Poppie van der Merwe died after allegedly being abused by her mother and stepfather. Picture: Supplied

Pretoria - Poppie van der Merwe’s stepfather claimed that she had suffered her injuries to her head after she was flung against a wall by his wife. 

Kobus Koekemoer, 44, took the stand on Tuesday to testify in his murder trial after Poppie died on October 25, last year. 

The child had suffered multiple injuries, including massive blows to the head. A pathologist said the head injury had caused her death.

Kobus and his wife Louisa Koekemoer, Poppie’s biological mother, pleaded not guilty to murder and child abuse in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. 

Pictures of Poppie’s lifeless body handed to court, meanwhile depict a bleak picture of an emaciated, bruised child with hair cut to her skull. 

It is a far cry from the picture of the blond haired, blue eyed child which family members at court wear pinned to their clothes.

Kobus blamed his wife for the child’s injuries, while the wife pointed fingers at him. 

In taking the stand, he testified that on the morning before her death, his wife flung the child out of the door of her bedroom because the child had soiled in her bed. He said the child’s head in the process  hit the wall.

“My wife was livid with Poppie,” Kobus said.

While Kobus said his wife manhandled the child on the morning before her death, his wife claimed that he had hit her head against the kitchen cupboard the previous evening. Her version of events are that “all hell broke loose”  the previous evening when her “ill tempered” husband flung Poppie against the kitchen cupboard.

The child was unsteady on her feet and went to bed. The next morning she tried to watch television with her brother, but she was sleepy, the mother said through her lawyer. Kobus went to the shops and returned late in the afternoon.

According to the mother he found Poppie in front of the television and kicked her. 

The mother fetched the parcels from the car and when she had returned, she saw her husband was busy with Poppie in the bathroom. She found Poppie on the floor and the child had stopped breathing.

But Kobus said the mother was unhappy with Poppie, who was potty training at the time, as the child had soiled in her bed. 

The children came to the lounge, but Louisa had send Poppie back to her bedroom with her breakfast as punishment. 

“My wife went to fetch her dish and I just heard a terrible noise from the bedroom. I heard her shouting at Poppie ‘you sh...t on your bed’. Next thing I saw Poppie come flying out of the room on all fours. She hit her head against the wall and when she tried to get up, she lost her balance and ran into the wall.” 

Kobus said his wife grabbed the child by the arm and threw her into the bath, before she hosed her down. He claimed he then left for the shops and he only returned much later that afternoon.

“When I got back I saw Poppie lying in the kitchen where the trashcan was supposed to be. I asked my wife what was going on and she said Poppie was “playing dead again as she seeked attention.” 

Kobus said he went outside but his wife later called him to tell him Poppie was not breathing. 

“I rushed inside and shook her, but she did not wake-up. I placed her in the bath and threw water over her. When she did not wake up my wife and I applied CPR, but we eventually gave up.” 

He then rushed her to hospital, where he claimed he frantically ran around, crying and screaming for someone to assist the child. Poppie was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

A massive blow or several massive blows to the head caused the death of three-year-old  Poppie van der Merwe.

This is according to leading forensic pathologist, Dr Gert Saayman, who had compiled his own report after studying pictures taken of her body riddled with bruises, as well as studying the post mortem report of the doctor who did the autopsy. 

With the type of brain injury she had suffered, she could have died within minutes or a few hours, he said.

Saayman testified in the trial of Koekemoer and his wife Louisa. 

Koekemoer claimed that Poppie that suffered several of the bruises in the back of his bakkie while he was travelling at high speed to get her to the hospital on the afternoon of October 25, last year.

Saayman said this was doubtful, as many of the injuries were on parts of her body which one would not associate with bumping around in a vehicle. He described her injuries as being caused by direct violence.

He described the overall pattern of her injuries as “non-accidental injury syndrome”  or the so-called battered child syndrome.

He said while the bruises and injuries recorded across her body would not have been fatal, the blow or blows to the head cause bleeding and subsequent swelling to her brain, which was fatal.

Saayman said it was clear that some of the injuries were inflicted over a period of time - up to a few days prior to her death. “In my view it is unlikely that this toddler would have survived the head injury which she sustained, unless she had been taken for immediate medical attention.” 

He explain that a severe blow to the head is usually followed by a brief loss of consciousness, which is then followed by a brief recovery. But there will be a level of reduce alertness and drowsiness and the victim then usually deteriorated rapidly.

Saayman was unable to say how much force was applied to Poppie’s head to have caused the bleeding of the brain. “But there must have been a lot of force,” he said.

[email protected]

Pretoria News