A mother and her partner have received life sentences for murdering her 18-month-old son in Hernhill near Faversham. The judge, Mr Justice Cavanagh, is reported saying that the ‘frenzied attack’ on the child, Alfie Phillips, must have lasted a ‘considerable time’.
Sian Hedges and Jack Benham were told they will have to serve a minimum of 19 years and 23 years in prison respectively. They had previously been convicted of the murder of Hedges’ son, Alfie Phillips, following a nine-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court.
On 28 November 2020, they inflicted a horrific catalogue of injuries on the toddler at Benham’s home. Hedges and Benham both denied harming the child. Instead, they claimed they shared a bed with him overnight and awoke at 11.30am to find him unresponsive.
The emergency services were called and Alfie was confirmed deceased at 12.35pm. Doctors noted multiple bruises and injuries on the child’s body and officers were called to attend the hospital, where the pair were arrested on the same day.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate launched an investigation. Following extensive enquiries, including forensic examinations, on 6 March 2023 the Crown Prosecution Service authorised a murder charge for both suspects.
During the trial, the jury heard how Alfie had 70 separate injuries including internal bleeding, bruising and fractures to his chest, ribs, feet, arms and left leg. He also had facial injuries and bite marks. There was further evidence to suggest that Alfie had been smothered and that a weapon had been used against him.
Alfie had been seen by members of Hedges’ family on the evening of 27 November, and he appeared well and without any visible injuries. These accounts reinforced the opinions of doctors who found he had suffered a recent and sustained assault which led to his death.
Alfie also had traces of cocaine in his system, believed to be from passive inhalation of the drug. Hedges and Benham later admitted they had taken cocaine and drunk alcohol on the night of his murder. As well as cocaine, doctors also found traces of cannabis and alcohol in Alfie’s body.
During the earlier trial, evidence was presented that showed Benham’s caravan was untidy and there was no cot or essential items needed to care for a young child. Blood was also found on Alfie’s sleepsuit and bedding, which was later confirmed through DNA analysis to be his own.
Investigating officers examined mobile phones belonging to Hedges and Benham. They found text messages where she had complained to Benham that Alfie had bitten her. He responded that she should bite him back.
On 30 November 2023, Hedges, 27, from Yelverton, Devon, and Benham, 35, from Hernhill, were both found guilty of murder. They were sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court on Friday 12 January 2024.
Senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Kathleen Way, said:
‘Hedges and Benham inflicted unimaginable suffering on Alfie during a night of violence. He should have been protected and loved by his mother, but instead lost his life in appalling circumstances.
‘Throughout the investigation they refused to admit what they had done and chose to put the rest of Alfie’s family, who loved him dearly, through the ordeal of a trial. As a result they had to hear the grim catalogue of injuries and abuse he had suffered.
‘This was a harrowing case for all those involved including experienced officers who remained focused on the investigation and ensured evidence was recovered to ensure Alfie received some justice for the ending of his short life.
‘I would like to thank Alfie’s father and other family members who supported our investigation throughout and I hope these sentences offer them some closure.’