Man punched baby girl (2) in head 'so he could watch X Factor in peace'
A man who punched a baby girl claiming he wanted to watch the X-Factor in peace was jailed on Friday for a total of 13 and a half years.
A judge at Belfast Crown Court branded Darren Eamon Fagan's version of how the baby sustained the horrific brain injuries in October 2014 at her Bessbrook home as "cowardly, vindictive and shameful''.
Fagan (29), formerly of Clonavon Avenue in Portadown, pleaded guilty to a single charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to the baby who was aged just two years and four months.
A charge of attempted murder was "left on the books in the usual terms'' by the prosecution.
During the sentencing hearing on Friday, the court was told the Fagan had a previous conviction for assaulting the 20-month-child of a former partner.
Fagan was also handed an extended custodial sentence of three years "for the protection of the public'' after Judge Geoffrey Miller QC assessed him as posing a danger to society and a "significant risk of causing serious harm in the future''following the attack on the crying child in her cot.
He told Fagan that he would have to serve half his sentence in prison before the Parole Commissioners would decide whether it was safe to release him back into the community.
If he was assessed as being safe to be freed from custody at that point, Fagan will spend a further nine years and three months on supervised licence with the Probation Service.
Belfast Crown Court heard that as a result of the unprovoked attack by Fagan, the impact on the young child and her parents had been "life changing'' and her future prognosis is yet to be fully determined by doctors.
A recent medical report on the child said she had "difficulties with right upper limb, she is not independently mobile, she requires assistance for walking, reaches most things with her left hand to put them in her right hand.''
She has also "speech and language difficulties, attention and concentration difficulties, and receives physical and occupational therapy. Her long term prognosis is that she will have life changing and long term difficulties,'' the report concluded.
Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said that the mother was separated from the girl's father and at the time was in a relationship with Fagan "who she had met in person eight to ten times''.
The young girl had spent part of the weekend with her grandparents and also her father who had all reported her to have been in good health.
That same weekend, Fagan had stayed at the woman's house overnight and on the Sunday "started drinking cider from 1.30pm''.
The mother told police that the girl's father had dropped her home on the evening of Sunday, October 19, 2014, and she was "in good form'' but had then become unsettled when she was put to bed, describing her face as "red and sweating" when she went to check on her.
After going to the kitchen to look for Ibuprofen child medicine, she said she noticed that Fagan was no longer in the living room and it was as she went upstairs that her daughter "stopped crying" and she heard a "sudden noise...like a thud."
The court heard today that when she went upstairs she "noticed that the gate to her daughter's bedroom was open and the light was on.
"The defendant was standing crouched over the child's cot. He moved away and the mother noticed that the child was not moving and she had a large lump to the left side of her head just above the eye and there was an indentation beneath the lump.
The court heard that she "went instinctively to grab her daughter and shouted at him 'oh my God you've hit her' and the defendant replied 'no, it's not what it looks like'.
"She ran with her daughter down the stairs towards the front door but the defendant would not let her out saying, "I can explain''.
Mr Murphy said the mother managed to get out the front door, pushed past Fagan, and ran up the street to a house where a relative lived.
"The child was violently vomiting at this stage,'' the senior prosecutor told the judge. "The mother tried to use her mobile phone but it had no charge. She told people at the house to ring for an ambulance. Police arrived on the scene and the child was put on a stretcher.''
The "lifeless' child was brought into the house where a police officer performed mouth to mouth resuscitation on her before she was transferred by ambulance to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
Police officers at the scene inquired about what had happened and a relative of the injured child told them: "That bastard was punching her.''
When police eventually caught up with Fagan, he told them: "I am the one you are looking for.'' He was formally arrested, cautioned, and replied: "Whaa? (sic) I did not do anything.''
He was handcuffed to the front before being put in the back of a police car to be taken away for questioning.
However, en route to Banbridge police station, Mr Murphy said Fegan started to become "agitated and violent and started head butting the inside window of the car. Police stopped the car and had to put restraints on his thighs and calves and the handcuffs were put around his back.''
A paediatrician who examined the child at Daisy Hill Hospital said she had a "large bulge to the left side of her head and had sustained an acute subdural haemorrhage (bleeding on the brain).''
She was transferred to the children's unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and an MRI scan revealed that the child had sustained "multiple fractures'' to the head.
Mr Murphy told the court: "It is clear that this was a serious injury to her head, It was a severe trauma injury to her head.''
The court heard doctors said the child would require "intervention and support in the future'' and there was also a "significant risk of developing epilepsy'' in the future.
The senior prosecutor told the judge that Fegan was "interviewed extensively by police'' who claimed the child had been screaming and the mother and fallen down the stairs with the child who hit her head.
Fagan "mendaciously'' claimed throughout his interviews that the mother had been "drinking and taking drugs''. But Mr Murphy said that was not the case and in fact the mother was pregnant at the time.
"These allegations were traumatic to the girl's mother. For a considerable period he distanced himself and put responsibility for what happened to the child on her mother.''
The court heard Fagan told a probation officer that he "punched the child to her head as she would not stop crying'', claiming he wanted peace to sit with the child's mother and watch X Factor on television.
He was asked by probation how he hit the victim and Mr Murphy said that "it is clear from this that he assaulted the child with extreme force.''
Mr Murphy added: "This was a serious assault on a defenceless toddler.''
Judge Miller was told that Fagan had an "extensive criminal record'' of 58 convictions, including convictions for violence. These included ten counts of assault and two of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. One of those convictions was for assaulting the 20-month-old child of a previous partner.
The Probation Service had assessed Fagan as "dangerous'' who posed a "high likelihood of reoffending and a significant risk of serious harm'' to the public in the future.
"This was a serious assault with high harm and high culpability. It is at the upper level of the range in terms of a determinate sentence,'' added Mr Murphy.
Defence counsel Ciaran Mallon QC told the court that there was "no premeditation'' on Fagan's behalf in assaulting the child, describing it as "explosive incident'' during which the defendant had lost self control.
"He had no hatred for the child whatsoever. In fact, in the days before his incident he took the mother and child to McDonald's and they had played in the park.''
He said that Fagan had had an "absolutely wretched childhood and upbringing'' and from the age of two onwards had been spent in either foster homes or secure foster accommodation. This resulted, said Mr Mallon, in Fagan having "no coping mechanism'' in dealing with his problems and his addictions.
The judge was told Fagan was forced into taking heroin by his mother at a young age and on the night in question had taken a "cocktail of drink and drugs''.
He said Fagan had expressed his remorse for the attack on the child and had also expressed this remorse in a letter which was handed to the judge.
"I want to make it absolutely,'' said Mr Mallon, "that it was a particularly mendacious thing to do to blame the assault on the mother. It is accepted by the accused in his letter that he put the mother through hell by pointing the finger at her.''
Passing sentence today, Judge Miller said that Fagan's reponse during police interview was "cowardly, vindictive and shameful'' in blaming the mother for the child's injuries.
The judge told Fagan that at police interview he had "concocted a story which was strong on detail but entirely false in which he sought to blame the mother for the devastating injuries the child sustained''.
Fagan claimed that they were sitting watching television when he received a text message from another girl and alleged the baby's mother "became angry, checked his text messages, started screaming and shouting and stormed out with her daughter''.
He also claimed that "slammed doors and went upstairs with the child to bed'' and claimed that he heard a "big, big thump''.
Fagan had claimed the mother had been "drinking cider'' and had also been "smoking weed going up the stairs'' when she fell down while carrying the child in her arms and the baby hit her head off the wall.
The defendant also alleged that police had assaulted him in the back of the car and were calling him a "thug'' and a "hood''.
But the judge told the court: "For the avoidance of any doubt it should be clearly understood that the baby's mother was neither under the influence of any drugs, prescription or illegal, nor was she in any way intoxicated on that eveving.''
Judge Miller said that in victim impact statements prepared for the court, the family spoke of the "ongoing trauma'' they were suffering following the assault on the child.
He added: "This will have life long consequences for the child and family members for which this defendant must bear sole responsibility.''
After handing Fagan a 13-and-a-half year determinate sentence, Judge Miller told prison guards: "Take him down.''