Sunday 11 December 2016

Childminder trial: Jury told to decide 'when did the child go from normal to abnormal?'

Declan Brennan

Published 23/06/2015 | 13:44

Sandra Higgins pleads not guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby, pictured outside Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday (Courtpix)
Sandra Higgins pleads not guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby, pictured outside Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday (Courtpix)

The jury in the trial of a childminder charged with assaulting a baby has been told they must decide “when did the child go from normal to abnormal?”

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Registered childminder Sandra Higgins (34) is alleged to have caused the injuries to the 10-month-old baby she was minding at her home.

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

The trial has heard evidence alleging that the child was fine that morning and during the day. Around 5pm Ms Higgins brought her to Cavan General Hospital where she presented with active seizures, brain injuries and fractured ribs.

This morning lawyers for the prosecution and defense presented their closing speeches to the jury of eight men and four women. Judge Patricia Ryan has told the jurors that it may be that they will not begin deliberating until tomorrow.

There is a court order prohibiting publication of the child's name.

Read more: Childminder trial: UK neuropathologist says 'shaken baby syndrome has no scientific validation'

Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, told the jurors that the phrase “shaken baby syndrome” could blind and told them to leave it to one side. He said: “This case...is about the infliction of trauma on [the child]”.

He said it is about the mechanism and timing of the injury.

“It's plain as a pike staff that we’re undoubtedly in the realm of non-accidental injury. Inflicted injury which required violence. Thats what the case is about. Violence delivered to [the child],” he said.

He said that the evidence was that the child was a perfectly normal baby up to the time before the alleged assault. “She was bubbly, she was babbly, she was playful. She was developing in every single respect you might expect,” counsel said.

He told the jury: “When did the child go from normal to abnormal and what does that mean to you?”

Remy Farrell SC, defending, told the jury, that the prosecution were incapable of making good on the promise that they would show conclusively that the injuries occurred on March 28. He said the State's own witness, consultant paediatrician Dr Christopher Hobbs, gave evidence that you cannot time the injuries conclusively.

Read more: Childminder trial: Bleeding around the child’s brain does not point to diagnosis of baby shaking, US radiologist tells court

“His concession that you cannot time the injuries conclusively must be the end of the prosecution case,” Mr Farrell said.

He added: “The simple truth is this: if you entertain any doubt about the date you must acquit.”

He said that it is uncontested that the injuries suffered by the child were non-accidental. He said: “The old injuries are wholly consistent with some trauma. It's blindingly obvious whatever event occurred weeks before could have caused a subdural haemorrhage.”

He said it was an extraordinary omission on the part of the prosecution to have not considered this as a possibility.

He said there was subtle implication being made by the prosecution that these older injuries, such as finger tip bruises and fractured ribs, were caused by the accused. He said there wasn't “a screed of evidence” to support this implication.

He asked why was it that his client was being asked to account for the older injuries when she was not the only person who had cared for the child in the weeks and hours before the child's hospitalisation.

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