Seven-month-old baby choked to death after his head got stuck in bars of designer cot
Charlie and Shannon Abbey had specifically checked if the beds were safe for babies to sleep in before making the purchase from Craig Williams' Playtime Beds
Seventh-month-old Oscar Abbey died in his £655 ($864) designer bed after he got stuck in one of the openings and choked to death. He was found face-down and "cold" at his York residence on November 3, 2016. His parents, Charlie and Shannon Abbey, had only recently purchased the bed for the toddler and his elder brother Maxwell to share. They had specifically checked if the cot was safe for babies to sleep in.
The 24-year-old father Charlie, who found his son dead in the cot, described the incident in a statement at Leeds Crown Court on Monday. He said: "I instantly realized he'd gone. It looked like he's tried to crawl out backwards but his head was stuck." On the other hand, his 23-year-old wife Shannon said in her statement that she woke up and "I heard Charlie shouting and screaming, 'he's not breathing'. I ran to the landing and Charlie was holding Oscar in both arms."
Shannon was reassured by 37-year-old Craig Williams, the owner of the Playtime Beds firm, that the beds were safe for "any age", the court heard. Williams continued to make false claims regarding his beds even after Oscar's death. He told prospective customers that his beds met British Standards so that he could continue his business, Daily Mail reports.
John Elvidge QC, prosecuting, said: "This prosecution arises out of a fatal incident when a seven-month-old child, Oscar Abbey, died at home from positional asphyxia. During the course of the night, he wriggled his body through a hole at the front of his cot bed, but his head was too big to fit through and in effect, he was choked to death; he was starved of oxygen."
He continued: "He died because his cot bed, bought by his parents from this defendant's company, was designed and constructed without any care or thought to the safety of the child who was sleeping in it. Oscar died because of the defendant's gross negligence."
Oscar was the youngest son of Charlie and Shannon Abbey. Maxwell, their elder son, was aged two and a half when the tragedy took place. The couple bought the bed from Williams after seeing an advert for Playtime Beds online. He told them the bed was suitable for children of "any age" and delivered it on September 16, 2016.
Elvidge told the court: "At about 7 pm on Wednesday, November 2, Oscar's father put him to bed because his mother was working late at McDonald's and she would return home at 11.30 pm. She checked on the boys and Oscar was awake and gurgling so she gave him some milk and put him back into his cot. At 6.30 am Oscar's father found him lying face down with his whole body outside of the cot side but with his head stuck inside. He was unconscious, not breathing. His parents attempted to revive him, they called the emergency services and the emergency services attended but sadly to no avail, Oscar was dead."
Williams was responsible for the toddler's death, Elvidge told the court. "The defendant was the controlling mind of the company, he was the business's designer, head of sales, financial controller, the lot," he said. According to him, Williams' firm "partially copied designs from the internet" to make templates for his beds, ignoring the risks to children in a bid to save money.
He added: "Unfortunately for their customers, particularly Oscar Abbey and his family, the defendant did not have regard to the risks to users and more particularly the users of the cot when drawing up his designs. He owed a duty to take reasonable care to provide a cot bed in which it was safe for Oscar Abbey to sleep."
Williams's indifference was such that even after Oscar's death, he continued to sell beds under a different name despite being forced to cease business by Sheffield trading standards. He tried to hide his involvement in the new venture, Magical Dream Beds, by making his employee Joe Bruce the "notional" boss.
However, his cover was blown when a customer heard Bruce asking Williams if he wanted a cup of coffee. Elvidge said: "The defendant tried to conceal his identity from customers but was given away by Joe Bruce who carelessly asked him 'Craig, do you want a coffee?'" The holes in the cot's design allowed a baby's hips to pass through but not the head, causing the manufacturer to fail safety standards, he said. "The size of the gaps chosen were for ease of manufacture rather than any safety consideration given to a child sleeping in the bed."
Elvidge continued: "The defendant could have stopped designing, selling, manufacturing and installing children's beds but he did not. He did not even alter the designs to account for safety standards. Maybe the only reasonable inference is that he did not care at all about the fate of those using his beds. This defendant determinedly and dishonestly attempted to continue to make money by misleading customers about the quality and safety of his beds as well as the identity of the controlling mind behind the company."
Charlie Abbey's distressing account of the moment he found his baby lifeless was read to the court. He said in a statement: "Daylight was coming in through the curtains and I saw Oscar and realized he was stuck. I crouched next to him and thought to myself 'he has wriggled out'. I reached down and I could feel he was very cold. I put one arm under him and the other on the side of the bed and lifted him back through the hole. As I did so I turned him around and when I saw his face I instantly saw that he was gone."
Despite the couple's best efforts, little Oscar was declared dead upon arrival at York Hospital. That said, Williams, who hails from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, has denied a charge of "manslaughter by gross negligence and fraud." The trial continues.