A “sleep-deprived” Perth man who shook his baby grandson to death after he was woken by the child’s cries has been sentenced to seven-and-a half years in jail, in what was described in the Supreme Court as a sad and tragic case.
- Wayne Downing was the primary carer for his grandson Noah
- Noah was left with a traumatic brain injury after being shaken
- Downing told the court he was deeply ashamed of his actions
Wayne William Downing, 48, was the primary carer for his three-month-old grandson Noah, when in May 2016 the baby was found unresponsive in his cot by his mother at the family’s Midland home.
Downing did not tell anyone what had happened until 2019, when he was interviewed by police after they received further medical reports about the extensive injuries the baby had suffered.
They included a traumatic brain injury and damage to the spinal cord.
In an interview with detectives, Downing admitted he had shaken the baby for about four to six seconds to try to get him back to sleep after he had woken in the middle of the night.
He described it as “a quick, short shake” saying he could see the baby’s head “moving side to side and backwards and forwards.”
“As soon as I put him down, I realised what I did. I didn’t mean to do it,” he said.
“I was just thinking I wish he’d go off to sleep and I could get some sleep.”
Downing was initially charged with murder, but prosecutors later accepted his guilty plea to the lesser offence of manslaughter.
The Supreme Court was told Downing was the full-time carer for Noah and his older sister because their mother, Downing’s daughter, was a meth addict and he believed she would not be able to cope with two children.
Downing’s lawyer, Peter Collins, said that in the lead up to the incident, Downing’s stress levels “were through the roof” and he was only getting a few hours of sleep a night.
He was also suffering from depression and anxiety.
In a letter to the court, Downing said he was deeply ashamed of his actions and no matter what sentence he got, he would be paying for them for the rest of his life.
Prosecutors accepted Downing loved both Noah and his sister, but said a jail term was needed to deter others from doing the same to vulnerable and defenceless babies.
‘The violence was considerable’
Justice Anthony Derrick said it was clear Downing loved and cared for Noah to the best of his ability, and that the offence was “an isolated act”.
But he told Downing it was “inherently serious”.
“You shook Noah out of frustration and in irritability in the forlorn hope it would make him quiet and put him to sleep,” he said.
“The violence was considerable and you shook him for a number of seconds with enough force to cause him considerable injuries.
“You returned him to his cot … despite knowing you had done the wrong thing … you must have known or strongly suspected that you may well have hurt him badly and should seek medical assistance … you failed to tell police what you had done … you continued your deception over a long period of time.”
Justice Derrick accepted Downing’s silence was the result of the shame he felt and said it was now “abundantly clear” he was genuinely and deeply remorseful.
He also accepted that Downing’s mental state, including his depression and extreme tiredness, had contributed to his actions and therefore reduced his culpability.
Nonetheless, he said a jail term was necessary to deter others from doing the same.
“The infliction of violence on a vulnerable infant child … is, no matter what the circumstances, appalling,” he said.
Downing has family’s backing
The court heard Downing had the support of his four children, including Noah’s mother.
They attended his court hearing and yelled “love you Dad” to Downing as he was led away.
Outside the court, Downing’s children said their father was loving and “not a bad person.”
“He was the best grandfather, the best dad, loving,” they said.
They also said they were relieved he had been given a “low sentence”.
Downing, who has been in custody since his arrest in August last year, will have to serve five-and-a-half years before he can be released on parole.