Saturday 18 November 2017

Trial of childminder accused of assaulting baby hears injuries similar to 'non-accidental injury'

Accusations: Sandra Higgins. Photo: Collins Courts
Accusations: Sandra Higgins. Photo: Collins Courts

Sarah Jane Murphy

A retired consultant paediatrician has told the trial of a childminder, accused of assaulting a baby, that it is his belief the child was the subject of a non-accidental injury that occurred on more than one occasion.

Professional childminder Sandra Higgins (36), is alleged to have caused the injuries to the 10-month-old baby she was minding at her own home by shaking the child.

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

On the fourth day of the trial, retired consultant paediatrician Dr Christopher Woods, who has worked extensively in the area of child protection and injury to children, said he was presented with the child's files and medical reports and asked to review the case.

“When I reviewed the material I could see there was a pattern here, a collection of findings, and I've seen such a pattern before in cases of non-accidental injury,” he told Alice Fawsitt SC, prosecuting.

Dr Woods referred to the fact that when Ms Higgins presented the child at Cavan General Hospital she was suffering from active seizures, had head injuries, a significant eye injury and bruises in various areas of her body.

“She had a superficial skin abrasions on her legs, fractures to her ribs, head injuries and a detached retina as well as hemorrhaging in the eye,” he said.

He told Ms Fawsitt that when such a combination of injuries occurred simultaneously it indicated a non-accidental injury.

During cross examination by Remy Farrell SC, defending, Dr Woods agreed there were advantages and disadvantages to the fact that he didn't examine the child personally.

“The main advantage is that I can look at things more objectively. The disadvantage is that you are reliant on the information you are provided with” he said.

Mr Farrelll asked if an accidental injury could cause the symptoms that the child exhibited in hospital on March 28.

“Theoritically yes, but it's very rare and there are little or no cases to back this up,” he said.

He explained that in cases like the one before the court, the gardai, medical professionals and child services work together.

“It's like a jigsaw,” he said.

Dr Woods agreed that pinpointing the time that the injuries were sustained proves difficult, as the multiple injuries make it complex.

The trial also heard evidence from Dr Peter Flynn, a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, who was called as a witness for the defence.

He told Mr Farrell that a CT scan carried out on March 28 on the child showed acute bleeding on the brain.

Dr Flynn also referenced the fact that an MRI showed that there was no damage to the spinal cord.

“Usually in cases of shaking, damage will be done to this area,” he said.

As regards the timing of the injuries, he said that it could be anytime between a few hours and 10 days. He also said that he saw evidence of older injuries, that could have been sustained two or three weeks previously.

Evidence has now concluded in the trial and closing speeches before Judge Martin Nolan will begin on Tuesday.

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