A newborn baby girl found dead at a waste recycling centre after being dumped in a bin was born alive and may have been shaken or smothered, an inquest has heard.
The unidentified infant, known only as Baby S, was born alive at full term before being found on a conveyor belt on a processing line at Sackers in Needham Market, Suffolk, during the first Covid lockdown on May 14, 2020.
The tot was spotted after a delivery of waste from commercial bins.
Police believe she was dumped in a bin at one of 52 commercial sites in the Ipswich area which had waste picked up and taken to the centre earlier in the day by two Sackers lorries.
Suffolk Coroner’s Court in Ipswich heard how post mortem examinations had confirmed that she was less than day old when she died.
A pathologist identified a number of possible mechanisms, which could have caused the injuries leading to her death, including a traumatic birth, shaking or smothering – but could not determine which it was.
Nigel Parsley, the senior coroner for Suffolk, recording an open conclusion, said: ‘We simply cannot say exactly how Baby S came by her death and how she received the injuries which led to her death.’
He said an initial post-mortem examination could not determine a cause of death, so the baby’s brain and spinal column were sent to a consultant neuropathologist.
Police vehicles are pictured at the Sackers recycling depot in Needham Market, Ipswich, Suffolk, where Baby S’ body was found during the first coronavirus lockdown in May 2020
The tiny white coffin of Baby S is carried from the hearse before being interred on February 17 this year
A beautiful flower wreath spelling out ‘Baby S’ was laid at her funeral, accompanied by several flower bouquets on February 17 this year
Her cause of death was then recorded as due to a traumatic brain injury, with the cause of this unascertained.
Mr Parsley told Tuesday’s hearing in Ipswich that the post-mortem examination recorded features ‘compatible with a live birth’ such as ‘well-inflated lungs, indicating active breathing’.
She was recorded to be dark-skinned, possibly of African descent, and to have been born full-term with no evidence of underlying disease.
Detective Chief Inspector Karl Nightingale, the senior investigating officer, agreed with Mr Parsley that Baby S was ‘definitely born alive’ and was no more than 24 hours old.
Baby S had ‘numerous severe injuries’, a pathologist’s report said, with the ‘majority’ occurring after death including fractures to the skull, pelvis and ribs which ‘could be explained by damage through the processing plant’.
Mr Nightingale said pathologists were ‘significantly hindered by the waste processing she went through’ but they identified injuries which ‘happened prior to her death’.
The report noted haemorrhaging to the layer covering the skull and bruises to the front of the face and over the mouth.
Police at the Sackers waste recycling site in Needham Market, Suffolk
‘She could have been placed into the bin while alive but her death isn’t attributed to her going through the waste processing,’ Mr Nightingale said.
He said pathologist Dr Virginia Fitzpatrick-Swallow identified a number of possible mechanisms which could have caused the injuries to Baby S, including a traumatic birth, smothering or shaking.
‘She isn’t able to define which of these mechanisms caused her death and she’s not able to prioritise those into a hierarchical list to say which is most likely,’ Mr Nightingale said.
Officers visited 800 addresses and gathered 11,000 hours of CCTV footage but were not able to establish how Baby S came to be inside a bin.
Mr Nightingale said police ‘have to keep an open mind’ about the case.
Mr Parsley said: ‘All we can say with any certainty is the information in relation to how Baby S was found but really we’re no closer to identifying how she got into the waste system in the first place.’
He described the case as ‘tragic’ and praised Sackers for helping in the course of the investigation.
The coroner noted the firm had been ‘fundamentally involved in funeral arrangements’ for the infant.
Baby S was buried in a tiny white coffin on February 17 this year at a simple funeral ceremony, largely arranged by the Sackers recycling centre, in the Millennium Cemetery in Ipswich.
The poignant graveside ceremony was attended by 15 mourners including police, council officials and staff from Sackers.
Suffolk Police believe that the baby girl found among waste was no more than 48 hours old
Some wiped away tears as her coffin was carried to her grave with a single white rose on top in the children’s section of the cemetery.
Celebrant Patrick Eade spoke movingly beside her grave, comparing her to a ‘rosebud’ that doesn’t bloom as he addressed mourners.
He said: ‘Baby S, you will never be forgotten. May the light of love shine upon you, and on those who care for you, and may you come to the end of your journey in gentleness and joy.
‘Your memory remains in our hearts, and as long as we remember you, you will live on. With love and respect, we lay you down to rest. Go your way in peace.’
He also read a poem, which began with the words: ‘The world may never notice if a rosebud doesn’t bloom, or even pause to wonder if the petals fall too soon.
‘But every life that ever forms, or ever comes to be, touches the world in some small way for all eternity.’
Earlier Mr Eade spoke about the baby’s unknown family at a private funeral service, saying she had died ‘in the most tragic circumstances’.
He said: ‘It’s difficult to imagine what family members of Baby S are experiencing. To move on is to put something behind you, forget about it and never look back. To ‘go on’ is to forever carry it forward with you and never forget.
‘A bereaved parent will never move on, but ‘go on’. If a message could reach the family of Baby S, I imagine it would be – ‘Please tell what I can do to help’.’
Mr Eade also praised police and staff from Sackers, saying: ‘Each of you have played a part in ‘doing the right thing’, as you tried to fit together the pieces of this tragic jigsaw and ensure that Baby S will be laid to rest in a dignified manner, never forgotten, and extend help to those in need.’
He added: ‘We will think of you often as days go past, asking why your life was not meant to last. The question we all ask to an imagined sky, how can this be and always asking why.’
Anyone with information should contact Suffolk Police or by calling 101 and quoting reference 37/26499/20.