her by the chest so hard that he broke her ribs.
‘You must have known she was in pain as she would have screamed,’ he said.
‘The skull fractures were caused by her head coming into contact with a hard object and she would have screamed in pain.
‘That morning, you caused what were catastrophic injuries which would, in a matter of seconds, cause her to collapse and you knew what you had done.
‘She was just a vulnerable child.’
He was handed a life sentence and was told he will serve a minimum of 17-and-a-half years in prison. I’ll be forever grateful to the police for the work they did in seeking the truth over Kiera’s death.
It’s nothing compared to the life sentence Ross has left me with though. I’ll never forgive him – he murdered our girl then lied to our whole family for seven months.
One day, when I’m ready, I’ll face him in prison. I’ll make that monster answer me. I need to know why he killed my precious daughter.
After the court case, Kelly-Marie wanted to tell her side of the story and pay tribute to her daughter Kiera. On Kelly-Marie’s behalf we arranged for a sensitive piece in Chat magazine – told in her own words. If you’ve been a victim of a horrific crime and need help with press coverage, get in touch with us for a no-obligation, confidential chat. Even if you just want a bit of advice, we’re here to help. Take a look at our guide to talking to the press too.