Liam Fee was found dead at his home near Glenrothes in Fife in 2014, having suffered a ruptured heart as a result of severe blunt force trauma to his body.
His mother, Rachel Trelfa or Fee, 31, and partner Nyomi Fee, 29, denied killing the child but were convicted of his murder following a seven-week trial at the High Court in Livingston.
During the seven-week trial, a number of witnesses told the High Court in Livingston they had raised concerns about the toddler’s health and wellbeing with social services.
Dougie Dunlop, vice chair of Fife Child Protection Committee, described the death as a “tragedy” and said the organisation would reflect on the case “to see whether there is any scope for improvement”.
The couple were also found guilty of a litany of abuse against two other young boys, including one they falsely blamed for Liam’s death.
They were also unanimously convicted of “horrendous abuse” towards the two boys, including imprisoning one in a home-made cage and tying another naked to a chair in a dark room with snakes and rats. The two youngsters, both of primary school age, were beaten, called humiliating names and denied access to the toilet before being forced to take freezing showers when they wet the bed.
The women, originally from Ryton, Tyne and Wear, will be sentenced on 6 July at the High Court in Edinburgh.
During the trial, childminder Heather Farmer, who looked after Liam at her home in Fife from July 2012 until January the following year, said she had called the Scottish Childminding Association and the Care Inspectorate over fears the toddler was being hurt by someone. The family doctor Niall Garvey wrote in Liam’s medical notes that “there are some alarm bells regarding what is possibly going on in this household”.
Liam started at the Sunshine Nursery in Kirkcaldy in March 2013 but staff noticed injuries and by June had contacted social services with their concerns.
Patricia Smith, who knew the couple, said she contacted social workers after seeing them outside a shop in Fife in September 2013 and noting that the toddler looked “deathly”.
The court also heard from Karen Pedder, a team manager with child protection at Fife Council, who dealt with concerns about Liam in 2013 and admitted he had dropped “off the radar”.
Liam was found dead at his home near Glenrothes on 22 March 2014 with heart injuries similar to those found on road crash victims after a severe blunt force trauma to his chest and abdomen.
Pathologists found more than 30 external injuries on the toddler’s body and fractures to his upper arm and thigh.
During the trial people sitting in the public gallery were warned they might want to leave the room before a video showing Liam’s body was viewed by the court.
Twelve minutes later, a juror raised a hand and asked trial judge Lord Burns for a break in proceedings, as the harrowing scenes had reduced some members of the jury to tears.
The silent recording, taken hours after the toddler died at the property in Fife, was filmed by detectives.
Going through every room in the house, numerous family photos were spotted on the walls as well as toys dotted around the rooms.
The final images of the video showed Liam lying dead on his bedroom floor, dressed in cartoon character pyjamas with a duvet covering him up to his neck.
He looked like he was sleeping. In highly unusual court scenes, jury members wept as they watched the camera move slowly over his body.
As the video played, Liam’s mother Rachel Trelfa and her partner Nyomi Fee shed tears in the dock, with both women covering their faces during parts of the footage.
Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC told the court the women were guilty of “unyielding, heartless cruelty” and had shown “callous indifference” to Liam’s suffering.
The jury heard there was an escalation of violence towards the toddler leading up to his death, which included the couple failing to get help for him when they knew he had a broken leg and fractured arm.
Instead of taking him to hospital, they Googled terms such as “how do you die of a broken hip,” “how long can you live with a broken bone?” and “can wives be in prison together?”
They tried to shift the blame for the death on to the boy of primary school age, who they claimed had been acting in a sexualised way towards Liam.
The youngster initially admitted he had “strangled” the toddler but later changed his story, and it became clear that suffocation was not the cause of death.
Liam’s father Joseph Johnson was in tears as he left the court. Mr Prentice said: “It is impossible to express in words the sense of loss that he feels on the loss of Liam.”
Detective Inspector Rory Hamilton of Police Scotland’s major investigation team, the police officer who led the investigation into Liam’s death, said the two-year-old was subjected to “horrendous abuse” and praised the bravery of the two other boys for the evidence they provided to help convict the women of murder.
A campaign group opposed to the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a named person for every child said the case raised more questions about the controversial scheme.
Under the initiative, all children will have access to a named person such as a health visitor or teacher from birth to 18 to provide support and advice, but critics claim the scheme is invasive and will detract from targeted interventions.
Fife is one of a number of regions to have begun implementing the initiative, which is due to be officially established across Scotland at the end of August.
No to Named Persons (NO2NP) said: “In light of today’s ruling, concerning a tragedy in an area where the Scottish Government claim the named person pilot scheme is ‘working well’, the public is entitled to ask if Liam Fee was not only a victim of his mother and her partner, but whether this universal scheme got in the way of the kind of targeted intervention we all wish had been used to save his life.”
A spokeswoman for Fife Council said every child has always had “a point of contact for parents and professionals”, but it was “not accurate” to say every child in Fife has had the equivalent of a Named Person since 2009 as the role has been “introduced incrementally”.
Former Children’s Panel member and SNP MSP Rona Mackay said: “It is deeply distasteful for any campaign group to politicise the tragic murder of a young child.
“The only people responsible for the death of Liam Fee are those convicted of his murder, attempting to use this death to score political points is insensitive and disrespectful.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The death of Liam Fee was a tragedy and our sympathies go out to everyone affected by this terrible crime.
“Clearly the individuals responsible for the unlawful death of any child are the people convicted by the courts.
“However, the public will rightly expect that any wider issues which may emerge from this case would be learned and acted upon.
“We therefore welcome Fife Council’s announcement of a significant case review.
“We have kept in close contact with the relevant agencies throughout and will monitor the progress of the review and consider any recommendations that emerge, once complete.”
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross said: “Sadly there is no legislation which can prevent this kind of abuse from taking place. But given the catalogue of abuse cases we have seen across Scotland and the UK over recent years, it is clear that we can’t stand back and do nothing.”
After yesterday’s verdict it emerged that the couple were forced to leave their home by angry residents months before their trial.
A police helicopter and dog handlers were called in when people living in Chopwell, Gateshead, protested about Rachel Fee and her civil partner Nyomi Fee living in their village last September.
Eggs were thrown at the home and abuse was shouted during the disturbance which went into the evening. The protest was arranged after people heard the pair were accused of murdering Liam.