Two guilty over Kyrell killing after ‘harrowing’ abuse caught on mobile phone

Phylesia Shirley and her former partner, Kemar Brown, subjected two-year-old Kyrell Matthews to repeated attacks in the weeks before his death.

04 March 2022

A woman and her violent ex-boyfriend have been found guilty of killing a two-year-old boy after their horrific abuse was captured on secret mobile phone recordings.

Kyrell Matthews was subjected to repeated attacks in the weeks before he collapsed and died at his home in Thornton Heath, south London, the Old Bailey heard.

The toddler, who was non-verbal, had 41 rib fractures and internal bleeding from a 1.6in (4cm) cut to his liver by the time of his death on October 20 2019.

The fractures were caused by a twisting motion and the fatal liver injury was from a kick, punch or blow to the stomach, jurors were told.

The non-fatal injuries were inflicted in at least five separate attacks over 28 days, indicating a significant period of abuse, according to experts.

Kyrell’s mother, Phylesia Shirley, 24, who had previously worked in children’s services at Croydon Council, admitted allowing her son to come to harm but denied his murder.

Her then-partner, Kemar Brown, 28, who has a string of convictions for violence, also denied murder and causing or allowing Kyrell’s death and harm.

Kyrell Matthews death court case
Court artist sketch of Phylesia Shirley and Kemar Brown at the Old Bailey (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

It was claimed on Brown’s behalf that the jury could not be sure Kyrell was not accidentally killed when Shirley gave him chest compressions, having been wrongly advised in a 111 call to use two hands rather than one.

However, experts for the prosecution told jurors there were no recorded cases of a child having a macerated liver from being given CPR.

The court heard distressing mobile phone recordings of both adults striking Kyrell on multiple occasions.

The audio had been secretly recorded by Shirley because she suspected her partner of being unfaithful.

Kyrell, who was described as a “happy, smiley” child, would have expressed the pain he was suffering in the final days of his life even though he could not speak, the court heard.

A jury deliberated for over three days to find Brown guilty of murder and causing or allowing Kyrell’s death.

Shirley was acquitted of murder but found guilty of the alternative charge of manslaughter.

Adjourning sentencing until March 25, Judge Mark Lucraft QC noted that the court had heard some “harrowing” recordings made by Shirley of the abuse, saying she ought to feel “utterly ashamed”.

Jurors were not told that police had been called to an earlier domestic incident but no offences were identified and Kyrell was said to have appeared “safe and well”.

A passer-by had alerted officers on July 17 2019 after hearing shouting and screaming coming from their flat, with a female voice saying: “Stop hitting my face.”

It followed an incident in May 2019 when Kyrell suffered a significant injury to the side of his face and spent five days in Croydon University Hospital.

The hospital carried out an investigation and found Shirley’s explanation that the little boy had fallen off a sofa and hit his head on a highchair was “plausible”, police said.

Both defendants, who were unemployed at the time of Kyrell’s death, were cannabis users and are understood to have been visited by social services at least once.

It can now be reported that Brown had convictions for robbery, battery, having a knife, drugs and resisting an officer, as well as being subject to a non-molestation order relating to a former partner.

During the period when Kyrell was being abused, he and his sole carers had become increasingly isolated from extended family.

Kyrell Matthews death court case
Two-year-old Kyrell Matthews died after being found in cardiac arrest at his south London home in October 2019 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

During the trial, jurors listened to the distressing audio recordings taken from Shirley’s mobile phone.

On multiple audio files Kyrell could be heard being hit repeatedly, with Brown saying “Shut up”, causing the toddler to cry and scream.

On one occasion, Brown inflicted several blows on the little boy before telling him: “You have to ruin the fun.”

Another recording captured Shirley striking her son and causing him to cry in distress.

Prosecutor Edward Brown QC told jurors that Shirley put her relationship with Brown above her own child.

He said: “She was prepared to reject what should have been motherly care in protecting Kyrell in favour of abuse by her – his own mother – and in favour of the abuse carried out by a man she knew was abusing her child.

“The truth is that his death came when once more he was abused in that flat, once more in a very similar way, causing very similar injuries, except on this occasion it was so much more serious, the abuse and the results were catastrophic.”

The jury was also played a recording of Shirley’s 111 call after Kyrell collapsed at home.

Shirley sobbed as she was told by a clinical adviser to use both hands and “push down hard and fast” and “go for it”.

Shirley, and Brown, of separate addresses in Thornton Heath, denied murder and declined to give evidence in their defence.

Detective Chief Inspector Kate Kieran welcomed the verdicts for Kyrell’s family and friends, saying: “I hope that the conviction of both Shirley and Brown today at least giving them some peace in coming to terms with what happened to Kyrell.”

The Metropolitan Police officer said finding audio recordings of the harrowing child abuse was “unique” and had affected the whole team.

She said: “They are harrowing, there’s no other word for it. I know that the jury have had to listen to them but my investigation team had to listen to them over and over and over again, in order that we could make sure we’ve understood and heard everything on those recordings.

“And it’s really affected the team. We all choose to become part of the murder investigation team but I’ve never, ever uncovered evidence like this in one of these cases.”

She paid tribute to the toddler, saying: “I obviously never knew Kyrell but we saw videos of him and pictures of him and he just looked like such a smiley, happy, loving child.

“And that’s how I can only remember him – not the recordings that I’ve heard.”

Senior Crown Prosecutor Samantha Yelland said: “It’s been a horrific case for us all to work on. Kyrell was two years old and would have been able to explain the fear he was feeling, the pain he was feeling to those that cared for him.

“We are used to dealing with cases of a serious nature on the homicide unit but this one was particularly horrific because of the graphic content of those recordings and because of the defenceless young child who couldn’t do anything to help themselves.

“The two people who were supposed to look after him the most were those that caused injury, and in the end his death.”

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