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Belfast police may open new inquiry in death of shaken baby Caragh Walsh

 

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Caragh Walsh's father Christopher O’Neill leaves the inquest yesterday

Caragh Walsh's father Christopher O’Neill leaves the inquest yesterday

Photopress Belfast

Caragh Walsh's mother Tammie-Louise Walsh (left) with family and friends

Caragh Walsh's mother Tammie-Louise Walsh (left) with family and friends

Photopress Belfast

Caragh Walsh

Caragh Walsh

Caragh Walsh's father Christopher O’Neill leaves the inquest yesterday

The PSNI may carry out a second investigation after a coroner found that a 14 week-old baby from west Belfast died from a brain injury caused by violent shaking.

Tragic Caragh Walsh's mother, Tammie-Louise Walsh, broke down in tears as Coroner Joseph McCrisken outlined his findings to the court.

As Mr McCrisken read his conclusion, Ms Walsh and her family lowered their heads to their knees and sobbed until proceedings had ended.

The inquest into Caragh's death lasted for five days and was described by the coroner as being "sensitive and distressing" due to the age of the child.

Also in attendance was the baby's father, Christopher O'Neill. He was acquitted of his daughter's murder last year.

Mr O'Neill, a retail worker, told a paramedic and staff at Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children that he had shaken Caragh when he believed her to be unresponsive at their home in Poleglass on February 5, 2014.

His distressing 999 emergency call was played to the court during the inquest in which Caragh could be heard having breathing difficulties.

She died on February 7 despite receiving what the coroner told the inquest was "exemplary" care from medics.

Mr McCrisken said: "The events of February 5, 2014 have irrevocably changed the lives of the Walsh and O'Neill families.

"A tiny baby closed her eyes forever and that tragedy shall weigh heavily on both Mr O'Neill and Ms Walsh for the rest of their lives. Neither will fully recover from Caragh's death."

He added that his opinion was that the criminal trial of Christopher O'Neill did not provide "sufficient answers" to the family or the public and that an inquest was therefore required.

Mr McCrisken did, however, point out that the inquest was a "fact-finding inquiry" and not a re-trial of Mr O'Neill.

Afterwards, Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy from the PSNI said: "We will take time to consider the coroner's ruling and assess whether a further investigation is required."

When summing up what he had heard over the course of the inquest, Mr McCrisken was found to be in favour of evidence given by consultant neuropathologist Dr Daniel du Plessis and State Pathologist Dr James Lyness.

Dr du Plessis told the inquest that Caragh had suffered a "full-blown triad".

A triad includes brain swelling, bleeding over the brain and retinal bleeding in the eyes.

Dr du Plessis added that the cardio respiratory arrest suffered by the baby was caused by shaking by "substantial force".

Dr Lyness found between 18 and 25 areas of bruising over Caragh's body including two on her chest.

He also believed an elbow fracture, which the coroner found had occurred more than a week before Caragh's death, would have required "significant force" to cause it.

This evidence was weighed up against that of an American radiologist, Dr David Ayoub.

The coroner rejected all evidence given by Dr Ayoub who he said some may call a "denialist".

Dr Ayoub had claimed that baby Caragh had suffered from rickets which was in its "healing stages". This could then have led to the respiratory arrest. He also said that out of around 500 cases he had dealt with, where a child had suffered bony injuries, all but five cases were caused by a disease rather than fractures.

The coroner said that Dr Ayoub's conclusions were "astonishing" and "unbelievable" and that he would be referring his findings to all judiciary in Northern Ireland.

He added that he will warn against "the potential dangers" of allowing the medic to give evidence here again.

As the devastated family continued to comfort one another, Mr McCrisken concluded: "This cardio respiratory arrest was due to being shaken violently and with extreme force.

"There was no other reason for the cardio respiratory arrest. I am satisfied that Caragh was shaken at least once but more probably on more than one occasion.

"The injuries to Caragh's brain and eyes required a rapid and substantial acceleration and deceleration of her head and neck."

The coroner added leg fractures were also caused due to shaking. "They feel that justice has been served at last," said counsel for Ms Walsh outside the court, adding that they accepted the coroner's findings.

Christopher O'Neill, who sat solemnly throughout, left the court with his family.

Belfast Telegraph