WODONGA infant Charlotte Rose Keen was a battered baby who had a broken arm and up to 25 bruises on her body at the time of her death, a coroner’s inquest heard yesterday.
The first day of the inquest into Charlotte’s death almost nine years ago was told Professor Stephen Cordner — the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Charlotte — concluded that the number and distribution of the bruises on the toddler were such that they could not have been accidental.
Charlotte died in the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne on December 17, 2004, three days shy of her first birthday. No one has ever been charged over her death.
Her mother Renee Jones had been living with de facto partner Brett Penrose in Phefley Court for about three weeks at the time of Charlotte’s death.
In his opening address to the court in Wodonga yesterday, counsel assisting the coroner Doug Trapnell told the court of Professor Cordner’s findings.
Professor Cordner had identified 25 bruises on Charlotte during the autopsy and found that at least another 10 to 12 bruises that were on Charlotte when she was admitted to hospital had healed by the time she died five days later.
Charlotte had been taken to the Wodonga hospital emergency department on December 12, 2004.
She was transferred to Albury hospital and later flown to the Royal Children’s hospital.
She had a reduced consciousness, irritability and bruising and a CT scan showed subdural haematomas.
On December 17 she remained gravely ill and was tested for brain death.
She was taken off ventilation and died soon after.
The court heard Charlotte had been a healthy and happy baby up until her mother first noticed bruises on her face on December 8.
Ms Jones later told police she had taken Charlotte to a doctor on December 9 because she was very concerned about the bruising.
On the morning of December 12, Ms Jones noticed more bruising.
“Her head was a bit floppy and her right shoulder was crook,” Ms Jones had said.
“She looked drugged out. She had fresh scratches on her forehead and thigh.”
Dr John Douglas, who had examined Charlotte at Wodonga hospital, said retinal bleeding he observed in Charlotte was consistent with “shaken baby syndrome”.
David Wallace, the neurosurgeon who operated on Charlotte at the Royal Children’s Hospital, told the court via video link yesterday that the kind of retinal haemorrhage seen in Charlotte was “always regarded as a red light” for shaken baby syndrome.
“The head reverberates in all directions and the retina moves and tears,” he said.
“I’ve very rarely seen the appearance of multiple retinal haemorrhages.
“Retinal haemorrhage arouses suspicion that a baby has been shaken because they rarely occur in any other context.”
He said there were other explanations for retinal haemorrhages like hypertension and some blood disorders but that it was “fairly rare” in infants.
“I doubt that I’ve ever seen that in trauma to the brain by other reasons,” he said.
The inquest before coroner Jacinta Heffey will continue tomorrow.
It is expected to take up to a month and will involve about 30 witnesses.