Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Five years after little Liam fatally beaten, and six months into a fresh legal probe... still no one facing court

Little Liam Gonzalez Bennett

No decision has yet been taken on whether to bring prosecutions in the case of a toddler who died from severe head injuries – six months after a review was ordered.

Little Liam Gonzalez Bennett was beaten so badly that he would have been blinded before his death.

The child was just 20 months old when he passed away five years ago.

An inquest last October ruled his death was "non-accidental".

At the time a coroner revealed she had requested that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) look at the matter again.

However, six months on, the case is still being probed.

A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said the matter "remains under consideration". A PSNI spokesperson said: "Police are making a number of specific inquiries in relation to this matter."

Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan, who has asked the Police Ombudsman to probe how the PSNI investigated the case, said it was important that a speedy outcome was reached.

"I certainly think there are serious questions which need to be examined into how this case has turned out," he said.

"It is important that this examination and the results of it become clear at the earliest possible stage.

"However, I do recognise that a close examination is going to take a certain amount of time."

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman, Michael Maguire, said: "A review of the case by the PPS is ongoing.

"Dr Maguire has asked that if the review identifies any issues of concern in respect of the police investigation, that those matters be referred to his office for independent investigation."

Liam died on February 8, 2009, a day after he was rushed to hospital from his home at Sunningdale Park in Ballymena.

He had suffered 31 head injuries.

An inquest last October heard his mother, Samantha Bennett, and stepfather, Paul Noel McKeown, were arrested by detectives leading a murder inquiry and were questioned several times. They denied causing any of the injuries.

A file was sent to the PPS but no prosecution was ever brought as there was deemed to be insufficient evidence to charge either.

The inquest heard nobody else was being sought in connection with the little boy's death.

However, on the final day, coroner Suzanne Anderson revealed she had requested that the DPP look at the matter once again.

"It is disturbing that no one has been made amenable," Ms Anderson said.

"I am sending this back to the DPP for further review."

Speaking after the inquest, a solicitor for Ms Bennett, Ernie Waterworth, said she was pleased that the case had been recommended for review.

"The person who brought about the death has not yet faced prosecution," the solicitor said.

"As a result of the medical evidence presented to the coroner and in view of the fact that it has been referred back to the DPP, Samantha is hopeful that the police and the Public Prosecution Service may yet be in a position to progress this matter to a final resolution."

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