‘I caught a look of fear in the child’s eye... it was when she looked at her father’
A nine-month-old baby who later died in her father’s care had a “look of fear” when he was around.
The claim was made at the inquest into her death yesterday by a doctor who examined little Anna Ayton just one day before she died in 2001.
The “happy, bouncing” child was rushed to Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn by her father, Richard, after she had difficulty breathing.
The inquest was told Mr Ayton informed staff she had stopped breathing earlier in the day and again just prior to him bringing her to hospital, saying her lips had “gone blue” in the car.
Dr Mary Synott — the senior doctor in the accident and emergency department that day — told the hearing the baby “appeared fine and not in any life-threatening condition”.
She said she was concerned for Mr Ayton, who was “quite hysterical” and “continually saying, ‘she’s not breathing’”.
“I was aware that he was acting strangely and differently from other parents,” she said.
The locum doctor said the case had “stayed with her” over the years, in particular the look in Anna’s eyes.
“At one point I caught a look in the child’s eye, I thought — and still do — that no child should ever have that look,” she said.
“It was a look of fear. This was when she was looking at the father.”
The inquest heard that baby Anna was checked by staff at the hospital, who also examined her for non-accidental injuries, but found her to be in good health and she was discharged.
A paramedic gave evidence that the next day the NI Ambulance Service received a call-out to the Bangor home of Mr Ayton and his then wife Sharon, where the crew found him running towards them with Anna in his arms to meet them.
The paramedic said the ambulance crew worked to try to resuscitate the baby after discovering she was not breathing and had vomit in her mouth.
She was then rushed to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald where she was pronounced dead by staff who worked on her for almost 30 minutes.
Ulster Hospital A&E doctor Elizabeth Black told the inquest Mr Ayton said Anna had been asleep in her cot and he had been checking on her every 10 minutes, but he then found her “blue” and had called an ambulance.
At the Belfast inquest yesterday coroner Suzanne Anderson also heard evidence that Mr Ayton had seemed unsure of how to care for his children.
Linda Green, a long-time friend of the Aytons and child-minder for their eldest daughter Lisa, told the inquest: “I always found when I was around him he felt very uncomfortable with the children, that he couldn’t cope with them.”
She described one occasion, two months prior to Anna’s death, when she had been leaving |Lisa home and came across Mr Ayton shouting at Anna for being sick.
“He was giving off to Anna that she had been sick on top of his shirt, his voice was raised,” she told the court.
“I ran upstairs and Anna was lying on the floor in between his legs and he was standing over her.
“I asked what was happening, he was talking about Anna being sick on his shirt.
“I was in disbelief — there was a small amount of vomit on his shirt, nothing to fuss about.
“There was no sick on Anna or on the floor or the landing,” she told the inquest.
The inquest also heard from several witnesses that Mr Ayton told them that in the lead up to the time of Anna’s death his marriage was breaking down because of his gambling addictions.
A former police officer who led the initial inquiry into the baby’s death told the inquest that Mr Ayton made a statement saying he had been attending Gamblers Anonymous and had attempted suicide on two occasions.
The cause of the child’s death was listed as “unascertained” in inquest documents.
Counsel for Mr Ayton said his client would “entirely deny that he did anything to put Anna in fear”.
He also said his client feels he “was able to handle both the children without any difficulty”.
The inquest continues today.