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Baby died after being laid down to sleep on sofa

A five-month-old baby died after she was laid to sleep on a sofa by her teenage sister, an inquest has heard.

Celebration turned to tragedy for a Co Down family when five- month-old Melanie Gamble died after she was left to sleep on a settee just hours after a birthday party.

Medics could find no cause for the death of Melanie, the youngest of seven children.

Eldest sibling Kirsty, who was then 14, told Newry Coroner’s Court yesterday she had been left in charge of her six brothers and sisters while her mother Tracey and her partner Neill Kinnin, Melanie's father, went to a bar on May 17, 2003.

Earlier the family had gone to McDonald’s for a birthday party.

Hours later Melanie was found dead by her mother at the family’s three-bedroom home in Mourne-view Park. Ms Gamble, who cried in court, said she found Melanie lying on her back on the settee |in the kitchen when she returned from the pub. “She looked as if she had been sleeping,” she said.

“Whenever I looked closely she was very white and she didn’t just look right to me. I just lifted her straight up into my arms, then Neill took her off me and tried to resuscitate her.”

She said there were no other cushions or throws surrounding Melanie and said the infant was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts.

She said Melanie usually slept in a cot in her bedroom. Kirsty Gamble said she had put her baby sister down on her back on the settee as instructed by her mother and Mr Kinnin.

She told the court: “She seemed fine to me.” She and her sister Victoria then lay and slept on the floor next to the settee in case Melanie rolled off.

Melanie was pronounced dead at Daisy Hill Hospital at 4am. Police who attended the house said it was well-kept, and there were no concerns about heat levels.

Constable Coleen Magennis said police seized cushions from the settee and a nappy, bib, pyjama top and bottoms, romper suit and woolly cardigan with vomit on it, which she said had been worn by Melanie.

A post-mortem by paediatric pathologist Dr Claire Thornton and a forensic pathologist could find no definite cause of death.

The report said there had been some concerns Melanie was not growing well during her mother’s pregnancy, and was born weighing six pounds and one ounce.

Dr Thornton said there were “well recognised risk factors” associated with sudden infant death which left no signs at post- mortem. These included co-sleeping, low birth weight, parental smoking, being born to a mother who had a large number of children, and being left to sleep on a sofa. But she concluded: “It would be best if the cause of death was described as unascertained”.

Belfast Telegraph