Belfast Telegraph

Lawyers dispute cause of death in baby Caragh Walsh murder trial

By Michael Donnelly

Lawyers in the case of a west Belfast father accused of killing his baby daughter have argued over the cause of the toddler's death three years ago this month.

The prosecution told Craigavon Crown Court in Co Armagh that 26-year-old Christopher O'Neill from Whiterock Road had lost his self-control and in a rage used considerable violence against three-month old Caragh Walsh.

Prosecution QC Toby Hedworth said it was not their case that O'Neill set out to murder baby Caragh, but that he had reached his limits and simply snapped, leaving her with injuries similar to those received in a high speed crash.

O'Neill, he claimed, was not prepared to say what happened before calling for help, because to do so "he would have to admit he was responsible for the murder of his baby, and that is the one thing, you may think, he is not prepared to do".

However, the defence in their final submissions to the jury of 10 men and one woman dismissed the claims as "utterly fanciful", "speculative", "sheer wishful thinking", and "full of inconvenient truths".

O'Neill, said Patrick Lyttle QC, was a loving, devoted caring father who had not lost it, but was looking after a sick child.

He did all he could for the daughter he loved, and was an innocent man who should be found not guilty of murder and even of manslaughter, he said.

Mr Hedworth began his submissions by saying that two days before her death in hospital on February 7, 2014, from a "catastrophic traumatic brain injury", baby Caragh, then in good health, was left alone in the care of her father in her Glasvey Park home in Twinbrook.

O'Neill, he said, up until then was a "demonstrably" good father. Since his daughter's birth, he had "stepped forward and played a full role in the care of baby Caragh and shouldered at least more than his fair share of night feeds". However, the prosecution lawyer then posed the question: "But was it too much?"

Mr Hedworth further suggested: "We all have our limits, and differing limits. Christopher O'Neill reached his limit and he snapped and perhaps only for the briefest of moments snapped... before dialling 999 and telling the operator that Caragh was not breathing."

Medical evidence from a pathologist and two consultants, he further claimed, showed that the youngster - at death's door when taken to hospital - was subjected "to handling that went way, way beyond accidental injury".

It was brought about by violent shaking, swinging by her limbs and indicative of assault, if not abuse, the court was told.

Mr Lyttle, for the defence, attacked the medical evidence, saying the prosecution had pointed to underlying bruising to the top of the child's head, which no longer formed part of the case, and should cause the jury some unease.

Baby Caragh, he argued, "was not swung by the arms or legs and her head was not hit off a wall or anything", and that even three hours after being admitted into hospital not one bruise was noted by paramedics, nursing staff or doctors "simply because they were not there".

Mr Lyttle, reading from agreed statements, pointed out that far from being a "well child", in the weeks before her death, the youngster's health was a cause of concern for the whole family. She had been suffering from difficulty in breathing which had, on at least one occasion, left her mother "scared".

O'Neill that morning was still a loving father who had not "lost it", was not under stress or strain, and had no motive to attack or injure the baby daughter he was "besotted with", he said.

The jury will retire today to consider its verdict.

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