London Daily Mail

Justice delayed: Kyle's babysitter spent three years in prison for a crime she did not commit

Three years ago Suzanne was jailed for a little boy's murder. But a damning investigation by the Mail found police had missed key evidence. Days after being released, she tells her haunting story to the man who helped clear her

By John Sweeney
Last updated at 2:50 AM on 27th December 2008

For Suzanne Holdsworth, the long, dark December nights were always the worst. But then, every minute she spent incarcerated in Low Newton prison, County Durham, was a living nightmare.

As the monotonous weeks and months stretched on, she would often sit and wonder how her partner and two daughters were coping without her.

But it was at night, in her sparse, cramped cell, that the 38-year-old mother would lie awake, weeping silent lonely tears and wondering if she would ever spend another Christmas and New Year with her family again.

'Everybody who's got children and who's in prison knows that every day is hell, but birthdays, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are the worst days of your life,' she says. 'Everyone else is having a happy time with their families, but you are locked inside.

'You can't have visits on Christmas Day: you have phone calls, but only at certain times of the day. All that me and the other girls wanted to do was talk to our children all day.

'But there's nothing you can do but close the door behind you and cry and cry and cry.'

Were Suzanne a cold-blooded killer, or even a part-time petty criminal, it might be hard to feel any sympathy.

But the fact is she was serving a life sentence for a crime she did not commit.

In 2005, she was convicted of the murder of two-year-old Kyle Fisher, the son of a 19-year-old single mother who had left him in her charge. Suzanne has always denied harming the little boy in her care.

Kyle Fisher
Kyle Fisher.  His eye injury is obvious.

She was jailed for life for Kyle's murder. In May this year, however, the Court of Appeal ruled that her conviction was unsafe after new medical evidence emerged suggesting the baby may have died from an epileptic seizure. A retrial was ordered, and at the new trial a jury unanimously found Suzanne not guilty.

Just eight days ago, on December 18, Suzanne was freed. She stood, hand-in-hand with her partner Lee Spencer, on the steps of Teesside Crown Court, enjoying her first taste of freedom in more than 1,000 days.

She is now home, spending Christmas and New Year with Lee and daughters Lesley, 20, and Jamie-Leigh, 14, as well as her new grandson, Matthew.

She falters as she speaks: 'Did I ever think this day would come? No. I thought I would be in prison forever.'

At the time of Kyle's death, police investigating accused Suzanne, from Seacroft, Leeds, of repeatedly smashing his head against a banister in a fit of rage.

'I never harmed him, I loved him,' she said, and certainly it left family and friends bewildered that the woman they called a modern-day Mary Poppins could have any connection to such horror.

But Cleveland police were adamant: Suzanne Holdsworth, a former supermarket shelf-stacker, was a brazen liar and a baby killer.

Only something didn't quite add up. If there was a smashing of Kyle's head into a wooden banister, why was there no sign of impact? No blood, no hair, no traces of Kyle's skin anywhere in Suzanne's house. Why had no DNA test  -  which could have cleared Suzanne in the first instance  -  ever been carried out?

'It was horrendous'

Kyle also suffered from myriad problems. First, heterotopia  -  brain matter in the wrong place, which can cause fits; second, megalencephaly  -  an abnormally big brain, which can cause fits; third, hydrocephaly  -  water on the brain, which can also cause fits; fourth, subdural haemorrhage, which can also cause fits.

Fifth, Kyle had been accidentally stabbed in the brain, in someone else's care, a year before he died  -  a terrible injury that caused his eye to droop as his damaged brain squeezed down 'like toothpaste through the tube'. It was pressing down through a hole in his eye socket onto the back of his eye.

Stabbing, squeezing and scarring of the brain can cause fits, too. And fits can kill.

These five brain disorders, any one of which could trigger an epileptic fit, eluded Cleveland Police's 'relentless investigation'.

So when Suzanne told the first trial jury in 2005 that Kyle had suffered from a fit, no one believed her.

'I remember the verdict coming,' says Suzanne, who even now is traumatised when talking about her ordeal. 'I remember seeing my partner Lee. Next minute, I was in a prison cell with just a bed and a CCTV camera looking at me. It was horrendous. Having no freedom, having people tell you what to do all the time.

'Missing my two children was the most terrible thing, and to begin with some of the other prisoners called me names: nonce, child killer. It didn't matter that I knew I'd done nothing wrong, no one can ever understand what that feeling is like  -  to be locked away in such a dreadful place and for murder no less, when you have done nothing wrong.'

Today, as they prepare to welcome in 2009, she and Lee, a lorry driver, want to put the past behind them. But they are angry and bitter at how such a grotesque miscarriage of justice could tear their family apart for over four years.

I first reported on the possibility that Suzanne was in jail thanks to a grotesque miscarriage of justice a year ago for BBC2's Newsnight.

Since 2001, I have helped free or clear the names of eight people who have been wrongly accused of child murder and manslaughter, starting with cot death mothers Sally Clark, who died of grief last year, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony.

All eight stories are double tragedies: the death of a child compounded by the false conviction of an innocent parent or carer. In seven of the eight cases, police and the courts were misled by rogue experts such as Professor Sir Roy Meadow or disputed scientific theories such as 'shaken baby syndrome'.

I was approached about Suzanne's case by her lawyer, whom I had worked with on previous occasions and court cases. The minute he showed me all the evidence  -  NOT taken into account by police officers working on the original murder inquiry  -  it seemed obvious that this was one of the worst miscarriages of justice I had ever encountered.

And it was also deeply troubling because it raises questions about the thoroughness of the original inquiry carried out by Cleveland Police.

It was led by Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson, who has since retired.

Hutchinson was Cleveland's bullet-headed super-cop, leading dozens of murder inquiries, who shot to international fame when he nailed missing 'canoe man' John Darwin.

Hutchinson maintained after Suzanne's first trial that she 'must have known very quickly that she had inflicted serious, if not fatal, injuries, and while she called for medical assistance'  -  the 999 call  -  'she also began to manipulate the situation. She very calmly applied her mind as to how she would explain the injury to the authorities.'

Could she really be such a calculating killer, though? Naturally, Suzanne's own version of events  -  and the 999 call itself, which was broadcast last week for the first time  -  does not appear to suggest it.

It was late evening on July 21, 2004, when Suzanne was babysitting Kyle because his mother Clare Fisher had gone out clubbing. Suzanne's daughters were with Lee, who was working abroad.

Suzanne explains the events of that terrible night: 'Clare came over with Kyle, then went out to a nightclub with a friend. Kyle had his yoghurt and juice and we sat together, watching the reality show Big Brother on TV.

'We were having a lovely evening and then I must have yawned, because Kyle said: "Suzie tired". Then, as he shuffled to get off the sofa, his head went down, in a sort of flopping motion. I moved the coffee table out of the way and his head fell to the floor. I put him down on the sofa and threw water on him, the shock of it should have woken him because he hated water. Nothing. I dialled 999.'

Suzanne Holdsworth
An emotional Suzanne Holdsworth leaves Teeside Crown Court after being found not guilty in her retrial for the murder of Kyle Fisher
A miscarriage of justice

The emergency call was played in court at Suzanne's trial. In it, clearly panicking, Suzanne describes Kyle as going 'all floppy, he's not breathing, his eyes are rolling and everything'  -  a classic description of an epileptic fit.

Suzanne is screaming and sobbing so much the operator cannot understand what she is saying, hard to reconcile with Hutchinson's concept of a calm, manipulative mind at work.

Then there is the so-called murder weapon. Andrew Robertson QC, prosecuting, alleged at trial and retrial that Suzanne had smashed Kyle's head against a banister at her house. But nothing was visible on the banister  -  no dent, no blood, nothing.

At the first trial, Judge Grigson said that the evidence presented by the Crown's forensic expert was of 'breathtaking banality'.

At the second trial, the jury pointedly asked whether Kyle's DNA was on the banister. The answer? No tests had been carried out.

Lee, Suzanne's partner, shakes his head in disbelief, still unable to fathom why the police didn't carry out tests on the banister.

'They didn't do a DNA test on the alleged weapon. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but what kind of investigation was that?' he says. 'DNA profiling can distinguish between snot, tears, saliva, hair follicles, scalp. Technology can distinguish between all of them, but no DNA test was done.'

Then there is the question of Kyle's general well-being. Cleveland Police said that Kyle was an essentially healthy boy whom Suzanne had murdered.

'They told me again and again, "You did it, you did it",' says Suzanne. 'They were so wrong. Look at his drooping eye.'

On March, 15, 2003  -  more than a year before he died  -  Kyle was taken to hospital with an injury to that eye.

On that very day, Lee had noticed Clare Fisher cradling her injured son outside her house in Troutpool Close, Hartlepool. She explained that he had fallen from his pram onto a spike from a fireguard. His eye socket was filling with blood.

It was patched up, but months later when Kyle's eye began to droop, he was taken back to the James Cook hospital in Hartlepool, and in February 2004 he was seen by face surgeon Professor Brian Avery and brain surgeon Sid Marks.

They carried out brain scans, found a hole in the eye socket through which the brain was squeezing 'like toothpaste through the tube' and planned to operate on him. This should have been crucial evidence in the investigation. But Cleveland Police never took statements from the two surgeons.

Suzanne is livid about what appears to be a gross lapse of normal police procedure: 'The drooping eye should have been investigated properly by the police,' she says.

'Kyle died of a head injury. The droopy eye was a head injury.'

What angered Suzanne and Lee most, though, was that her own defence team didn't call a single defence expert at her first trial.

Finally, a free woman

After Suzanne was convicted, Lee  -  who never doubted her innocence  -  found a new defence solicitor, Campbell Malone. He helped free wrongly convicted Stefan Kiszko, who spent 16 years in prison for the murder of schoolgirl Lesley Molseed.

Malone contacted me and we set about gathering the evidence that would help clear Suzanne's name. Malone found three experts on human brain disorders.

Dr Waney Squier, a neuropathologist at Oxford University, was the first to identify that Kyle was in danger of suffering fits from his brain abnormalities and his injury, and the conviction against Suzanne could be a miscarriage of justice.

Last December, while Suzanne was still in prison, Dr Squier told BBC's Newsnight programme that Kyle had 'abnormalities in his brain that would predispose him to having seizures. And seizures can kill.'

In her view it was 'extremely unlikely' Suzanne had killed Kyle.

After the second trial, expert for the defence Bill Dobyns, professor of neurology, paediatrics and genetics at Chicago University, told me: 'It's almost embarrassing the number of medical factors they (the police and prosecution) first completely missed, and when I and other defence witnesses pointed out, they then ignored.'

On top of this, there is also the ordinary evidence of Suzanne's character. Trusted by friends and family as a babysitter, Suzanne was said to be 'very good with children'.

Even Kyle's father  -  who had long since split with Kyle's mother  -  believed her to be innocent.
John Sweeney
The author, investigative reporter John Sweeney, who helped clear Suzanne Holdsworth of murder

But the same could not be said for the character of Kyle's own mother. One woman juror at the second trial was seen holding her hand in front of her mouth in horror as the court watched a video of Clare Fisher's house: clothes strewn about, objects were lying around, and Kyle's bedroom looked like a junkyard, with a broken cot on the floor.

Judge Grigson at the first trial told the jury that the house had been described as a 's***-pit'.

Clare even admitted at the second trial that she had been a negligent, 'home-alone' mother.

Four nights before he died, she had locked Kyle in a bedroom by blocking the door with a broom handle and tying it with a belt, before going out clubbing.

A neighbour heard Kyle crying and called the police. Suzanne only realised what had happened afterwards, but says Clare asked her to cover up and say she had been with Kyle that night to stop Clare getting into trouble. Suzanne agreed to help her friend and neighbour.

'I was wrong to cover up for Clare,' says Suzanne. 'I told a white lie  -  but the prosecution made it much darker. I ended up paying for it for three years inside.'

Another issue at both trials was unexplained bruising on Kyle's head. Both babysitter and mother deny causing the bruising.

Another expert, Professor Renzo Guerrini from the University of Florence, gave evidence that it could have been caused by Kyle himself, banging his own head in an unseen fit. And if the bruising had been caused by one of the two women, then which one?

As Suzanne adjusts to life back with her family, Cleveland Police have announced they will not be apologising for what they describe as a 'thorough, diligent and professional investigation'.

Chief Constable Sean Price says: 'I can't criticise my officers for doing their job. The reason we have jury trials is so they can decide when they have heard all the facts.

'I don't really have any intention of speaking to Suzanne Holdsworth, and she probably just wants to be allowed to get on with things now.'

Suzanne and Lee are naturally disappointed, but not surprised, at the police's reaction.

'I spent three years in prison for a murder that didn't happen so the chief constable is wrong,' says Suzanne.

'I'll never forget Kyle. I loved him very much, but it is utterly wrong that I have had to suffer, too, for something I haven't done. Yes, I'm thankful to be free, but an apology is something I would like very much.'


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