18 Mar 2011

Father guilty of murdering 5-year-old daughter in river

A man who drove his children into the River Avon in Worcestershire has been found guilty of murdering his five-year-old daughter and attempting to murder his six-year-old son.

Father guilty of murdering 5-year-old daughter in river

A jury at Birmingham Crown Court found that 42-year-old Christopher Grady killed Gabrielle Grady and attempted to murder his son Ryan Grady, who was six at the time. Grady was convicted on a majority verdict of 11 to one.

The two children were in Grady’s car when he drove into the river on 11 February last year. Gabrielle spent two hours under the water, trapped in her father’s car. She died three days later. Ryan and Grady were pulled from the river by police.

Witnesses told the court they saw Grady’s car doing a lap of the field next to the river; they said the screams of the children could be heard over the engine as Grady drove “like a boy racer trying to beat you at a traffic light”.

Grady had denied both charges and told the court he considered the incident to be “an accident”. He said he had never intended to harm Ryan or Gabrielle and remembered little about how they ended up in the water. Judge Mr Justice Lindblom said he would sentence Grady on Tuesday morning.

The mother of Ryan and Gabrielle - or Gabby as she was known - has decribed the anguish she has suffered in the year after her loss. Channel 4 News' Darshna Soni was at court when Grady was convicted:

The little girl in the home video squeals with delight as she opens her presents. But it was to be Gabrielle Grady's last Christmas. "If I could have her back tomorrow I'd give everything up. I miss her. We all miss her."

In a moving interview, her mother, Kim Smith, 37, has told of the impact Gaby's death has had on her family.

She described Gaby as a happy, cheerful little girl. "I had a lot of fun with her, she would always make me laugh."

Last February, Gaby and her brother Ryan spent the night at their father's house. The next morning, he put them into his car and drove to a peaceful area of riverside in Evesham. On the way, he phoned their mother and told her she had ten seconds to say goodbye.

"I felt panic, fear. Everything just kicked in at once, it was awful. I'll never forget it."

Grady tried to claim in court that he never meant to hurt his children. But in the car, detectives found eight suicide notes. He appeared to blame his ex-partner.

Ms Smith believes that Grady was angry after they split up. "He didn't have control of me anymore and that was the problem. I wouldn't have him back and he couldn't hurt me anymore. The only way he could hurt me was by doing what he did to the kids. It was the ultimate hurt. I'll pay for it for the rest of my life."

Kim Smith punched the air as she left the court building and said: "I am happy, don't get me wrong, very very happy. Nothing is going to bring back my Gaby but at least I know that justice is going to be done, and it has been done."

The judge, Mr Justice Lindblom, told Grady he would face a mandatory life sentence when the minimum term for the offences is decided next Tuesday.

The jury of seven women and five men was told Grady drove into the river after a series of arguments with Ms Smith, his ex-partner, over his access to their two children.

The court heard that her body temperature was just 14C when she arrived at Birmingham Children's Hospital after being pulled through the vehicle's sunroof by police divers. She was pronounced dead three days after the incident.

Jurors had heard that Grady and Ms Smith had a “volatile” relationship and often argued about his access to their children. Giving evidence last week, he said he had never intended to harm Ryan or Gabrielle and remembered little about how he ended up in the water.

He said: “It wouldn’t matter how depressed, however I felt, I would never, ever harm any of my children, never. It’s never entered my mind. I just never would do it.”

However, friends of Grady said they thought he would kill himself in December 2010 and his GP at the time described him as “as low as a man can get”.

Christopher Grady

In interview Grady said driving into the river was an accident – He said he didn’t know what he was doing and couldn’t hear the children screaming

Jurors were told he had been evicted from his home because of rent arrears and owed £2,800 to Robert Lewis, landlord of his business premises.

The eight notes were found in Christopher Grady’s car, all in an envelope with “Please ta (sic) this to police” written on it. Grady claims he cannot remember writing any of the notes. He said: “I can’t remember writing any letters”. In one of the notes was written: “She should pay”.

In court, prosecuting counsel Graham Reeds QC asked: “Who should pay?” Grady responded: “I don’t know. I can’t remember writing it”. Another note marked “Kim” said: “You led me to this, my kids with me now”. Again Grady said he could not remember writing the letter. Another note – apparently to Grady’s grown up children – read: “Kids work hard. We love you loads x I’m sorry please forgive me”. Another said: “Love you mom god bless x”.

One note apparently gave instructions for what should happen following his death. It read: “Will you put 3 trees of light in Evesham at my funeral. Will you say love my children and this is the only way to be with them and keep them safe. I love you all.” When pressed by the prosecution on whether he would want his children to be with Kim Smith if he died, he said: “If I wasn’t around I’d prefer my children to live with my daughter”.