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Christchurch man Michael Topp guilty of murdering, abusing his 3-month-old daughter

Author
Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 May 2024, 12:47pm
Michael John Topp on trial at the Christchurch High Court, May 1, 2024 charged with the murder of his daughter. Photo - Chris Skelton / Stuff
Michael John Topp on trial at the Christchurch High Court, May 1, 2024 charged with the murder of his daughter. Photo - Chris Skelton / Stuff

Christchurch man Michael Topp guilty of murdering, abusing his 3-month-old daughter

Author
Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 May 2024, 12:47pm

WARNING: this story details allegations of significant and fatal child abuse. 

A Christchurch man has been found guilty of murdering his baby daughter - inflicting at least 31 fractures and two severe head injuries before the final and fatal assault.  

Michael John Topp has been on trial in the High Court at Christchurch since May 1 before Justice Anne Hinton and a jury.  

Alongside the murder charge, Topp also faced three further counts of causing his baby grievous bodily harm with intent.  

This jury returned its verdicts around midday. 

They found Topp Guilty of murder and two charges of deliberately injuring the baby. 

He was acquitted on the fourth charge. 

Topp will be sentenced on July 16. He will be handed a life sentence and the presiding judge will decide how long he must spend in prison before he is eligible for parole. 

His tiny victim’s name has been permanently suppressed. 

Her mother’s name is also suppressed. She was never charged in relation to the baby’s injuries or death and gave evidence for the Crown against Topp at the trial. 

The jury also heard from experts that there was “no doubt” the baby was the victim of “repeated significant trauma and abuse” in her short life, which ended in hospital days after she suffered a catastrophic blunt force trauma to her head. 

The Crown said the injuries could only have been caused by her father “yanking, pulling, smacking, sticking, squeezing, or applying pressure” to her tiny body parts. 

On the first day of the trial, Topp admitted he caused the injuries by “shaking” the infant and conceded he was guilty of manslaughter - but denied the charge of murder. 

He claimed he never intended to kill the baby. 

Michael John Topp. Photo / Pool / StuffMichael John Topp. Photo / Pool / Stuff 

Justice Hinton summed up the case for the jury on Tuesday and they deliberated until 5pm. 

They returned to duty at 10am today and by 11.45 they advised they had reached a verdict. 

On the opening day of the trial Crown prosecutor Courtney Martyn told the jury that Topp either shook or threw the baby against a soft surface, with “enough violence in his actions to cause her fatal brain bleed”. 

She said Topp knew his actions could result in death and that, the Crown said, was murder. 

Martyn said the baby’s mother became pregnant early into her “whirlwind” relationship with Topp, who also shares two young children with a previous partner. 

Topp and the mother were happy with the pregnancy and soon moved in together. 

The relationship at the beginning was “really good” but soon Topp began to change from being “positive and happy-go-lucky” to negative. 

It was clear Topp was struggling with his mental health and “feeling overwhelmed” and his partner “actively tried to help him cope” and encouraged him to get professional help. 

In the lead-up to the baby’s death, Topp’s mental health “continued to spiral downwards”. 

Martyn said the mother often called Plunket and her doctor for advice. As a first-time mother, she had concerns and did not hesitate to seek help. 

The baby girl cried “for hours” and the mother “often wondered what was wrong with her”. 

She suspected colic, but later said it “sometimes felt like [the baby] was in pain”. 

Her crying at times was “incessant and sustained”. 

Topp stood trial in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / George HeardTopp stood trial in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / George Heard 

“December was when it simply became too much for Mr Topp,” Martyn told the court. 

“Over Christmas [the baby] became more and more unsettled - as did Topp, who was worsening over this period.” 

From December 28 the baby became increasingly distressed and would only calm when held upright. 

Her mother rang the GP who was fully booked. She called the Plunket line who advised her to see an after-hours doctor. 

On December 30 a doctor saw the baby, noted she was off-colour and had not been feeding. But he had no concerns other than dehydration. 

The next morning, Topp was caring for the baby while the mother caught up on sleep.  At 12.25pm he carried the baby into her mother saying she had been feeding and “seemed to start choking, coughing and gagging”. 

She had been limp and gurgling for about 10 minutes. 

The mother called 111 and paramedics arrived at 12.35pm. 

The baby was rushed to Christchurch Hospital where she was intubated and admitted to intensive care. 

Soon after she had two CT scans and two emergency procedures to bore holes into her head to help remove fluid on her brain 

Martyn said the scans showed “a severe and extensive head injury along with multiple fractures” to her body. 

Doctors concluded the baby would not survive. 

She was later taken off life support and died within 10 minutes. 

“The Crown case is that the baby’s injuries are not accidental,” said Martyn. 

Topp was charged with murder soon after his baby daughter died. Photo / 123rfTopp was charged with murder soon after his baby daughter died. Photo / 123rf 

“Rather Mr Topp... was angered by the difficulties settling, he was angered by her failures to feed... he was angered by all of the normal challenges of having a new baby. 

“He assaulted her... causing the catastrophic devastating brain injury that killed her... not only did Topp kill [the baby] - but that he also subjected her to repeated instances of physical abuse over her short life. 

“[The baby], over the course of her very short life was subjected to repeated physical abuse - and then she was murdered, all of which the Crown says was at the hands of Topp. 

“The final abuse was fatal,” Martyn told the jury. 

Topp’s lawyer Sarah Saunderson-Warner told the jury he “accepts that he shook her and that shaking was the cause of her death” but it was manslaughter - not murder. 

“He did not know that shaking [her] was likely to cause death, and he didn’t consciously run the risk that she would die as a result,” she said. 

“He was frustrated and in that state, he shook the baby that he loved. But the defence is that he isn’t a murderer - he did not have a murderous state of mind.” 

 

I suspect a child is being abused. What should I do? 

Any abuse of a child is a serious matter. If you suspect a child is being abused it is important that you notify your local police or Oranga Tamariki. 

Any concerns about child abuse must be notified early so that an assessment of the child’s safety can be made. 

Early intervention by child protection services reduces harm to victims before the abuse has the opportunity to escalate. 

They would always rather know about your suspicions and be able to make their own assessment of the child’s safety than to not hear at all. 

In an emergency situation - always dial 111. 

To find the contact details for your local police click here. 

To contact Oranga Tamariki phone 0508 Family or 0508 326 459 or email [email protected] 

 

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz 

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