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Suspended sentence for nursery owner who dropped child on his head and fractured his skull

Vernesha Symonds, the former owner of a nursery where a small boy suffered a serious head injury (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A nursery school owner who failed to tell parents after she dropped an infant boy on his head was given a suspended jail sentence yesterday and barred from working with children.

The family of the youngster, who suffered a fractured skull in the fall, said it was painful not to know what the long-term effects of the injury might be.

Vernesha Symonds, 33, told Magistrates’ Court that the toddler, who was a year old at the time of the October 2018 offence, “stopped crying and went to his normal self” right after he was dropped on the tile floor at Heavenly Blessings Nursery in Pembroke.

She told magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo: “If I’d have known there was any injury, I would have called right away.”

Symonds added: “I never meant any harm to him or to any of my kids. I loved all my kids.”

Heavenly Blessings, now closed, was ordered to shut after the incident until prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence of criminal liability.

The case was reopened in 2020 when a former nursery employee told police that Symonds, who had been holding the infant, “threw him up in the air a few times” before the child fell and hit the floor headfirst with “a loud sound”.

She said Symonds “quickly” picked up the child, “tended to him as he was crying, and eventually handed him back over to another teacher to take back to his classroom”.

The boy’s mother, a trained nurse, later collected her son and found him to be “extremely lethargic”.

She questioned Symonds about her son’s behaviour and was told that the boy had not had a nap.

But on her way home she was unable to rouse the toddler, who vomited in his sleep and continued to be sick after they reached home.

The child was taken to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and later airlifted for emergency surgery in the US for a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain from a torn artery.

The boy spent weeks in hospital.

Symonds, from Warwick, was arrested in February 2021 and charged with causing grievous bodily harm.

The mother told Symonds in her victim impact statement: “I do not think you truly understand the blessing you almost took away from me from your actions.”

The court heard the family would “live in fear for the rest of our lives because it’s truly unknown how this will affect him as he grows”.

The impact statement said Symonds failed to appreciate that “time was the most important factor when dealing with a head injury”.

The woman said her child “could have died from you trying to save yourself instead of saving an innocent child’s life”.

She told Symonds: “I do not hate you or wish anything bad to befall you.

“I just wish you would have been honest from the start.”

Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions, called for a conviction to be recorded with probation of no less than two years.

She said the “most important thing” would be for Symonds to be added to the child abuse register to bar her from working with children again.

Charles Richardson, for the defence, said he accepted the lack of disclosure was an aggravating factor.

He said the real punishment for Symonds, who holds a college qualification, would be never to work again in her chosen field.

Mr Tokunbo said he was “surprised” at the prosecution’s call for probation.

He added: “This is a very serious case, a very serious breach of trust.”

Mr Tokunbo said the court needed to pass a sentence that reflected “the seriousness and gravity of the offence — one that will send a message to other people in care who would commit a serious breach of this sort”.

Mr Tokunbo sentenced Symonds to five months in jail, suspended for two years.

He told her: “That means you have a prison sentence hanging over your head.

“You are not going to prison unless you commit another offence over the next two-year period.”

Mr Tokunbo highlighted her previous good character, but ordered Symonds to be added to the child abuse register.

He told Symonds: “You have now pretty much ruined your career.”

The child’s mother told The Royal Gazette outside the court: “I felt the sentence was reasonable.

“It embodied everything we have been through with something of this magnitude, and she is not able to work with children any more.

“It’s been a long road. My son is 4 now. We’re living with not knowing what’s going to happen to him in the long run.”

She thanked her family for their support throughout the ordeal and added that the boy will travel overseas in the summer for another medical assessment.

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