Mother and partner jailed for murdering Liam Fee in ‘pitiless regime’ of abuse
A mother and her partner have been jailed for life for murdering her toddler son after subjecting him to a “cruel and pitiless regime” of abuse and neglect.
Rachel Trelfa or Fee, 31, and her civil partner Nyomi Fee, 29, grossly abused their position of trust to inflict appalling suffering on two-year-old Liam Fee.
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Defenceless Liam was murdered at his home near Glenrothes, Fife, on March 22, 2014 following a prolonged campaign of horrific abuse spanning more than two years.
He had suffered fatal heart injuries similar to those found on road crash victims and spent the last few days of his short life in agony from an untreated broken leg and fractured arm.
The pair – originally from Ryton, Tyne and Wear – were also behind a catalogue of unspeakable cruelty against two boys in their care, one of whom they tried to blame for Liam’s death.
At the High Court in Edinburgh, judge Lord Burns handed both women life sentences and indicated they would be in their 50s before they can be considered for release.
He ordered Trelfa to serve a minimum of 23-and-a-half years behind bars, while Fee – described by police as “domineering” – must spend at least 24 years in prison.
The judge told them: “In respect of Liam it was plain… that he had been subjected to a prolonged course of violent behaviour which caused him appalling suffering both physically and mentally and ultimately caused his death at the age of two-and-a-half.”
The couple, who have shown no remorse, displayed little emotion as their fate was revealed.
Liam’s father Joseph Johnson later left court without making any comment.
The couple were convicted of Liam’s murder and seven other charges against them in May following a trial at the High Court in Livingston.
The case of was one of the most distressing ever heard in a Scottish courtroom, with some evidence reducing jury members to tears.
Liam had suffered a severe blunt force trauma from a blow or blows to his chest and abdomen and had more than 30 external injuries on his lifeless body.
Jurors heard there had been an escalation of violence towards the boy leading up to his death, which included the couple failing to get help for the toddler when they knew he had the fractured bones.
Their callous indifference to his injuries left the child in severe pain, but the killers refused to get him medical aid, choosing instead to search the internet on their phones for terms such as “how do you die of a broken hip” and “how long can you live with a broken bone?”
The women admitted serious failings over the lack of medical help sought for Liam.
But they denied murder and, as part of their web of lies, tried to shift the blame for the killing on to a boy of only primary school age, who cannot be named.
The jury convicted the women of trying to defeat the ends of justice and of horrific abuses against that boy and one other, which left them “profoundly damaged”.
These included denying the youngsters access to the toilet then forcing them to take cold showers when they wet the bed; imprisoning one in a home-made cage; and tying another naked to a chair in a dark room where snakes and rats were kept after telling him that a boa constrictor ate naughty boys.
Brian McConnachie QC, representing Trelfa, told the court she maintains that she has suffered a miscarriage of justice in relation to the murder and most of the other charges.
He said the pair were being held in different prisons, with Trelfa – who has been disowned by her entire family – being “to all intents and purposes” locked up for 24 hours a day for her own protection.
Mark Stewart QC, for Fee, said she accepted responsibility for failing to obtain medical assistance for Liam but “maintains her plea of innocence” over the remaining charges.
Lord Burns told the killers: “Each of you had responsibility for the care and welfare of the three young children.
“You both grossly abused those responsibilities and subjected them to a cruel and pitiless regime of ill treatment and neglect while in your joint care.”
The trial heard that a number of people had expressed concern about Liam’s wellbeing during his short life. Fife Council is now reviewing how it handled the case.