Christopher O'Neill cleared of baby Caragh Walsh murder
There was uproar in court as west Belfast dad Christopher O'Neill was cleared of the murder of his baby daughter Caragh Walsh, whom he "just loved to bits" and still thinks about "every single day".
It had taken the Craigavon Crown Court jury of eleven sitting in Armagh, just over four and a half hours since Thursday to acquit the 26-year-old by a majority of at least ten to one.
Even before the jury foreman had announced the verdict Tammy Louise, baby Caragh's mum was already in tears. However, as the "Not Guilty" decision came there were shouts of disbelief from her other members of her family, who were quick to their feet and shouting.
Behind him, his family were also in tears, but of joy. Then when freed by trial judge Madam Justice McBride, they gathered him up in a group hug. Afterwards, his solicitor Paul Sweeney said O'Neill and his family did not wish to say anything, but that "it has been a very difficult case, and one in which there have been no winners".
O'Neill from the Whiterock Road, has always rejected and 'absolutely' refuted any suggestion he would have done anything to harm three-month-old baby Caragh, who was rushed from her Glasvey home in Twinbrook to hospital where she died two days later on February 7, 2014.
By their verdict the jury of ten men and a woman accepted his claims that far from attacking her in a rage, he had done all he could to save the toddler he dotted on, after she had awoke with a "painful cry" and was "barely breathing".
They also rejected the prosecution case that although a caring dad, O'Neill had finally found it all too much and reaching his limit, had simply snapped and having lost control, assaulted and abused the youngster in a momentary rage.
From the outset, the still greiving dad, maintained that he would "never" have done anything to harm her, and boasted that from the moment she was born in October 2013: "I was happy ... proud ... I loved her to bits, I didn't want to leave her, I just wanted to be with her all of the time".
First in police interviews, and again during his four week trial, O'Neill told how in the month and a half of paternity leave, and after the family moved into their own flat in Twinbrook, he "did most of the looking after of baby Caragh", and later would rush home from work to be with her.
On the "fateful day ... that terrible day" he described how, when watching a DVD, baby Caragh suddenly awoke in her bouncer, her arms shooting out in front of her. He tried to revive her, even giving her mouth to mouth, and tried to stimulate her with her bottle, but to no avail.
Initially he told the court that he "was scared ... because I knew something was wrong" thinking, "that she was dying", and that "I just wanted her not to die. I just wanted to help her".
Although he accepted that at one stage he lifted her up in front of him and "shook her" he did not know how many times he did so.
"I felt helpless and scared ... completely scared of Caragh dying... I knew something wrong was happening".
When suggested he'd lost it, O'Neill told the jury: "I would never hurt my daughter ... that's completely wrong. I was trying to help her".
And that he only shook her, "because I thought she was dying and to this day I have had to live with the fact that I didn't help her enough".
He also told the jury, his voice raw with emotion, that not a day goes by that he does not think of her.
Belfast Telegraph Digital