WHEN mum Karly Hopson watches her sons George and Frankie play, it’s a bittersweet moment as she thinks about what life could have been like if their older brother, Ethan, was there too.
Tragically, that chance was cruelly snatched away when the six-month-old tot was shaken to death by Karly’s ex, Jason Redgrave, who became enraged when the baby started crying while he was sexting another man.
Karly with baby Ethan before he was violently shaken to death[/caption]
Heartbroken science student Karly, now 31, from Cleethorpes, says: “It’s sickening that anyone could harm a baby, and the pain of losing your child in this way is indescribable.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Ethan, and every week I take my two boys to see his grave, which they call ‘Ethan’s Garden’. They ask about him all the time, and if he’ll ever come back to play with them. It’s heartbreaking they’ll never meet but I’m glad they’re so interested. I want to keep his memory alive.”
Disturbingly, recent figures reveal more than 220 infants have been killed or injured as the result of being shaken in recent years, with experts believing this figure is just the tip of the iceberg.
One in six inflicted infant deaths is now as a result of shaking – with one case every week in the UK.
‘He persuaded me to go out’
Karly, who was a support worker at the time of Ethan’s tragic death, found out she was pregnant, aged 22, after a short relationship ended in 2010.
She says: “Ethan’s dad wasn’t on the scene, and it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, but I always knew I wanted children and a big family, and my friends and family were supportive so I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to become a mum.”
Ethan was born on 17 June 2011, weighing 8lb 2oz. Karly says: “From the outset he was so alert and inquisitive, and had beautiful blue eyes. Every day he amazed me. When he was 12 weeks he first rolled over. His favourite toy was a little tractor – I still have it and the boys will play with it from time to time.”
When Ethan was four months old in October 2011, Karly received a Facebook message from unemployed Jason Redgrave, then 24.
She says: “I’d known him when I was younger through mutual friends, but then he joined the army and I didn’t see him for years. We just started chatting, and decided to meet up.
“He seemed nice – he came round pretty much every day, had a little boy of his own, and he was so good with Ethan. We’d go out for walks and take Ethan out in the pram.”
The pair became an item after a couple of months, but just two weeks later, Karly’s world fell apart on 17 December when Ethan seemingly fell ill while being babysat by Jason.
Karly says: “It was a friend’s birthday and the first night I’d ever left Ethan with anyone except family. I was debating whether or not to go and felt anxious, but Jason persuaded me.”
Baby left lifeless on the sofa
Karly settled Ethan to bed before heading out to a pub a five minute walk from her house just after 8pm. However just two hours later, Karly received a text from Jason, telling her to ring him immediately.
Karly says: “I called, and he said Ethan wasn’t breathing properly. I felt sick. I told him to ring an ambulance then just ran out the pub, and jumped into the path of the nearest car. I explained what happened and begged them to give me a lift home, which they did.”
When Karly arrived just minutes later a first response paramedic had just got to the scene.
She says: “Ethan was lifeless on the sofa – everything was a blur. I felt panicked but nothing was sinking in. I was in shock, and don’t remember seeing Jason, although apparently he was there. All I can remember is seeing Ethan lying there, and the paramedics were trying to resuscitate him.”
Bruising on his face in shape of a hand
Ethan was rushed to hospital with Karly at his side and taken to intensive care, where he underwent a CT scan. While there, Karly rang Jason to try and piece together what had happened.
She says: “He said he’d gone to check on Ethan and when he picked him up, he’d felt floppy. It didn’t cross my mind for a second he’d be capable of hurting my baby.”
Jason later arrived at the hospital.
Karly says: “He was pacing up and down, saying how the police were going to think it was his fault. The next thing I knew he was arrested by five police officers but I still couldn’t believe he was capable of hurting Ethan.”
Doctors then told Karly Ethan had suffered a severe bleed on his brain, meaning if he did wake up he might never be able to walk or talk.
He’d also developed bruising on his face in the shape of a hand, and police began to suspect foul play.
Karly says: “I remember sitting on the floor in the middle of the emergency room, just sobbing.
“I was questioned by police and they took my phone. I felt like I was being blamed and it was my fault. I knew they were monitoring us but I didn’t care what anyone thought – all I cared about was Ethan”
George left, Frankie right, at Ethan’s grave[/caption]
‘I told him I would always love him and kissed him goodbye’
Thankfully police quickly realised Karly was innocent and turned their focus to Jason, taking him in for questioning.
Tragically, there was nothing doctors could do to save Ethan.
After an emotional christening ceremony in the hospital, Ethan’s life support was turned off and he died in his mother’s arms.
Karly says: “I was a mess. It was the first time I could hold him properly, and I kissed him goodbye and told him I would always love him and then I stayed with him for as long as I could.
A few days later I went back to see him in the morgue – it was comforting in a way because he looked so peaceful, like he was sleeping.”
Karly has decorated Ethan’s garden with toys he would have loved[/caption]
But before the heartbroken mother could bury her child, the body was taken away for a post-mortem to establish the cause of death.
Tests showed that Ethan had been shaken or hit on the head, and Jason was charged with murder, leaving Karly shocked, confused, and desperate for answers.
What is shaken baby syndrome?
Dr. Harvey Karp, CEO of Happiest Baby inc, explains: “Shaken baby syndrome is arguably the deadliest form of child abuse.
“It usually occurs before 12 months of age (Peak around four months of age during the colicky phase of infancy) when a parent finally loses patience with their inability to sooth the babies crying and grabs the baby by the shoulders rapidly shaking the baby’s body out of frustration.
“The babies heavy head may be hit against a surface or snapped back-and-forth on the infant’s thin neck causing the soft brain inside to bang against the hard inside of the skull causing brain swelling and tearing tiny veins causing life threatening bleeding.
“Clearly, the serious cases are the tip of the iceberg. Many children may have minimal brain damage that is not diagnosed but perhaps goes on to cause neurological problems such as attention deficit and learning problems.”
John McMullan, consultant paediatric neurosurgeon at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, toldthe BBC that shaking a baby caused brain injuries similar to those in boxing.
But he said: “In boxing the incidences of the head blows are relatively infrequent and so that damage is taking place over, typically, years.
“Whereas with an infant shaking, the damage is occurring in seconds.”
Sending sexually-charged text messages
The heartbroken mother admits she struggle to remember what happened between Jason’s arrest and the court case, saying it all became a blur.
In June 2012 – on what should have been Ethan’s first birthday – Jason Redgrave’s trial began at Hull Crown Court and he pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter.
The court was told he had been feeling “acute annoyance, anger and irritation” towards Ethan because the baby probably started crying while he was sending sexually-charged text messages to another man.
He claimed during the trial that he could not explain how the injuries – including severe brain damage – were caused but he was forced by findings in medical reports to admit that he must have been responsible for all or some of them because he was the only person with Ethan at the time.
He denied deliberately using any unlawful violence and claimed there must have been a freak incident which caused the injuries.
Karly refused to listen to evidence, but says: “I didn’t have a clue about him messaging other people. He tried to say it was banter but apparently the messages didn’t read that way.
“It made me feel sick and angry. If Ethan was killed because he was crying Jason could have just text me and I would have come home and everything would have been completely different.”
Redgrave was found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to eight years, of which he served four before being released in December 2015.
As the judge read out his fate, Redgrave wept and bawled uncontrollably.
He cried and sobbed so much that the judge was forced to delay sentencing him because he seemed so “distressed”.
Redgrave’s barrister, Stuart Denney QC, told the court that, whatever Redgrave did, it happened thoughtlessly, without premeditation and without wicked intent.
Nearly three years after Ethan’s death, Karly had son George in October 2014, quickly followed by Frankie in September CHK 2015, with her ex partner Scott, and now Karly is concentrating on the future.
Karly says: “George especially reminded me so much of Ethan – I loved comparing photos of them at the same age – they had the same cheeky smile. It was nice to be reminded of him.”
Now, George and Frankie, both four, know they have an older brother who lives in the sky, but they’re too young to know the full, heartbreaking story.
Karly says: “I tell them Ethan had a poorly head and now he’s an angel up in the sky. One day they will need to know what happened, but I’m hoping that won’t be for a long time.”