UPDATE: Rees has now been released

December 2005

Stepfather jailed for Christmas beatings that killed a little girl


A three-year-old girl’s final Christmas amounted to a “gathering storm” of abuse that involved her being beaten, punched, kicked and burned by her mother’s boyfriend.

The child was also struck with a reinforced cardboard “stick” whenever Gareth Rees, 21, considered that she had been too slow in changing channels on his television.

Manchester Crown Court was told that When Courtney died on Jan 5, on top of the blow which caused the brain damage which killed her, the little girl suffered more than 100 different injuries in two weeks of “sustained cruelty” at the hands of Gareth Rees including a bite to her leg, numerous bruises all over her body, whiplash injuries to her neck and a burn, probably caused by a cigarette

The whiplash injuries were inflicted when Rees swung her round the house by her legs.

The child’s mother, Sandra Bennell, 24, turned a blind eye to the unrelenting campaign of torture and used make-up to disguise her bruises.

The court heard how he began abusing Courtney and another girl, aged five, “within days” but Bennell left the girls in his care so she could go out “boozing and taking drugs”.

Yesterday Rees, of Wythenshawe, Manchester, was beginning a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter. He had originally been charged with murder.

Bennell was jailed for three years after admitting two charges of child cruelty.

A judge at Manchester Crown Court heard that Courtney’s torment began in the run-up to Christmas, within days of Rees, a former hospital porter, moving into Bennell’s home in Baguley, Manchester.

By Christmas Day she had a massive bruise stretching from her eyes to the top of her forehead. When she complained to Rees’s visiting relatives, he told them she had been in a car crash.

Rees launched his final assault on the girl on Dec 29.

As she lay injured he ordered Bennell not to dial 999. Paramedics were summoned only when a neighbour intervened.

Rees told another child he attacked, who survived her ordeal, that he would break her fingers if she told police what had happened. She told officers Rees had also hit her, strangled her and banged her head.

Even after admitting the crime in court, which entitled him to a reduction in sentence, he insisted to a psychologist that he had not done it.

According to detectives, lying came easy to the young man.

While he had briefly been in the Territorial Army he created an elaborate fantasy life to impress a string of single mums he had met in internet chat rooms.

Among the information found on his mobile phone, which included a picture of an uninjured Courtney smiling up at the camera, was a disturbing video of him acting out a scene from horror film The Blair Witch Project.

During the sentencing hearing, he sat bent double with his head in his lap when details of the little girl’s injuries were detailed.

But he was reprimanded by the judge for laughing when prosecutor Paul Reid QC detailed his fantasy Army career and trying to communicate with family in the public gallery.

Moments later he shouted abuse at Mr Reid before storming out of the dock and back into the cells.

Judge Clement Goldstone rejected Bennell’s claims to have been controlled by Rees, telling her she had failed to exercise any parental responsibility and had, “at the very least”, turned a blind eye.

Courtney’s father, Paul Crockett, 24, said after the verdict: “Ten years is not enough. When I saw her in hospital I could not believe what he had done to her.”