'I loved her to bits' - Father accused of murdering infant daughter gives evidence at trial
A Belfast father has 'absolutely' refuted any suggestion he was responsible for the death of the infant daughter he "just loved to bits".
Giving evidence on the eve of the third anniversary of baby Caragh Walsh's death, 26-year-old Christopher O'Neill, his voice at times cracking, told his Craigavon Crown Court trial in Armagh that he would "never" have done anything to harm her.
O'Neill from Whiterock Road in west Belfast, denies the murder of three-month-old baby Caragh who died on February 7, 2014, two days after being rushed to hospital from her Glasvey Park home in Twinbrook.
He began his evidence by describing his relationship with the child's mother as having grown stronger and more serious at the news of her pregnancy, and of how both of them looked forward to the birth.
Asked by defence QC Patrick Lyttle how he felt when Carragh was born in October 2013, O'Neill replied: "I was happy ... proud", adding later; "I loved her to bits, I didn't want to leave her, I just wanted to be with her all of the time".
O'Neill said in the month and a half of paternity leave, and after they'd moved into their own flat in Twinbrook, he "did most of the looking after of baby Caragh", and later would rush home from work to be with her.
Then taking him to the events of that "fateful day ... that terrible day" Mr Lyttle asked him how he felt when baby Caragh suddendly awoke in her bouncer, with a "painful cry", and later rushed to hospital in an amblance after he'd shaken her and given her mouth to mouth in an effort to revive her.
Initially he told the court that he "was scared ... because I knew something was wrong" thinking, "that she was dying", and that "I just wanted her not to die. I just wanted to help her".
Although he accepted that at one stage he lifted her up in front of him and "shook her" he did not know how many times he did so.
O'Neill also told the jury of ten men and one woman; "I felt helpless and scared ... completely scared of Caragh dying... I knew something wrong was happening", then later added: "It was a strange feeling.. you could find a word for it, but I couldn't".
The defence lawyer then put the Crown case to him, saying: "Mr O'Neill the prosecution case, in a nutshell, is that you deliberately hurt your daughter, that you lost control, that you swung her by the arms and limbs".
"I would never hurt my daughter," said O'Neill, "that's completely wrong. I was trying to help her".
"Why shake her?" asked Mr Lyttle.
"Because I thought she was dying and to this day I have had to live with the fact that I didn't help her enough," replied O'Neill who was then asked: "Do you still think about your daughter?"..... "Every single day," he said.
Under cross-examination O'Neill accepted the youngster was healthy and well, when left in his care, and that after she had unexpectedly taken ill, "in a very bad way", he thought, "I will help her by picking her up and shake her with all the risks attached to that".
"Yes," said O'Neill, to which Mr Toby Hedworth put it to him: "Instead of picking up your phone and dialing 999 to get help as soon as humanly possible".
O'Neill also accepted that all his attempts to resusitate baby Caragh before calling for help,"made no difference", but maintained he, "wasn't thinking in a normal way at all ... I was trying to help her".
"Why were you so reluctant, Christopher O'Neill, to dial 999 from the outset?" asked the prosecutor, before suggesting; "you were thinking you didn't want to ring 999 because you would be found out".
"No," said O'Neill.
"Because unfortunately on that late morning when left alone, it all got a bit too much for you .... on this occasion she wouldn't stop crying and you couldn't get her to stop".
"That wasn't the case, no," replied baby Caragh's father.
Mr Hedworth suggested further that in the weeks before his daughter's death, he had been her main carer, but that morning he became "frustrated ... exasperated at having to look after her".
"No - Never," came the reply.
Mr Hedworth returned to the question, several times, suggesting at one stage: "Unfortunately Mr O'Neill that late morning you were no longer a caring man, you became an angry man", before putting it to him that that in his "anger ... you became very rough indeed with her, did you not".
"Never," maintained O'Neill.
The defendant also rejected claims that from the very moment of making the 999 call, throughout his police interviews, and over the past years, or even in court, he has never been able to accept the "unpalatable reality" that it was he who caused the injuies which caused his daughter's death.
Those injuries, said Mr Hedworth, were caused "after you had lost it", to which he replied: "No I would never hurt my daughter, thats completely wrong".
In a re-examination by his own counsel, O'Neill miantained that he "did the best thing I thought of when she was loosing consciouness", and complained about people talking about him having shaken "my baby" .... I never lost it with my daughter ... I just loved her to bits".
The case continues on Tuesday when the jury will again be hearing evidence from medial experts.