A mother and father who caused the death of their nine-day-old baby have been jailed for a total of 18 years.
Throughout a lengthy trial at Preston Crown Court, Sophie Nash and her partner Daniel Nolan blamed each other for the ‘catastrophic’ injuries their baby Ava Grace Nolan suffered during her short life.
On Thursday afternoon, they were both found guilty by a jury of causing or permitting the death of a child.
At a sentencing hearing, little mitigation was offered to Nolan, who has a relatively low level of offenses to his name, many of which were committed while he was a minor, the last being in 2010; while Nash has no prior convictions to his name.
The defense attorney only offered Nash’s psychological issues and autism as mitigation, while Nolan’s childhood abuse and fear of impending jail time were also offered to the judge, with the fact that the force used against Ava would not have caused such injuries if the child had been older constituted a mitigating point for both defendants.
Sentencing the couple at Preston Crown Court on Friday, Judge Spencer said: ‘I must sentence you for causing the death of your little girl and allowing her to suffer brain damage and a damaged femur, and cruelty to the children for failing to allow midwives to see her.
“You were convicted after a six-week trial in which each of you tried to blame yourself.
“Ava’s injuries may have been caused in one episode or separately, but it is more likely that they were caused separately.
“There were bruises to the back of his head, the back of his spine and to his brain itself.
“Ava was shaken by one of you.
“She was only eight days old; he was a helpless baby. It was up to you two to protect her, but she paid the price.
“She had only been in your care for four days and during those days you caused brain damage to her by shaking, fractured her leg and other brain damage.
“All of this took place against a backdrop of domestic violence between you and you were more concerned about your day-to-day relationship with each other than you were with your own daughter.
“None of you have shown genuine remorse for these offences.
“For three years you set out to continue your life together, it wasn’t until summons were issued in 2021 that things changed.
“You, Daniel Nolan, were 31 and 26 when Ava passed away. I disregard your prior petty crimes. I accept that you are still suffering from the impact of the severe physical abuse you suffered as a child. .
“In my view, your psychological difficulties do not reduce your culpability in any of these offences.
“Your total sentence is 10 years in prison.”
On the first count of causing Ava brain damage there will be a concurrent sentence of 18 months, for causing the fractured femur there will be a concurrent sentence of three years and a concurrent sentence of 12 months in jail for causing child neglect.
Nolan was sentenced to a total of 10 years.
Judge Spencer added: “For you Sophie Nash, your disabilities do not reduce your culpability.
“Taking into account all of your extenuating circumstances, your total is eight years in prison.”
Nolan was also convicted of causing or permitting grievous bodily harm to a child, related to shocking injuries sustained by Ava in the days leading up to her death.
Sophie Nash was also found guilty on the same count and an additional count of cruelty to a person under 16.
Preston Crown Court heard how midwives had repeatedly tried to visit mum Sophie Nash and the baby in the days before her death and police had to be called to carry out a wellness check.
On the first day of their pre-Christmas trial, Mr David McLachlan QC said baby Ava suffered a fractured femur and brain damage in the days before a second fatal head injury.
The jury was told of the sometimes ‘volatile’ and ‘toxic’ relationship between Nash, 31, and Nolan, 30, and a history of issues the couple had struggled with.
“The Crown says the defendants – Ava’s father and mother – are responsible for the injuries she suffered during her short life and they are also responsible for the neglect she suffered,” said Mr. McLachlan.
“We tell you very clearly that we cannot say who did what.
“We can’t say who inflicted the injuries in this case was Nash or Nolan, but the prosecution says it was one of them and it couldn’t have been anyone else.”
When she was born on August 8, 2017, Ava was what one would expect of a “fit and healthy” newborn, the prosecutor said. She was examined by doctors, nurses and midwives before being discharged after three days.
It was heard a day after arriving home, Nash and Nolan threw a party and the couple’s friends and family were in attendance. On that date, a midwife came to see the young family, but there was no answer at the door.
At some point that afternoon, police were also called after an altercation between Nolan – who was holding a frying pan – and his neighbour.
The midwives then visited the house on the 12th, 13th and 14th and entry failed on each of these occasions.
Mr McLachlan QC went on to say that on the 15th another midwife tried to call the couple. He said: “She received no response and left a message expressing her concern. She said in plain English that if the midwives were not allowed in the case would be referred to the police for an assistance visit.
Shortly after that contact was made, the midwife was able to carry out a full postnatal examination – leaving Ava feeling happy and healthy, noting only that she had a slight yellow tint around her. her, which could have indicated jaundice.
Mr McLachlan added: ‘The prosecution case is that shortly after this visit, Ava suffered her first brain injury as well as a fractured femur.
“In reality, the next day was to be the last day of Ava’s life.”
On the 15th shortly after 5pm a police officer carried out a wellness check at the address after being contacted by concerned midwives and once again all appeared to be well although it was noted that baby Ava was crying.
Later that night, Nolan called Burnley’s birthing center saying Ava was not feeling well and her “breathing wasn’t correct”. The midwife on the phone told Nolan to call an ambulance.
Paramedics arrived within moments to an unresponsive baby Ava who then stopped breathing.
The nine-day-old was pronounced dead shortly after midnight on August 16.
A post-mortem examination revealed two injuries to Ava’s brain, bruises on her body and a fractured femur.
Medical experts concluded that the brain bleeds were most likely caused by tremors.