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‘How can you hurt a baby like this?’ – Santina Cawley's mum asks as Karen Harrington is jailed for life for her murder

Bridget O’Donoghue said her two-year-old was "a soft and gentle soul”

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Santina Cawley

Santina Cawley

Bridget O'Donoghue pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial, Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Ltd

Bridget O'Donoghue pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial, Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Ltd

Michael Cawley pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Michael Cawley pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

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Santina Cawley

The parents of two-year-old Santina Cawley, have asked how anyone could be so cruel to their “beautiful, happy, fun-loving” child as Karen Harrington was jailed for life for her murder

Santina's mother, Bridget O'Donoghue, who held her baby in her arms minutes after doctors ceased life saving activity before 9am on July 5, said she could not understand how anyone could display such appalling cruelty to a child.

In a powerful victim impact statement, she said: "I continuously ask myself how could someone be so cruel to a a two-year-old – a soft and gentle soul, just how can you hurt a baby like this?

“I wonder was she (Santina) looking for me in those last moments. What was Santina thinking and feeling during her terrible death?”

Karen Harrington (38) was jailed for life today after the Central Criminal Court jury found her guilty by unanimous verdict of the shocking killing of Santina.

The toddler died from a traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal cord wound after suffering a total of 53 different injuries in Harrington's Cork flat in the early hours of July 5, 2019.

Harrington – who had been trusted with the child while her father, Michael Cawley (37), walked into Cork city centre for two hours at 3am that morning – remained expressionless as she was convicted of the little girl's murder and received a life sentence.

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Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Harrington was involved in a sexual relationship with Michael Cawley, who was separated from his wife and the mother of his five children, Bridget.

She was convicted by unanimous decision of a Central Criminal Court jury after four hours and 46 minutes of deliberation over two days following a harrowing four-week trial.

Harrington – who was wearing a black trousers, black jacket and pink blouse – stared at Mr Justice Michael MacGrath without emotion as the guilty verdict was confirmed. She had 16 previous convictions but none for violent offences.

The judge said it was "truly shocking" how "an innocent and defenceless child" could be subjected to such a terrible death.

He said aspects of the case were "beyond description" and said it was "heart-wrenching" for any parent to lose a child let alone in such truly appalling circumstances.

Bridget O’Donoghue described Santina as "an old soul" who seemed to have been in the world before.

“She was a premature baby. She was small but she was a fighter. She was loved and adored by her family the minute we saw her. She was the baby of our family, loved cherished and spoiled by us all,”she said.

"She was very cute for her age. She was clever and bright. She knew all the names of the Teletubbies and was a happy soul. She was very soft and gentle yet was hardy, determined and a little fighter.”

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The mother of five said she remained in shock over the condition of her daughter at Cork University Hospital (CUH) that day.

"When I asked to see her, she was put in my arms and I could not believe the condition of her – she was covered in bruises from head to toe – her hands were cold and she was so pale,” she said.

"My last memory of Santina was her hugging and squeezing me and not wanting to leave me – I regret leaving her so much that day. I wish I could go back in time."

Santina's father, Michael, said he would be haunted by the memory of finding his daughter lying battered, blood-spattered and disfigured in the blanket in his then-girlfriend's apartment.

“The worst thing was finding her disfigured body under a blanket. I will be haunted by this horror for the remainder of my life. This is beyond words. I have no words," he said.

"The trial is a difficult process. Having to listen to graphic details of what happened to Santina.”

He described his daughter as a “beautiful, happy, friendly, caring, fun-loving” girl.

“She enjoyed life — always smiling, she loved life, everyone loved her. She brought joy to my heart. She was my pride and joy. I will always be so proud of her,” he said.

"When I look at some of her clothes and toys in her bedroom, it breaks my heart. I miss the sound of her sweet little voice, her laugh, her smile, her beautiful blue eyes.

“It breaks my heart to visit her grave. All I have now are heavenly birthdays and memories. These beautiful memories can never be taken from me.”

He said his life without Santina was a “mental torture”.

“This is honestly the worst thing any parent can go through. I would not wish this on any family," he said.

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Michael Cawley pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Michael Cawley pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Michael Cawley pictured at the Central Criminal Court trial in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Both parents and Mr Justice MacGrath paid tribute to the meticulous Garda murder investigation, with comprehensive CCTV evidence proving crucial.

Senior Investigating Officer Det Inspector Danny Coholan said their ultimate goal was delivering justice for Santina.

He said gardaí were overwhelmed with support from the Cork community for their investigation.

"Justice for Santina was always the ultimate goal for the team since her murder on July 5, 2019," he said.

There were emotional scenes at the Angelsea Street courthouse in Cork as members of the families of both Karen Harrington and Santina Cawley reacted to the guilty verdict from the jury of seven men and four women.

Several members of the jury fought back tears as the guilty verdict was confirmed. Santina's father, Michael Cawley, and mother, Bridget O'Donoghue, attended multiple days of the trial, which opened on April 25.

Both were present in the court as the guilty verdict was returned.

The trial – which also sat on May 6, what would have been Santina's fifth birthday – featured more than 40 witnesses.

Jury members viewed extensive CCTV camera footage, video-recorded garda interviews with Harrington, as well as lengthy transcripts and detailed forensic evidence.

Harrington also gave sworn evidence in her own defence – insisting she had not hurt or harmed Santina.

However, she was unable to explain how the child suffered critical injuries as well as bruises to almost every part of her body.

Santina died from a traumatic brain injury and severe spinal injury after suffering a complex fracture to her skull as well as fractures to her leg, arm and ribs.

Medical evidence was submitted that the injuries involved were unrecoverable.

The prosecution said the evidence showed the defendant was alone in the apartment with the little girl from 3.10am to 5.11am – with Karen Harrington's DNA on a blood spatter found on Santina's pink T-shirt and Santina's DNA found on a blood spatter recovered from a pair of adult female leggings discovered in a back bedroom of the apartment.

Jury members deliberated on a verdict for an hour and fourteen minutes on Friday before resuming their deliberations today.

Mr Justice Michael McGrath had acknowledged that evidence in the trial over its 13 days at hearing had been both harrowing and very difficult to listen to.

Sean Gillane SC, for the State, argued that the evidence including forensics, CCTV footage and witness statements all clearly pointed to Karen Harrington.

Defence counsel, Brendan Grehan, said it was "an awful crime", "a harrowing case" with "horrible" details for the jury to hear.

However, Mr Grehan said the defendant was adamant she did not harm the child – but could not explain who did.

"The fact that she cannot explain what happened is not enough (for a conviction)," he argued.

"She says she does not know what happened. What she does say is she did not do this and she could not do this. Karen Harrington does not accept that she is responsible for inflicting these injuries."

Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork had denied the murder and insisted throughout her four-week trial that she did not hurt or harm the toddler.

In July 2019, she was involved in a sexual relationship with Michael Cawley, who was separated from his wife, Bridget, who was the mother of his five children.

His youngest child, Santina (2), was in his care.

The trial heard that Mr Cawley and Santina would often stay over at Karen Harrington's flat at No 26 Elderwood Park.

On July 4, Harrington was socialising and drinking with her friend and neighbour, Martina Higgins, by the Atlantic Pond, a short walk from the Elderwood complex.

The duo were drinking and also smoked some cannabis. Both later met up with Michael Cawley and Santina.

Alcohol was purchased and they all returned to the flat shared by Ms Higgins with her partner, Eric Okunala in Elderwood.

All except Mr Okunala proceeded to drink until a row erupted between Mr Cawley and the defendant shortly before 1.30am.

Harrington became very distressed and returned to her flat alone.

Mr Cawley later returned to her flat at 3am after having a row with Mr Okunala, who insisted the drinking party be brought to an end.

After placing Santina on a duvet, Mr Cawley left the apartment to walk into Cork city centre to look for a Limerick-based cousin.

Mr Cawley said Harrington had agreed to care for his daughter while he was gone.

The trial heard he trusted the defendant with his daughter – and thought there was a great relationship between the two.

However, when he returned at 5.11am he discovered Santina lying naked and blood-spattered with critical injuries.

Harrington fled the scene when challenged about precisely what had happened to the child.

She ran barefoot from the scene in the direction of Blackrock only to return accompanied by a friend within the hour.

Mr Cawley raised the alarm, screaming throughout the complex that his baby had been smothered.

The trial heard that gardaí called to the Elderwood complex three times in the space of two hours in the early hours of July 5 – the third and final time when Santina was discovered critically injured.

During evidence, numerous witnesses spoke of Harrington screaming and roaring both in her flat and outside her flat after 3am.

She was opening and slamming closed the sliding door of her apartment with such force that the door eventually came off its runners.

Her next door neighbour, Dylan Olney, said he was "creeped out" by her behaviour in the early hours of July 5.

Mr Olney rang the gardaí after becoming concerned at the sound of a child crying within the defendant's apartment.

He told the trial he heard what sounded like a child being taunted and mocked – with the child's crying becoming steadily louder.

Mr Olney said he was concerned at what was going on and decided to contact gardaí.

However, when officers called to No 26 accompanied by Mr Olney shortly after 4.52am, there was total silence from within the flat.

After being unable to get any response from someone within the flat, gardaí departed – only to be called back to the flat just 15 minutes later when Mr Cawley returned to discover his child lying naked and critically injured on the duvet.

Gardaí and paramedics battled to stabilise Santina's condition at the scene.

The child was rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH), where she was pronounced dead three hours later.


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