Let’s start this post with some good news. As of last week, both perpetrators have been sentenced to prison time.
That’s it. That’s the only good news.
An adorable two-year-old boy described by loved ones as a “cheeky monkey” is dead, murdered just days after his second birthday, and his older sister are left wondering why their beloved baby brother never came home.
At 10:55 AM on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, a couple in Doncaster, a town of almost 110,000 people in South Yorkshire, England, called 999, requesting emergency services for the woman’s two-year-old son, who they said was not breathing.
First responders rushed to the couple’s home on Bosworth Road, in Doncaster’s Adwick area, where they found the little boy in cardiac arrest and “close to death.” Police, who were the first to arrive, performed CPR on Keigan until paramedics arrived minutes later and were able to resuscitate him. Keigan was rushed to a hospital, but despite the most valiant efforts of medical staff, the child did not survive his injuries.
Just two days after celebrating his second birthday with a trip to a huge indoor playground called Flip Out, and only four days after his actual birthday on January 6, Keigan Ronnie O’Brien was pronounced dead on January 9, 2020 at two years and three days old.
What were those injuries, you might ask?
A post-mortem examination of Keigan’s battered little body, which was conducted on the evening of his death, found that Keigan died from a “catastrophic head injury” causing “irreversible brain damage,” but that was far from the only trauma he had suffered. He had also endured a spinal fracture between six and 16 weeks prior to his death, in addition rib fractures sustained two to four weeks prior, as well bleeding on his brain “weeks to months” before he died.
But wait… there’s more! Keigan’s arm was also fractured due to twisting at about the same time as his fatal head injury, and according to medical evidence, the force that caused the fatal injury to this baby’s head was deemed consistent with the force associated with crush injuries to the skull, falls from a height, and traffic collisions.
At the time of his injury, Keigan was in the care of a man named Martin James Currie, who had dated Keigan’s mother, Sarah O’Brien, for about six months. Sarah was out of the house at the time, dropping her two older daughters off at school.
According to prosecutor Jason Pitter QC, however, the story wasn’t quite as innocuous as Sarah and Martin would have police believe. Evidence produced at the couple’s trial, which took place over five weeks in October and November, revealed that Martin had spent some time on the internet two hours before he and Sarah called 999, searching terms such as “irregular breathing,” “being unconscious,” and “gurgling.” One of the results that came up during Martin’s searches was “agonal breathing,” which explicitly instructed the reader to seek immediate medical help.
Agonal breathing, for those not familiar, is the type of gasping reflex breathing that people do when a medical emergency, such as cardiac arrest or brain damage, causes them to struggle to breathe. It is not actually breathing; it is a brainstem reflex that can be considered a sign of death.
These searches clearly indicated that Keigan was injured well before 999 was called at nearly 11:00 AM and that Martin was well aware of the fact.
Both 36-year-old Martin Currie and 32-year-old Sarah O’Brien were charged on the evening of Friday, January 10, 2020 and seen separately the following morning in Doncaster Magistrates’ Court, after which both were taken into custody. During the hearings, each defendant spoke only to confirm the name, age, and address and confirm they understood their charges. Sarah sobbed throughout her hearing.
Shortly after Keigan’s death, his 34-year-old aunt, Katie, told the Sun Online, “It’s heartbreaking what happened; we just can’t believe it, and his gran is besides herself with grief. We’re all so shocked.”
Katie, who was caring for her sister’s surviving daughters, said, “My four-year-old niece keeps asking when her little brother will be back. It is utterly heartbreaking.”
Katie told the Mirror that she received a text from her sister, Sarah, on the day of Keigan’s injury, telling her Keigan wasn’t breathing.
Katie said the last time she saw her nephew was during his birthday celebration at Flip Out. “He was having a great time. Then in the afternoon, when the kids were back from school, we had a tea party for him at his home. It was good fun; he was dancing around the place. He’s such a happy little lad. But that’s the last time I saw him.”
After Keigan’s death, someone left two bouquets of flowers outside the family’s home, where a “Happy 2nd Birthday” banner was still visible in the front window.
Neighbors were shocked by the incident. Mark Hillary told Metro, “It’s shocking that this happened to such a young boy. I’m devastated this happened — I just can’t believe it.”
Neighbor David Brown told The Sun Online, “A woman was sitting on the kerb outside crying her eyes out and totally distraught. There was an air ambulance hovering overhead, and suddenly eight to 10 police cars swooped on the street. Next thing the couple had disappeared taken into a police car, and the boy was taken off by ambulance, not the air ambulance. We can’t believe this happened on our doorsteps. It’s shocking. We hadn’t heard any disturbance.
“The woman has only moved into the house with her kids last summer. She has two older daughters. She’s a single mum; we never saw the dad around, and she always seemed very pleasant but kept herself to herself. She recently had a new partner on the scene.”
A candlelight vigil and balloon release were held in Keigan’s memory on the evening of January 11.
Sheffield Crown Court heard at the beginning of the couple’s trial, which began on October 6, 2020, that Keigan’s head injury likely resulted from his head being smashed into a hard surface, such as a wall or the floor.
During trial, the court heard that Sarah and Martin had previously referred to Keigan as “wankstain” and “shithead.” On one occasion, Martin was reportedly seen manhandling Keigan, yelling, “Stop moaning, you little bastard!”
Also brought up at trial was the fact that Sarah had been warned not to date Martin and an incident in October of 2019 when Sarah did not seek medical attention for Keigan after he suffered two black eyes while in Martin’s care. During that incident, prosecutors explained, Sarah told a friend her son had fallen down the stairs, saying she did not take him to the hospital because “they will start asking questions.”
In early December of 2019, Keigan was seen with fading bruises on either side of his face, consistent with the grip marks of a large hand. Similar bruises also appeared on his face after the fatal attack. “Such bruising paints a picture of how Keigan was handled, forcibly gripped around the face,” said Judge Mrs. Justice Jennifer Eady, who oversaw the trial.
A search of the family’s home turned up blood spatters on the wall by Keigan’s high chair, although this evidence, according to prosecutors, was not left during the incident that caused Keigan’s death but instead from one of countless prior incidents of abuse against the helpless toddler and likely caused by a blow to Keigan’s face. These past assaults, the judge later said, “set the scene” for Martin’s eventual fatal brutalizing of the little boy. Blood spatters were also found on Martin’s clothing.
Testimony heard during trial informed the court that Keigan was hospitalized near the end of 2019 for his fractured ribs and spine, which, the court decided, could only have been caused by someone stomping or kneeling on the little boy’s chest.
Of course, each defendant attempted to blame the other. Sarah’s defense attorney, Katherine Goddard QC, argued that her client called 999 as soon as she returned home from dropping her daughters off at school and found Keigan lying on his bedroom floor. She said Martin performed CPR before police arrived.
Martin’s defense attorney, Christopher Tehrani QC, said Martin confronted Sarah when he found Keigan much earlier that morning, telling her he was prepared to create a story to save her. Martin told the court he would never hit a child, saying he never struck Keigan and was once in love with Sarah.
Detective Chief Inspector James Axe of the South Yorkshire Police said,“This trial has been incredibly hard for Keigan’s family, and I would like to thank them for their support in assisting our investigation. During the trial, O’Brien and Currie have shown no remorse for the death of Keigan. O’Brien has denied having any knowledge of how Keigan sustained his injuries, with the exception of an incident where Keigan suffered a head injury and black eyes — O’Brien stated he fell down the stairs. Currie stated he didn’t know how Keigan came about his injuries but told the court how he heard O’Brien assaulting Keigan previously but had not witnessed it. Currie admitted to finding Keigan on the morning of 8 January at around 9 AM; he thought Keigan was dead.
“Keigan did not receive medical assistance for nearly two hours when O’Brien finally called Yorkshire Ambulance Service at 10:57 AM. This gave the pair sufficient time to formulate a series of lies and devise a story which was an attempt to cover the true circumstances that had unfolded.
“The only two people responsible for Keigan’s death are O’Brien and Currie, two people who should have loved and cared for him. In fact, they should have been the very people who protected little Keigan above all else.”
On Tuesday, November 10, 2020, Sarah O’Brien was acquitted of murder, but she was convicted on the alternative charges of child cruelty and causing or allowing the death of a child. She was sentenced on November 11 to eight years, four of which she will serve in prison and four on license, which is a form of temporary parole allowing a prison to leave prison to make arrangements for their release, “including spending time at their release address, maintaining family ties, making arrangements for accommodation and for work or training upon release,” according to Wikipedia.
While handing down Sarah’s sentence, Judge Eady said, “The jury found that you were aware, or ought to have been aware, of the risk of serious physical harm posed to Keigan by Martin Currie. At the very least, you failed to protect Keigan, leaving him with Martin Currie to be subjected to the very significant force used in the incident that led to his death.”
She did, however, accept that Sarah was a “woman with low self-esteem” and was therefore “vulnerable to the affections” of a man like Martin. “You’ve lost your son forever and have been separated from your daughters; your culpability does not retract from that.”
Martin Currie was found guilty of both murder and child cruelty and sentenced to life in prison, of which he must serve a minimum of 22 years before being considered for release. The minimum sentence for these charges is 23 years, but Judge Eady said she was prepared to make some deductions because she was satisfied that Martin had not intended to kill Keigan and that Keigan’s death was not premeditated. She did, however, add that any mitigating factor “only goes so far” when considered against the chronic and vicious abuse Keigan suffered.
The judge described Keigan in words she took from his family, saying he was a “beautiful” little boy and a “happy and affectionate” child. His grandmother said he was a “cuddly little baby” who loved cuddles and hugs. Saying she was “mindful of the utter tragedy that Keigan’s death represents for his family,” Judge Eady said his sisters’ pain will be “all the more acute,” as they must now live with the reality that their mother allowed their baby brother’s death by ignoring not only warnings but imminent threat against Keigan’s well-being in the form of Martin Currie.
Judge Eady said at sentencing that Martin was guilty of the “violent member of a blameless two-year-old,” adding, “These offences involved the grossest abuse of a position of trust. You placed yourself in the role of Keigan’s father; your duty was to protect him; instead, you abused, injured, and killed him.”
The judge said that prior to Martin’s arrival in Sarah’s life, there was “no apparent cause for concern,” no prior contact with social services, and her children were “generally healthy.” When Martin came along, things seemed fine at first, even though he was a recovering heroin addict. Judge Eady said to him, “You helped Sarah with household chores and brought a degree of stability to the home.”
Soon after he moved in, though, Martin began treating the kids “with contempt,” and Sarah eventually began doing the same. Judge Eady mentioned an incident in which the couple locked Keigan in his bedroom and “adjusted the door handle” so he couldn’t escape.
Calling Martin’s explanation for Keigan’s injuries as a “pack of lies,” Judge Eady said to the convicted murderer, “Although you’ve not seen fit to tell the truth about what happened on the morning of the January 8, 2020, it seems that after Sarah left the house to take her daughters to school, Keigan disrupted you in bed watching porn on your phone.”
Then, she said, “apparently triggered by a fit of temper,” Martin attacked Keigan, who Martin then threw back into his bed and left him to “bleed on his pillow” while the man returned to gambling and looking at porn on his phone.
The gaps between Martin’s internet searches, Judge Eady said, were “chilling,” because they told the story of his panic about Keigan’s condition but complete inactivity in seeking help for the dying boy, who, Judge Eady said, Martin ignored for hours until he was found “floppy and cold.”
“At no point,” Judge Eady admonished him, “did you take the most obvious step to call the emergency services.”
Also, the judge said, during the gap between the searches and the 999 call, Martin tried contacting his drug dealer to obtain heroin in what she described as a “pathetic sign of self-absorption.”
Jill Brookes of the CPS said after the trial, “Tragically, little Keigan O’Brien’s life came to an end only four days after his second birthday. He was killed in his own home — the place where he should have been safest from harm. Having heard all the evidence, the jury decided that Currie inflicted fatal injuries on the defenceless little boy, and O’Brien took no steps to protect her child. They both then lied about what happened. The pair are now facing lengthy prison sentences.”
A review of Keigan’s case is underway to determine if his death could have been prevented. Riana Nelson, Director of Learning, Opportunities and Skills at Doncaster Council, said, “This is a deeply sad and distressing case, and our thoughts are with Keigan’s family and those who loved him. A partnership review is currently underway, and all the findings will be published in due course. All partners are committed to fully understanding the circumstances around this tragic event, and once the full Review has been published, we will be able to provide further detailed comment.”
A fundraiser started by a man named Stuart Denman brought in more than £4,500 to pay for Keigan’s funeral and help support his older sisters. Stuart said, “He had just turned two and had his life cut short in very sad circumstances. He will have been still learning to talk and play. The life he should have had, full of happiness, smiles, and laughter, has gone, just like that.
“We all know funerals are free but are only the basic package, which is great, but he deserves the best.
“The ones who are suffering the most are Keigan’s sisters — blink of an eye and their world has fallen to bits.”
On January 30, a family spokesperson said, “Thank you for all of the fundraising that has been done for Keigan. It is a very difficult time for us, and we appreciate everyone’s time and efforts, especially Stuart Denman for all his hard work.
“As a family, we are still dealing with the situation the best we can, and while we are incredibly appreciative of everyone’s kind words and support, we would like to maintain our privacy and ask that it’s respected as we try to come to terms with what has happened.”
Keigan’s funeral took place on March 20, 2020 in Doncaster.
Keigan was buried in a Paw Patrol themed coffin; his father, wearing a blue tie, walked behind the coffin as pallbearers carried it into the cemetery. Other close relatives and friends also wore blue ties or scarves in honor of Keigan’s favorite color. Some carried blue flowers. The 30 minute service was private at the family’s request, attended by about 50 people, but the press was able to overhear some of the little guy’s favorite songs being played.
Prior to the funeral, Keigan’s family said in a statement, “Keigan was a beautiful, happy, funny, cheeky, mischievous little boy. He was only with us for two short years, but in this time, he brought happiness to his family and friends, who loved him very much.
“Today we will celebrate his short life and the joy that he brought to his dad, siblings, grandparents, aunty and uncle, and not to focus on the circumstances that have led to his death.”
“He loved Paw Patrol, and he loved to dance to the song ‘Dance Monkey’ by Tones and I and ‘Memories’ by Maroon 5.
“We will miss him every day for the rest of our lives. We will never forget Keigan. Fly high with the angels, little man.”
A family friend described Keigan as “lovely” and “always cheerful,” saying, “He would be laughing and giggling at you. He wasn’t a shy child and was interested in everything.”
Keigan’s biological father, who has not been named, said after the trial in a statement issued by police, “Keigan was such a special little boy. He was lovable, playful, energetic, and full of fun. He will always have a place in our hearts and will be missed terribly. He will never be forgotten, and we are truly heartbroken.”
Rest well, Keigan.
Sources: South Yorkshire police, Yorkshire ExaminerLive, Doncaster Free Press, Metro, Brooklynn’s Angels on Facebook, The Star, The Sun, The Yorkshire Post, Names and Shamed Uk on Facebook, ITV, Daily Motion, The Daily Mail