Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Mother denies harming toddler

Liam Gonzalez Bennett as an inquest into his death heard evidence from his mother Samantha Bennet at Belfast Coroner's Court

The mother of a toddler who died after being beaten and blinded broke down in tears as she denied causing the fatal injuries.

Samantha Bennett wept as she told Belfast Coroner's Court that she had not hurt her son.

Under questioning from her barrister Andrew Brown, the deputy retail manager shook her head and replied "no" when asked directly if she had harmed the child.

Liam Gonzalez Bennett, from Ballymena, Co Antrim, was just 20 months old when he died in February 2009.

He had suffered 31 bruises to his head which medical experts said were possibly as a result of being punched with a clenched fist.

Ms Bennett had been out buying milk when her son was found unresponsive in his cot. She cried as she recalled returning to the house at Sunningdale Park to find paramedics working on him.

"He was lying in the hallway on the floorboards and the paramedics were working on him," Ms Bennett told the Old Town Hall hearing.

She claimed she went into shock at the sight.

Her former fiance Noel McKeown had been looking after the toddler and his older sister while Ms Bennett was at the shop.

Mr McKeown, who is living and working in Australia, is expected to give evidence via Skype later.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson described the case as disturbing and said she was referring the matter to the Public Prosecution Service for review.

Ms Anderson said: "It is clear that Liam suffered a quite shocking assault which was so severe it was not survivable.

"It is disturbing that no-one has been made amenable.

"I am sending this back to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) for further review."

The coroner said she was satisfied that the cause of death was non-accidental blunt force trauma to the head.

Giving evidence via the internet through an iPad, Mr McKeown also denied hurting Liam.

"No, I did not," he said in response to a question from the coroner about whether he had caused the little boy's injuries.

He could not offer an explanation for how the toddler had suffered such severe bruising to his head.

Mr McKeown told the court he had found Liam in his cot with his back arched and struggling to breathe shortly after his mother left for the shop at about 7pm.

He said it was unusual for Ms Bennett to leave their house at that time of night and claimed there was "plenty of milk" in the fridge.

Mr McKeown said: "He was breathing. He was not breathing normally. He was struggling to breathe. I rushed to lay him down on a bed flat and gave mouth-to-mouth, rang Sam to come back and rang an ambulance and they guided me what to do."

Ms Bennett returned after about 15 minutes, according to her former partner.

Mr McKeown was not cross-examined by a barrister acting for Ms Bennett.

Afterwards her solicitor, Ernie Waterworth, read a statement on her behalf.

He said: "Approximately four and a half years on from the tragic and brutal death of her son Liam, Samantha Bennett is still experiencing horrendous pain with no final resolution to the case.

"She is a caring, loving mother who, only three days ago, was able to finally lay her son to rest - but even that has not been finalised."

The solicitor said his client was pleased the case has been recommended for review.

Mr Waterworth added: "The person who brought about the death has not yet faced prosecution. 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."

The baby's father, Juan Gonzalez Dias, a courier from Tenerife, was not in court for the hearing.

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