Ashley Johnson's killer Scott Hepburn called 999 but said it's 'too late boy is dead'
AS the 999 call came through, the operator could hear screams down the line.
Distraught mother Samantha Knox had just found her 18-month-old son Ashley Johnson had stopped breathing. It was 10.07am and boyfriend Scott Hepburn had phoned for an ambulance.
The call handler tried to calm the pair and give them instructions on how to carry out resuscitation.
But Hepburn said it was too late – the boy was already dead.
Those chilling words on January 27 last year led to a murder investigation and Hepburn being locked up for life.
Now a serious case review has found social services, police and the NHS could not have predicted what happened on that fateful day.
However, it has recommended a series of improvements to the way information is shared and domestic abuses cases are handled.
It concluded there had been a 'missed opportunity to address the vulnerabilities of the family' and Ashley was 'repeatedly overlooked'.
The review covered two local authority areas – Stoke-on-Trent and the West Midlands borough of Sandwell.
Hepburn first met Ms Knox back in 1997 when they were at school together.
But they lost touch and, in the intervening years, Ms Knox became caught up in two abusive relationships.
While she was living in Sandwell, several domestic abuse incidents were reported to the police. One episode saw Ms Knox punched, pushed over, sworn and spat at by Ashley's father.
In another, she had to bite her partner's fingers to escape after he put his hands around her neck.
It culminated in her fleeing to Stoke-on-Trent in May 2011 and she moved to Woodgate Street, Meir.
Despite growing up witnessing the violence, Ashley was described as a 'happy and bubbly' child.
Yet money was tight and the family had to rely on donations for furniture and clothing.
Ms Knox was being supported by a voluntary organisation to help with her parenting.
She confided in them she had started seeing a new boyfriend.
Jackie Carnell, pictured, chairman of Stoke-on-Trent Safeguarding Children Board, which carried out the serious case review, said: "Because of her past experience, she was being very careful and taking it slowly."
Hepburn seemed to get on well with Ashley and would stay overnight once or twice a week.
Then three days before Ashley's death, the boy was taken to accident and emergency because he was having trouble walking.
He had reportedly fallen off a bed and had a broken bone in his leg.
Doctors examined him, but concluded there were no child protection concerns.
On January 27, Ms Knox left Ashley alone with her boyfriend when she went out briefly.
Hepburn later told police he had been tired and just 'flipped' when Ashley would not stop sobbing.
In his police interview, he said: "I just, like, dropped him – sort of threw him on the floor, and he was still crying so I did it again.
"I picked him up again as he was still crying and I smashed his head against the wall twice."
The attack lasted 20 minutes and Ashley suffered a 'catastrophic' brain injury. He was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.
Ms Knox has been left so traumatised by the loss of her son that she still receives counselling.
In a statement read out at Hepburn's court hearing, she said: "There will never be any words to describe the pain I go through each day.
"If I could have one wish, it would be to have you back in my arms and to hear you say mum again."