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Grandmother of baby 'choke slammed' by mother and girlfriend says tot was 'depressed', court hears

A mother on trial for murdering her 16 month old daughter alongside her girlfriend was warned her new volatile relationship could 'ruin her life', a court has heard.

Toddler Star Hobson died from 'catastrophic' injuries to her abdomen after concerned relatives of Frankie Smith, 20, alerted police and social services to bruising to her body.

Smith and her girlfriend Savannah Brockhill, 28, are currently standing trial charged with murder and causing or allowing the death of the baby in their flat in Keighley, West Yorkshire, on September 22 last year.  

Brockhill stated 'we're going down for murder' the day after Star died when the veins carrying blood back to her heart from her legs and organs of the abdomen had been torn, causing major blood loss, jurors were told. 

On Thursday, Bradford Crown Court heard from Star's great grandmother, Anita Smith, who alleged that the accused couple performed 'slam choking' on the infant.  

Toddler Star Hobson (above) died from 'catastrophic' injuries to her abdomen after concerned relatives of Frankie Smith, 20, alerted police and social services to bruising to her body 

Mrs Smith understood this involved Star being lifted up by her neck or throat and then thrust onto the bed, the court heard.

She said: “I said ‘What are you doing to that baby? She (Smith) said they were playing and it wasn't hurting her.”

The great grandmother added that the incident was preceded by Smith having lost interest in being a mother after meeting Brockhill.

Giving evidence, she continued: 'She told the jury: 'She was talking and dressing like a traveller; it was all Savannah. Her focus was all on her, she was asking "please make friends with Savannah, please". 

'She just couldn't be bothered and was on her phone all the time.'

Asked by Alistair MacDonald QC, prosecuting, how Star seemed, she replied: 'At first she seemed ok but as time went on she wasn't the baby that I knew.

'She was quiet, not as playful - just quiet.'

The court heard that Smith's behaviour had changed from her first few months as a mother.

The great grandmother said: 'She was brilliant in the first few months. We’d fight over who was going to bath her or who would dress her.

'Frankie wanted to do it all herself. I adored her (Star). We'd have a jokey battle over who would look after her.'

However, all that changed when Smith met co-defendant Brockhill, becoming more engrossed with her phone and social media, the court heard.

She said Star was a changed baby when she came to live with her for 10 weeks in February 2020.

She added: 'After three or four days she started coming round. We didn't think we'd get her back. She was a depressed baby.

'She was lovely, she loved her music. She’d dance. She was fantastic. She was absolutely brilliant.'

Brockhill (pictured with Smith) stated 'we're going down for murder'

MrMcDonald QC asked: 'Was she any trouble?' To which Mrs Smith replied: 'Not one bit. She slept well and eat well.

'Eating - she never stopped. No trouble whatsoever,' the great grandmother added.  

The Family were concerned that the toddler was being abused, and Smith's grandfather David Fawcett also noticed bruising to his granddaughter's legs and neck.

'They looked like the sort of bruises you would get if you had been strangled, not the sort you would get if you'd fallen,' Mr Fawcett told the court.

But the neck injuries were passed-off as 'love bites', the jury heard.

The toddler's death came days after a referral in May 2020 by Smith's grandmother Anita Smith was dismissed as 'malicious'. Case workers then closed the file on Star. 

Prosecutors say her injuries were caused by a severe and forceful blow or blows, 'either in the form of punching, stamping or kicking to the abdomen'.

When paramedics arrived at the flat, they found Star apparently lifeless, pale and wearing only a disposable nappy.

She was in cardiac arrest and as they attempted CPR, Star vomited 'large amounts' of brown material and a suction device was used to remove it.

She was then rushed to Airedale hospital – just six minutes away - where clinicians did everything they could to save her but she was pronounced dead that afternoon.

The court heard Smith met Brockhill at The Sun, a gay bar in Bradford where she was working on the door, in November 2019 and they started an 'on-off' relationship.

Mr Fawcett said: 'We were surprised as she'd always had boyfriends.'

Smith developed a 'strange and unhealthy obsession' with her new girlfriend Savanah Brockhill, 28, at the expense of her daughter, Star Hobson, a judge was told. 

Mr Fawcett said it was 'a volatile relationship' and his granddaughter began to change how she talked, using 'mam' instead of 'mum' and 'yous' instead of 'you'.

'For 18 years she'd not talked like that and now she was, I thought it was strange, that she'd changed. It concerned me. 

'I told Frankie she needed to get away from Savannah because she was going to ruin her life. She had marks on her neck, ' he told the court.

Smith (left) and Savannah Brockhill are currently standing trial charged with murder and causing or allowing the death of the baby in Keighley, West Yorkshire, on September 22 last year

A short time before Star's (pictured) death Smith's aunt Melissa Dalby took Smith shopping and whilst in the car Brockhill phoned to say Star was 'really ill' and was being sick

He also challenged Brockhill during a telephone call about bruises to Star.

'I said what's going on with Star, how come every time you have Star she ends up covered in bruises?'

Brockhill replied: 'All children gets bruises.'

He answered: 'Well, how come Frankie is covered in bruises as well then?'

The line then went dead.

'It didn't sit well with me, I was concerned there was some abuse concerning Frankie and Star,' he added.

'I noticed bruising on Frankie's arms and on her legs that were so bad her sister said that if she was going out she needed to borrow some pants as her legs were all bruised.'

The last time Mr Fawcett saw Star alive was on 14 August 2020 at a family BBQ.

'She looked distant. She looked like she had lost the sparkle she'd had.'

Sixteen-month-old Star suffered a cardiac arrest and died in hospital on September 22, 2020. 

Brockhill, of Hawthorn Close, Keighley, and Smith, of Wesley Place, Halifax Road, Keighley, both deny murder and also causing or allowing Star's death.

The trial continues.