Belfast Telegraph

Mother reveals the moment she was told her disabled daughter was victim of sex assault

A mother whose parents are standing trial for killing her disabled daughter has told a court of the moment doctors said her child had been sexually assaulted.

Cheryl McKeown was giving evidence at Belfast Crown Court during the second day of the trial of her 88-year-old father David Johnston and mother Sarah (86).

The prosecution claims 14-year-old Rebecca McKeown died of pneumonia following an alleged serious sexual assault which happened when she was being cared for by her grandparents in 2001.

The couple of Carwood Drive in Glengormley, Co Antrim, deny the charges.

Mrs McKeown told prosecuting QC Toby Hedworth she had left her profoundly disabled 14-year-old daughter at her parents’ previous address at King's Drive in Newtownabbey on March 19, 2001 at around 5pm.

The court heard Rebecca — whose medical conditions included spastic cerebral palsy and scoliosis of the spine — was “fine, settled and in good form”.

Mrs McKeown, her husband Stephen and sons then went on a family fishing trip.

But after being collected from her grandparents’ house Rebecca — who had a specially adapted wheelchair — was rushed to hospital after blood was found in her nappy.

Mrs McKeown initially called a doctor who had treated Rebecca then left.

But within 20 minutes, she told the jury, her daughter’s condition deteriorated, she was still experiencing bleeding and suffering from “blueness” of the lips and fingernails.

“Her breathing was very, very shallow,” she said.

After being rushed to hospital Mr and Mrs McKeown were told by a doctor that he did not think Rebecca was going to survive.

Mrs McKeown said two other doctors later spoke to the couple saying they believed Rebecca had been “traumatised”.

“We said ‘we know she has been traumatised’. I said, ‘what do you mean?’ That's when he said ‘your daughter has been sexually assaulted',” she told the jury.

And when asked what her parents’ reaction was when she told them what had happened at the hospital, Mrs McKeown said there was “no reaction, no shock or just a facial expression”.

Rebecca died five days later in the early hours of March 24 after contracting pneumonia. According to the prosecution this came as a direct result of an alleged sexual assault she suffered at the hands of one or other grandparent.

Mrs McKeown told Mr Hedworth that during her time in hospital she could not be alone with her child. “I wasn’t allowed to change Rebecca or hold my daughter unless someone was with me.”

Mrs McKeown said she had previously spoken to or saw her parents almost daily, but told the jury that after Rebecca’s death the communication between them “changed greatly”.

The elderly couple were arrested four days after Rebecca’s funeral on March 31.

The trial continues.

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