Belfast Telegraph

PSNI handling of Co Antrim toddler Liam Gonzalez Bennett's murder case to be scrutinised

BY AMANDA FERGUSON

The office of the Police Ombudsman is being asked to examine any potential failings in the PSNI's handling of the murder inquiry into the death of a Co Antrim toddler.

Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan – whose wife Nuala formerly occupied the Ombudsman's post – told the Belfast Telegraph he had sent a letter of complaint to the watchdog's office as he was troubled by details that emerged during the inquest earlier this month in to the death of Liam Gonzalez Bennett.

The 20-month-old died on February 8, 2009, the day after he was rushed to hospital from his home at Sunningdale Park in Ballymena, having suffered 31 head injuries, leading to blindness and brain death.

His mother, Samantha Bennett, and stepfather, Paul Noel McKeown, were arrested by detectives leading a murder inquiry and were questioned several times.

Retired acting chief inspector Deborah McMaster told Belfast Coroner's Court that a file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service but no prosecution was ever brought, as there was deemed to be insufficient evidence to charge either.

She added that nobody else was being sought in connection with the little boy's death.

Doctor Alistair Bentley, deputy State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, concluded the bruises on Liam's head were non-accidental and caused by the multiple impact of an object or objects with a small surface area. In court he suggested this might have been the "knuckles of a clenched fist".

On the final day of the inquest, Coroner Suzanne Anderson revealed she had requested that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) look at the matter once again.

"It is disturbing that no one has been made amenable," she said.

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

Mr O'Loan said: "I was aware the coroner had referred the matter to the Public Prosecution Service. I had a lot of disquiet, as does the community, about how a child could die, suffer injuries and no charges be brought.

"There are serious questions for the justice system to answer on this."

Mr O'Loan described the circumstances of the case as a "very closed situation".

"If there was a failure in the criminal justice system it merits examination in terms of the action of police and potentially the PPS," he added.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph it had not yet received Mr O'Loan's complaint.

FACTFILE

In June the Police Ombudsman's Office published its annual report, revealing it received more than 3,200 complaints about the conduct of officers between April 2012 and March 2013.

The largest category of complaints alleged police officers had failed in their duty.

The Ombudsman usually looks at actions within the previous 12 months, but in "grave or exceptional" circumstances can probe cases outside of this time frame.

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