Friday 30 September 2016

Childminder faces retrial as jury fails to return a verdict

Published 26/06/2015 | 02:30

Childminder Sandra Higgins outside court during her trial
Childminder Sandra Higgins outside court during her trial

A registered childminder accused of causing serious harm to a 10-month-old baby in her care is facing the prospect of a retrial after a jury failed to reach an agreement.

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Sandra Higgins (34), of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, Co Cavan, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby girl on March 28, 2012.

After a six-day trial, the jury deliberated for almost six hours when they handed a written statement to trial judge Patricia Ryan. The statement informed the court they could not reach a unanimous or majority verdict.

"[We] do not believe we will do so with any more time," said the jury, that had earlier been offered to return a verdict on which at least 10 of them were agreed.

Ms Higgins, who faced a potential life term upon conviction, has been remanded on continuing bail and her case listed for mention once again before Dublin Circuit Criminal Court next Thursday.

It is then that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is expected to inform the court if a re-trial is to be sought.

At the outset of the trial, prosecutor Sean Gillane SC told the jury of eight men and four women that in the weeks leading up to the alleged assault, the baby's parents became concerned about the number of bumps and bruises she was incurring while with her minder.

They made alternative arrangements for her care and, two days before the alleged assault, informed Ms Higgins that they would be making such changes.

The baby was brought to Cavan General Hospital's A&E unit on March 28, 2012 and was suffering seizures.

The baby, who can not be named by court order, had extensive injuries to her head and face. Tests also uncovered older injuries including extensive bruising and two broken ribs.

Violent

Doctors determined that the baby suffered a brain bleed and a detached retina and had weakness on one side of her body. The prosecution alleged the baby's symptoms were consistent with a violent shaking.

An expert witness for the prosecution, UK-based paediatrician Dr Christopher Hobbs, said it was a "classic, textbook case of shaken baby syndrome".

However, expert witnesses for the defence said the evidence was more suggestive of an impact to the head or could have been the re-activation of an older injury.

UK-based neuropathologist Dr Waney Squier said she did not believe shaken baby syndrome had scientific validation.

Defence counsel Remy Farrell SC urged the jury to acquit if they had any doubt or could not conclusively say what happened in the case. Mr Farrell said the jury would have to consider the older injuries found on the child, including broken ribs, which, he said, were clear evidence of a previous event.

Irish Independent

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