A 17-month-old toddler was allegedly bitten, smacked and left with bruises all over his body by his mother’s boyfriend, a jury heard.

The child had bruising on his cheeks which may have been caused by his mouth being forced open and bruises on his body, legs and arms, Exeter Crown Court was told.

The boy also had an injury on his shoulder which doctors believed were caused by a bite.

Parents at a playgroup were so alarmed by the bruises that one of them alerted the NSPCC.

The mother, aged 25, now living in mid Devon, and her former partner, aged 36, of Bridport, both deny child cruelty.

Nikki Coombe, prosecuting, said the injuries were inflicted by the boyfriend and the case against the mother is that she failed to protect her child from him or report what was happening.

She said the toddler was 17 months old when the injuries were discovered in January 2018. The couple had just moved to Seaton, Devon but bruising had been noticed by other parents in a playgroup in Dorset some weeks earlier.

A photo posted by the mother on social media in November 2017 showed a large bruise on the child’s face, which the mother told friends was caused by his stumbling into a pillar in the kitchen of their home near Bournemouth.

Ms Coombe said doctors in Exeter found bruising on the cheeks, forehead, eyelid, under the chin, on the right shoulder, left arm and both legs. They were of different colours, from yellow to purple, indicating they had been inflicted at different times.

Many were consistent with a blunt force trauma which could have been caused by being hit with an adult fist or a hard object, and the bruise on the shoulder looked like a bite mark, although was not well enough defined to create an identifiable pattern of teeth.

A paediatrician formed the view that the bruising on the cheeks may have been caused by pressure being placed by fingers either side of the mouth to force it open for feeding.

Two doctors both considered that the bruise on the shoulder was a bite mark, but believed it may have been delivered through clothing with the result that it was not possible to identify the biter from the tooth marks.

The child was taken into care and placed with an experienced foster mother, who reported that the toddler was not unusually clumsy or unsteady on his feet.

Ms Coombe said the mother was raising the child on her own and living with her own mother when she met her boyfriend on a dating website in June 2017.

They moved out to their own home in Dorset and then to Seaton in January 2018, at around the time the bruising was reported to the NSPCC and a few days before the hospital visit.

A neighbour who lived above them in Dorset heard repeated arguments and was so worried about the child’s crying that she went to check on his welfare. The mother told her that her boyfriend had suggested leaving the baby crying.

Social services and police became involved after the mother took the boy to a pharmacy in Seaton and the chemist noticed heavy bruising all over the child’s face.

Both defendants told police the injuries had arisen from a series of domestic accidents.

The boyfriend said he may have smacked the child’s legs as discipline but denied doing so hard enough the cause the bruising. He denied biting the boy.

The mother said she heard a loud thud after her partner took the child upstairs but he told her the toddler had slipped and had a heavy fall. She said he had been aggressive and controlling during their relationship.

The trial continues.