Here, Lauren, tells the story in her own words.
As my partner Joe lovingly fed my two-year-old son, I couldn’t believe how lucky I’d got. Not only had I found a great man, but my boy Harry had taken to him too.
‘Daddy Joe Joe,’ he grinned, following him around the house.
As a single mum to Harry, I hadn’t been looking for a relationship.But after Joe, 22, and I got chatting on Facebook, it felt like my life was complete. He moved in with us and would help change Harry’s nappies and happily take him to the park.
Then one Sunday I was planning to make us all a roast dinner.
‘I need to nip to the shops for some veg,’ I told Joe. So he agreed to keep an eye on Harry. I was only gone for five minutes, but when I got back, Harry was screaming and there was a gash from his mouth to his ear that was bleeding.
Joe was desperately dabbing at my little boy’s cheek with a flannel. ‘What happened?’ I cried.
Joe was beside himself as he explained that Harry had fallen on a plate.
At hospital, Harry was stitched up and I tried to soothe Joe.‘It was just an accident,’ I reassured him. All that mattered was that Harry was on the mend.
A few weeks later, in May 2016, it was my dad’s birthday and Harry was so excited.‘We’re going to make Grandpa a birthday cake, aren’t we?’ I grinned, as he jumped up and down.
Leaving Joe to babysit Harry, I went out to buy eggs and flour. But as I unpacked the shopping back home just a few minutes later, Joe came hurtling down the stairs. ‘Harry feels sick,’ he said.
He’d had a bug earlier in the week, so this was to be expected. But when I saw him, I knew it was more than that. My boy was white as a sheet and stumbling around his Lego bricks. I got to him just as he was about to topple over and scooped him into my arms. ‘Joe! Ring an ambulance!’ I yelled.
‘He’s probably just got food poisoning,’ he said.
Grabbing the phone, I called emergency services. Where are they? I panicked, as my little boy became unresponsive and turned blue. Then he let out a strange gasp. ‘Hang on baby,’ I willed him.
When paramedics arrived they spent 45 minutes trying to resuscitate him. ‘What about the cake we’re baking, Harry?’ I sobbed. It was no use though. My baby boy was gone. I could hardly see straight as we were taken to hospital and shown to a private room.
Numb with grief, Joe and I clung to each other. Finally, a doctor came to see us. ‘We can’t be certain, but we think Harry might have had leukaemia,’ he said gently.
I just couldn’t make any sense of it. He’d been happy and healthy when I went to get the cake ingredients. How had this happened?
Afterwards, I was so heartbroken I could barely dress myself.
Then a week later, the police knocked on the door. They said the results of the post-mortem examination had revealed Harry’s injuries were no accident.
‘We’re arresting you both on suspicion of murder,’ they said. ‘I’d never hurt my son,’ I cried.
But Joe and I were put in separate police cars and taken to the police station. There, I was locked in a cell before being interrogated.
When I was finally released on bail after 30 hours, I was broken. Overwhelmed with grief, I was now being accused of killing my boy?
Joe took it hard too, becoming angry and short-tempered.
Four months after little Harry died, I was stumbling through life in a daze.
One day, Joe turned to me. ‘I reckon you killed Harry,’ he spat. ‘How could you say that?’ I replied, winded. ‘I’d never hurt Harry but… did you?’ I whispered. ‘Yeah, I did,’ he shrugged. ‘What are you going to do about it?’
In shock, I called the police and told them about Joe’s confession. When he was charged with murder, I was told I was no longer under any suspicion.
Five months after my beautiful boy had died, my name was finally cleared. I was also allowed to see the results of the post-mortem. It revealed Harry had been brutally punched and kicked to death. He had a fractured skull and had been beaten with such force his pancreas had split in two. The agony and grief hit me all over again – along with the guilt. I’d let Joe into our lives and left him alone with Harry.
In April last year, Joseph Eke, 22, appeared at Winchester Crown Court and denied the charge of murder. Thankfully, the jury found him guilty.
In his sentencing remarks, the judge said, ‘You maintained that you had done nothing to Harry, your defence, by implication, was that Harry’s mother must have killed him.’
He imprisoned Joe for life and ordered him to serve a minimum of 18 years before he’ll be eligible for parole. Now that monster is behind bars where he belongs, but it’ll never bring my Harry back.
Although life will never be the same again, my six-month-old little girl, Nova-Blu, is helping to heal my heart. ‘Harry would have loved you so much,’ I tell her. He was such a special and precious little boy. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that I left him in the arms of his killer.
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