Belfast Telegraph

Four years after brutal murder of toddler Liam why has no-one been charged?

BY AMANDA FERGUSON

Prosecutors have been asked to review the case of a toddler after a coroner said she was shocked and disturbed that no-one had been convicted over his death.

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

At the final day of an inquest into the 20-month-old boy's death, Coroner Suzanne Anderson revealed she had requested that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) look at the matter again.

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

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

Liam died on February 8, 2009, the day after he was rushed to hospital from his home at Sunningdale Park, Ballymena, having suffered 31 head injuries, leading to blindness and brain death.

At the inquest, a series of medical experts rejected the possibility that the child had not been assaulted.

At Belfast Coroner's Court yesterday, Coroner Suzanne Anderson recorded findings of non-accidental death, caused by blunt force trauma of the head.

Liam Gonzalez Bennett – who was born in Playa de Las Americas, Tenerife, on June 10, 2007 – died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after being declared brain dead. The court heard that on the day of Liam's death he had been cared for alone by his mother, 35-year-old Samantha Bennett, and then his stepfather, Paul Noel McKeown.

Ms Bennett had left home to buy milk from a local Tesco store just minutes before her son was found unresponsive in his cot at 7.15pm.

A murder inquiry was conducted after Liam was declared brain dead and his ventilator was switched off.

Both Ms Bennett and Mr McKeown were arrested and interviewed on a number of occasions, but no prosecution was ever brought.

On Thursday, retired acting detective chief inspector Deborah McMaster told the court a file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service but no prosecution was brought as there was deemed to be insufficient evidence to charge either Ms Bennett or Mr McKeown.

Ms McMaster told the court that police were not pursuing anyone else in connection with the death.

On the final day of the inquest yesterday into Liam's death, evidence from Dr Daniel Du Plessis, a consultant neuropathologist at Salford Royal Hospital, was read to the court.

The statement said Liam suffered a non-accidental traumatic head injury and that a low fall on to carpet earlier in the day and subsequent chastisement were not plausible alternative causes for the severe injuries he sustained.

Dr Du Plessis had detailed how he was not in a position to determine who was caring for Liam when the fatal injuries occurred.

During the two-day inquest, a series of medical experts detailed the nature of the head injuries that killed the defenseless little boy.

They all agreed that his death was non-accidental.

Doctor Alistair Bentley, deputy state pathologist for Northern Ireland, had told the inquest 31 discreet bruises on Liam's small head, each measuring up to two inches, were caused by the multiple impact of an object or objects with a small surface area.

He suggested the possibility of this being the "knuckles of a clenched fist".

Dr Bentley told the court Liam had also suffered brain swelling, severe damage to nerve fibres, subdural haemorrhage and retinal haemorrhage, as well as having a sizeable bruise over the right side of his pelvis and some other non- specific bruises.

Coroner Anderson described the case as "very disturbing" as she confirmed it was to be sent back to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further review.

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

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