The father of a nine-month-old baby who died in unexplained circumstances was “cruel and evil” according to his eldest daughter.
The startling description was revealed at the inquest into little Anna Ayton’s death yesterday.
The baby girl died in February 2001 after being rushed to hospital when she stopped breathing.
No cause of death has been ascertained.
A week after what would have been her 11th birthday, coroner Suzanne Anderson heard how, in the months after baby Anna’s death, her older sister Lisa revealed the treatment the girls had received at the hands of their father when their mother was at work.
Giving evidence to the Belfast inquest, the girls’ mother Sharon said: “Lisa began to speak of her daddy not being kind to her and Anna. She described an incident when Anna had vomited and Richard (the father) had smacked Anna on the bottom.
“She volunteered that when I was out at work her daddy had been cruel, that daddy didn’t give Anna her bedtime bottle. She used the words ‘cruel’ and ‘evil’ to describe her daddy.
“She said the first time it happened she was scared, but then she got used to it.
“She said she felt no-one cared about her or Anna except me and granny, my mother. She also spoke of her daddy nipping Anna and shouting at her when she cried.”
Mrs Ayton said on a later occasion her older daughter, then aged just six years old, told her: “Daddy was nicer when you were there, to trick you.”
She also said on another occasion Lisa told her she had been “too scared of what daddy would do to her and Anna” to tell her mother the truth at the time.
Counsel for Mr Ayton, Peter Coll, said his client denies these accusations: “He entirely denies the suggestion that he had been cruel to her (Anna) or to Lisa,” he said.
Mr Coll put it to Mrs Ayton that Lisa had picked up the idea that her father was responsible for Anna’s death from her mother, and from overhearing conversations between her mother and various parties during the period following the baby’s death, when Mr Ayton had been arrested on suspicion of murder — a charge later dropped by the PPS.
Mrs Ayton denied this, saying Lisa had been told her father was sick and in hospital at the time, and she did not know her father was under investigation.
“We were always careful. This was such an extreme set of circumstances,” she said.
“I can’t say with certainty that she didn’t overhear, but there was never anything said to her directly at that stage.”
Earlier in the proceedings Mrs Ayton almost broke down in tears as she recalled the last time she saw her baby daughter before she died and how she had cradled her dead body in the hospital.
The inquest also heard evidence from Professor Jack Crane, the state pathologist who carried out the autopsy on baby Anna at the time of her death.
He said that while he had been unable to identify the exact cause of death, he did not believe it to have been a ‘cot death’, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
In his autopsy report he said the findings were “strongly suggestive of asphyxiation with the upper airway obstructed”.
But he said he could not rule out that some of the injuries found on baby Anna were caused by |“rigorous attempts at resuscitation”.
The inquest continues today.