The mother of a three-year-old boy from the West Midlands told a jury how she noticed bruises on his ear a week before he was allegedly murdered by a couple looking after him.

Amy Hancox, whose son Ryan Lovell-Hancox died on Christmas Eve, also told Wolverhampton Crown Court that she had allowed her cousin, Kayley Boleyn, to care for him in the weeks leading up to his death.

Boleyn, 19, and her then boyfriend Christopher Taylor, 25, both deny murdering Ryan, who is alleged to have been "neglected, abused and beaten" while living at their home in Slim Avenue, Bilston.

Giving evidence on the second day of their trial, Miss Hancox said she noticed bruising to Ryan's ear about a week before he was rushed to hospital on December 22, 2008.

Miss Hancox, whose son died two days later, told jurors she asked how he had sustained the bruises, but was informed it had been caused while he was playing.

Under questioning by prosecutor Christopher Hotten QC, Miss Hancox also described the last occasion she saw Ryan before she was called to hospital late on December 22.

The 21-year-old, who was 16 when Ryan was born, recalled how he was brought to her house in Bilston by Boleyn and Taylor for around 20 minutes on December 20. Ryan had been clingy and upset, his mother said, and did not want to let go of her before leaving with the defendants.

Describing her decision to allow Ryan to stay with Boleyn and Taylor at their bedsit in Slim Avenue, Bradley, Bilston, Miss Hancox told the jury: "I wasn't coping. I was talking to her (Boleyn) and she said 'I will help you out by having Ryan'."

Opening the case on Tuesday, Mr Hotten said Ryan was in the care of the defendants after Boleyn agreed to look after him for a weekly payment.

Mr Hotten said of the defendants: "They accepted Ryan Lovell-Hancox into their care and over a period of some weeks, we say together they neglected, abused and beat him."

When he was taken to hospital, Ryan was found to have 54 separate marks of injury.

The court heard on Tuesday how a housing support officer called at the defendants' bed-sit on the morning of December 22. Mr Hotten said the woman, who took Boleyn to a job centre, saw a child's legs sticking out beneath a quilt in the main room of the flat.

Ryan was moaning and the visitor got the impression that he was just waking up.

The jury has been told that Boleyn, who also denies child cruelty, has pleaded guilty to allowing Ryan's death. Taylor denies child cruelty and causing or allowing Ryan's death.