Court hears allegations father murdered baby son by putting wad of tissue down his throat
Warning: Graphic details in the below court hearing
The prosecution in a murder trial has alleged that a father murdered his six-and-a-half month old son by putting an egg-shaped wad of tissue in his throat.
John Tighe (40) of Lavallyroe, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo has pleaded not guilty to murdering his son Joshua Sussbier Tighe at his home on June 1, 2013. The court also heard today that baby Joshua's mother returned to a relationship with Mr Tighe following the death.
Paul Murray SC opened the trial today, telling the jury the prosecution case is that the baby died from asphyxiation having choked on a "bolus" of tissue. The accused, according to counsel, has said from the outset that the death was accidental and the baby grabbed and swallowed the tissue while Mr Tighe was in the bathroom.
Mr Murray said that the jury will hear evidence that a baby of Joshua's age would be unable to form the wad of tissue with its hands and incapable of chewing it or swallowing it. He said that if the jury accepts that to be true, the only other person present at the time was Mr Tighe, who he said is "the only one person who could be responsible".
Mr Murray told the jury of eight men and four women that the accused has lived all his life in Ballyhaunis and met Joshua's mother Natasha Sussbier in 2011. They formed a relationship and moved in together. S
he got pregnant in 2012 and Joshua was born on November 16 that year. There were problems with the relationship between the accused and Ms Sussbier so that by around March 2013 they were not living together, but they shared custody of the baby.
Mr Murray said that Natasha had formed a new relationship and that fact was posted on Facebook on May 31, 2013. On that same day Mr Tighe collected Joshua from Natasha and brought the baby back to his house.
At 12.51 the next day Mr Tighe called the WestDoc Medical service and told the first person he spoke with that he was changing the baby's nappy, went to the loo and when he came back the baby was choking on a baby wipe and had gone a bit blue. He then spoke to another person and said he thought the baby had grabbed a baby wipe and was choking on something. He told the person that the wipes were beside the baby and that he turned his back for a second.
The person on the phone told Mr Tighe to bang, tap and hit the baby's back and turn him over, to try to get something up.
Mr Tighe replied that he had been doing that for ten minutes and "he has gone a bit blue".
He then told them that he could just about get to whatever was there and added that it was about half way up the throat. A doctor who had been summoned arrived but Joshua had already passed away. Mr Murray said the doctor will give evidence that he could not see the tissue but could feel it in the child's throat.
Those facts are, according to Mr Murray, "not in dispute". But what happened then is the nub of what the jury will have to decide.
Mr Murray said that a post mortem showed there were two pieces of tissue in the throat, one of which consisted of an egg-like shape, measuring 5cm by 3.5 cm. When unwrapped the ball was found to consist of two sheets of tissue paper, one 2-ply and the other 3-ply.
The prosecution case, which is disputed, is that this wad of tissue caused the death of baby Joshua by restricting the airways, leading to Joshua's asphyxiation. The jury, counsel said, will have to decide the cause of death.
The prosecution also says that a six-and-a-half month old baby is not capable of grabbing a piece of paper and forming a bolus such as was found in Joshua's throat. Mr Murray said expert evidence will be heard that a baby is not capable of chewing the wad to form a bolus of that size and that a baby of Joshua's size did not have the capacity to swallow the bolus so far that it could not be seen by the doctor.
He told the jury that they will also hear that Joshua had a tear to the connective tissue between the upper gum and lip.
The jury then heard from Daniel Sommerville who told Mr Murray that he dated Natasha in 2013. He confirmed that the relationship was posted to Facebook on May 31, the day before Joshua died, but agreed with defence counsel Mícheál P O'Higgins SC that the relationship would have been apparent prior to that. He also agreed with Mr O'Higgins that his relationship with Natasha ended and that she returned to a relationship with Mr Tighe.
The jury then heard the 23-minute call made by Mr Tighe to WestDoc. Liz Watson, who had 35 years experience as a nurse at the time, told Mr Murray that she took the call and she and a colleague advised the accused until a doctor arrived at the scene.
Under cross examination, she told Mr O'Higgins that she repeatedly told Mr Tighe to "tap" the child whereas the protocol states that you should "bang" the child. She also, on occasions, did use the words "bang" and "hit". She agreed that Mr Tighe was not told to use the heal of the hand to deliver sharp blows to the baby's back, as per the protocol.
She further agreed that if a person attempts a "blind sweep" with their finger to remove something caught in the throat that this can push the object further into the larynx. She added that she did not advise Mr Tighe to carry out a blind sweep, but only to use his fingers to remove the item when he said he could see it.
The trial continues tomorrow in front of Justice Patrick McCarthy and the jury of eight men and four women.