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Behind Closed Doors

Nearly 2,500 NI children are on the Child Protection Register, but more are at risk. Stephen Dempster reports on the disturbing death of baby Cameron Leslie.

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Every parent's joy, the new baby. Cameron Leslie was 6lb 70z. He was


born in Belfast Mater Hospital. paid him, held him in my arms, and


he was so tiny. And the first time I took him home, I realised I was


leaving the hospital and this little thing is coming with me and


it is not going back. Sheree counterpart no Ryan Leslie lived in


the New Mossley estate just outside North Belfast. She was only 17 when


she became pregnant but they were both happy to become parents.


Cameron was a brilliant baby. He slept, he was good. He had a


routine. I was happy, over the moon. Ryan also appeared to be a loving


father. When we were all together, he was very hands on. He would have


helped to the bottles, do the nappies, do his fair share of


Looking at these pictures, you see a happy, healthy child. There is


nothing to suggest that a short time later while in his father's


care, this little boy would be at The first Sheree knew something was


wrong when she got a call from Ryan, saying he was going to the hospital.


He was in an ambulance with Cameron. I was completely shocked. I thought,


what is going on? He told me not to worry. He had a little chest


infection or something. When he reached hospital, Cameron's


condition deteriorated and Ryan's Dad arrived afterwards. Ryan was


distressed. He basically said, Daddy, I do not know what is going


on. When Sheree got there, she found her son fighting for his life.


I walked past Cameron's bed and didn't even recognise my own son


because there was all wires and tubes coming out of him. I turned


back, actually, and there was a doctor pumping air into his chest


because he was a day did. Cameron had bleeding on the brain and his


condition was critical. Doctors transferred into the Royal Victoria


Hospital in Belfast. Events were to take a dramatic turn there. Ryan


caught me. He said, look, John, what are the police doing there? I


didn't even notice but he seemed concerned about the police being


though. I was just holding his little hand, talking to him, and


Ryan came in and went over and kissed him on the head and said,


good night. He looked at me and said, everybody is going to think,


everybody is going to think I did this. Ryan was right to feel


concerned at seeing the police. Doctors examining the baby decided


Cameron's injuries were not accidental. I was standing outside


with his father, having a smoke, and he said to me, there is my


rhyme coming. And I looked at him and he was coming out with


detectives. Ryan Leslie was arrested on suspicion of harming


his son but there was a more shocking and devastating moment to


come. Cameron was not going to live and two days after being taken to


hospital, Sheree was asked to a cream for his life support machine


to be switched off. I chose to switch the machine off at 4:07pm.


How do you explain that to anybody, I can't explain it... I'm sorry. It


is just really emotional. At the end, it was just my mummy


and my daddy and me. Just talking to him. I will never ever forget


them last minutes with Cameron, and how much he changed. How much he


scared me. 20 minutes I held him. His heart didn't stop beating until


4:27pm. The nurses had to take him Billy Lesley says his family was


affected, too. What was it like to have to say goodbye to Cameron?


wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Not on my worst enemy. I do not


even want to answer that. I can't. How could it be that 14 week old


Cameron was dead and had -- and his father was accused of killing him?


There was good reason to think, in fact, the baby was at risk.


Sheree met Ryan on the New Mossley estate. She grew up a short


distance away at Whiteabbey and had plans to study travel and tourism.


I had just left school at 16. I was in New Mossley. My first impression


was that he was funny and outgoing. There was another side to her new


boyfriend. Ryan Leslie was 23 and unemployed, and had a history of


violence. He had three convictions for assault, including two on


police officers. Ryan Leslie is a cold, manipulative person. During


our investigation, we discovered a number of areas which showed his


propensity to violence. His violent nature was exacerbated by his heavy


drug use. I could not deal with it when Ryan came in height as a kite.


He was abusive to me, to his mother. It was unacceptable. I would slap


him. Throw him out. But I have lived at, seeing my son suffer


through wit. My child grew up to us -- to be somebody even will.


wasn't long after they moved in together that is violence appeared.


He punched me when I tried to walk out of the door. He automatically


apologised for what he'd done, he said, sorry, sorry. He didn't mean


it. They abused each other verbally. Ryan went overboard physically. I


told him that. I threatened to slap him myself if he ever slapped a


girl. As the rows increased, so did the cuts and bruises which Sheree


hit from family and friends. Why did you stay with him? I felt I had


no way to go, even though I did -- even though I had my mum. It was


kept behind closed doors. I wanted to make things work and I didn't


want to believe what was really happening to me. Research reveals a


staggering statistic. One in four women in Northern Ireland have


suffered one -- some sort of domestic violence. Sheree's story


is a common one in that there is a great stigma associated with


domestic violence. The police are called out to an incident every 20


minutes, but we also know from other research that actually only


about half the incidents of domestic violence ever notified --


I have ever notified to the authorities. Ryan Leslie also


became controlling but Sheree said she loved him and hoped things


would change when the couple got some unexpected news. Cameron was


unplanned. I was on contraception and just threw partying and being


stupid and forgetting to take my pill, I fell pregnant. Because Ryan


was delighted at the prospect of being a father, Sheree believes the


violence would stop. I can understand why she felt that. But


the opposite is true. We know that men that are violent towards their


partners, whenever their partner becomes pregnant, they feel they


have a greater claim over their partner and child. Therefore, their


behaviour becomes much more controlling, and they are more


likely to use physical force as a way to impose that controlling


dimension to the relationship. Therefore, whether somebody stays


or leaves, then the introduction of a child into a situation increases


the risk to both the adult and also the child, whether born or unborn.


About 30% of all violence starts when someone is pregnant. During


2009-2010, we had 11 babies born to mothers with in our refuges and


mothers because they had to get away from home and find somewhere


safe. Ryan hit me throughout my pregnancy and before, when I wasn't


pregnant, but I did tell him and made him aware that if he ever


lifted his hands to me when Cameron was born that was it. In the spring


of 2008, six months into the pregnancy, Ryan kicked her between


the thighs. Worried about the baby, Sheree and her mother told the


midwife about the violence. asked me whether I wanted it


reported, which I said that I didn't. I didn't want any social


services to be brought in. That would be another big regret I would


have. It would have prevented things. The guidance to health


professionals could not be clearer. Whatever Sheree said, the midwife


could have been recorded. If that happened, three months later when


Cameron was born, social services would have been a where there was a


child at risk, but no record of that abuse appears in her medical


notes. An important opportunity to alert those that could have


intervened appears to have been missed. According to Northern


Health Trust policy, social services could have -- should have


been told of Ryan Leslie's violence towards his partner has a


potentially the couple and baby would have been monitored. And Ryan


Leslie's fitness to care for his child questioned. We asked the


Northern Health Trust what should have happened once Sheree told the


midwife of the assault. They said it would have expected -- expected


the midwife to take appropriate action to ensure the patient's


It also confirmed it has no record of domestic violence in her notice.


The trust said it was always open to learning lessons if appropriate.


The earlier the professionals identify the family is having


difficulty, and are able to provide support, the less likely children


will be harmed. In cases like this one, if people had been able to


respond to some of the Father's aggressive behaviour in other


aspect of his life, it may have reduced the likelihood he would be


aggressive towards his partner and Until madly his son. When Cameron


was born, the home was found to be clean and tidy. Ryan took on his


fatherly responsibilities. Neighbours would also hear him


screaming at the child. That old rage had returned. Local community


worker, Jackie come up also remembers Ryan's aggression flowing


up over his housing. I explained he was way down the chain, he has a


flat and one partner, it was sufficient. They will put you on a


list but you could be there for four years or longer, unless you


have another family. He was very angry. Things came to a head when


the baby was 11 weeks old. Ryan starter shouted at him from the


bathroom because he was crying, and then me and Ryan got into an


argument over the way he spoke to him. Woman went to her mother's


house to live and told Ryan the relationship was over, but she


still wanted her son to spend time with his father. Ryan bombarded


with -- Sheree with text messages. He was constantly ringing me and


texting me. One minute he was crying and crying about how he


wanted me back, he loved me so much, then he changed, calling me off the


names under the sun and threatening me. Roy and Leslie's temper was so


bad his GP had referred him to Mater Hospital in 2007 to assess


both his anger and his mental state, but he later repeatedly failed to


turn up for anger management appointments, concluding in the


week Cameron was injured. He had also twice gone to local police


station in a rage, demanding help for his anger. The Police say he


had not committed a crime. He was trying to kick the class in. They


said there was nothing they could do for him. It is not us you need,


you need to see somebody. It is only then he turned round and said


if you do something, I am telling you now you will find me hanging.


The second visit at the police station was on the day Sheree had


left, taking Cameron with her. Ryan was warning that he was angry and


suicidal because they had moved out. It was just three weeks before


Cameron was killed. Police directed him to an on-call social worker,


but the trusts says it can't discuss Ryan Leslie's personal


medical records and so will not comment on his contact with social


services or of the GP. Experts say after a couple splits, the


potential for more violence increases further. But despite


Ryan's volatility, Sheree agreed to having -- him having his son alone


overnight. The baby was dropped back to Sheree the next morning.


noticed a bruised inside Cameron's ear. The phone rang straight away,


and I asked him how Cameron got the bruise. His automatic reaction was


I didn't hit my child, are you accusing me of hitting my child? I


said I wasn't but that he had been in his care and I was asking how he


got the bruise. Sheree has gone over and over in her mind this


conversation with Ryan. I wish I had been more on the ball about


things. I approached Ryan about this but I should have pushed him,


questioned him more. I shouldn't have let him go back into his care.


I do have guilt for not doing that, but I wasn't suspecting Ryan have


anything. When it came to Cameron, to be honest I trusted him.


living as a single mother, Sheree admits she was glad of the break


and took Cameron back to stay with Ryan on the following Tuesday,


again for one overnight stay. However, the next morning, Ryan


called Sheree. He called me at about half-past 11, saying Cameron


was brilliant, that he wanted to keep him for another night. Ryan


kept Cameron, and the next significant contact was from the


ambulance on the way to Antrim Hospital. A post-mortem found that,


as a result of a heavy blow to the head, Cameron had massive bleeding


on the surface of the brain, which caused extensive and fatal brain


damage. He also had 14 fractured ribs and his body had bruising to


many areas. Throughout questioning and around 15 hours of interviews,


Ryan Leslie maintained he didn't attack his son. But two days after


Cameron died, he was charged with murdering his own child. The baby's


death had a massive impact on the tight-knit community, which raised


�2,000 to help pay for his funeral. But what the hundreds of mourners


didn't know was the distressing effect of the post-mortem on


Cameron's small body. I wish Ryan had seen Cameron in his coffin for


what he had done to him, because having to look at Cameron and


knowing that things he had been through in the post-mortem is just


not fair. Nobody should have to bury their own child. In January,


writes Leslie's trial began. The court heard how he had delayed


calling an ambulance for his son even though he said the baby had


looked dead seven hours before he dialled 999. Jurors were also told


Healy began to offer any explanation for the baby's state as


the injuries emerged. When he was told of the fractured ribs, he said


it must have happened when he tried to resuscitate his son by giving


him CPR. Ryan never mentioned CPR until he was told about the


fractured ribs, which was about 6 o'clock on Thursday night. Ryan had


spent all day not mentioning it wants to any doctors, any medical


staff whatsoever. Even when he had been asked for an account of what


happened. The court heard that the 14 fractured ribs were not


inflicted by CPR, but by Ryan squeezing Cameron with both hands.


From the outset, the evidence points to the fact that he has lied


to medical staff, he has lied to Sheree, to his family, and during


extensive interviews with police, he continued to lie about his


actions. Ryan's story changed depending on what evidence was put


to him, again only when he discovered the nature of his baby's


head injuries did he have a story about the child knocking his head


on a plastic bath. But medical experts concluded Ryan Leslie had


inflicted some sort of heavy blow to the side of Cameron's head


severe enough to cause a blood clot and trigger bleeding on the brain.


The jury decided the things he had said were all lies. After six weeks


of evidence, they took just two hours to find Ryan Leslie guilty of


murder. Billy Leslie still refuses to accept his some's guilt. I did


question myself, could he have done something in a fit of rage? I know


Ryan has got anger and an attitude. I have an attitude. If I started


pushing your buttons, you would be bound to react. Is he capable of


doing these injuries? Yes, to an adult. To his own baby, definitely


not. Ryan has been found guilty in a court by a jury, they have


accepted he is guilty of the murder of his baby. The investigation


never focuses on one individual, any investigation will ensure


nobody else is guilty as well as the suspect, however Ryan was the


only suspect from the outset. is riotously during one of his


court appearances. Sentencing him to 17 years for the murder of his


baby, the judge said he had shown no remorse and was a deeply


dishonest and manipulative individual. The judge also made it


clear Ryan Leslie was a man who could not control his temper.


temper was a key factor in the case. It is my belief that Ryan was


unable to cope with looking after his baby on his own, and at some


point something has happened which has caused him to lose his temper.


His anger has been raised and as a result he has inflicted horrific


injuries on his own 14 week-old baby some. In the week of the


conviction, there is a review of the case. It will have to ask


whether there could have been any intervention to protect Cameron


from the violence of his father. What is clear is, had the midwife


recorded when Sheree had been attacked, social services would


have had to have intervened and Cameron would have been saved.


Research suggests this case may not be unique. I think a vast majority


of professionals are aware of the guidance, but we also know from


work we do that there are cases when that guidance does not appear


to have been followed. Like many children at risk, Cameron never


appeared on the child protection register. One case found that the


vast majority of people physically abused as children never made it


onto the register. Only a tiny proportion of those were known and


placed on child protection registers. In some cases that was


25 times higher than what would have been known to social services


at the time. In this case it was not just social services left


unaware. The night before Cameron came into his care for the last


time, Ryan Leslie says he tried to take his own life but nobody had


told Sheree. Ryan tried to commit suicide on the Monday, but if I had


known what Ryan had tried to do, I would never have let Cameron be in


his care. What is known is that there is a higher percentage of


children on the child protection register in Northern Ireland than


in any other part of the UK. The numbers have risen 50% since 2004.


As of 31st March this year, there were around 2400 children on the


register. So why are the referrals rising? I think it is a good sign


that the number of referrals about children who need support and


protection has increased. It doesn't necessarily mean there are


more children at risk, it shows the system has been improved. Parents


are more likely to pick up the telephone and tell social services


about problems. This means more pressure on social services. Over


the last few years, we have seen a pretty big increase in terms of the


demands being placed on social services and social work in


particular. In some trusts, the amount of referrals have gone up by


30%. In the last 10 years there have been 35 children killed or


injured mostly by their carers in Northern Ireland. The NSPCC are


researching how social services and others reacted in those cases. But


whatever their findings, it won't bring back Cameron Leslie. The


judge made it clear that the father Rolo and was responsible for the


child's death, but Sheree admits to feeling some guilt. Do you in any


way blame yourself? Not for his death, but I blame myself for the


choices I made in life. Maybe if I hadn't made certain choices to live


with Ryan and rush into things, I wouldn't have ended up pregnant and


things wouldn't have happened the way they did. Sheree has now got a


job and is also modelling, but she can't move on in her mind. I try to


block out a lot of my emotions. I am not ready to deal with what has


happened. I don't know when I will be ready. I think it is Cameron


that gives me the strength to be so strong, because I am not going to


Nearly 2,500 NI children are on the Child Protection Register, but many more are at risk. Stephen Dempster reports on the disturbing death of baby Cameron Leslie.

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