Friday 15 November 2019

Trial of child-minder charged with causing serious harm to baby hears infant was 'fine' when brought to her home

Sandra Higgins (36) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan, at court on Monday (Picture:
Sandra Higgins (36) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan, at court on Monday (Picture: Courtpix)

Sarah Jane Murphy

A professionally trained child-minder has gone on trial charged with causing serious harm to a ten-month-old baby.

The child's mother told the trial of Sandra Higgins (36) that her daughter was "fine" on the morning of March 28, 2012 when she brought her to the defendant's home.

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 at her home on March 28, 2012.

Alice Fawsitt SC, prosecuting, told the jury they would hear evidence that when Ms Higgins presented the child at Cavan General Hospital the baby was suffering seizures and had extensive bruising around the face and head.

Opening the State's case, Ms Fawsitt SC said that a medical expert would say that "shaken baby syndrome" was the most likely cause of these seizures and retinal haemorrhaging and a detached retina.

She said they would hear evidence that these injuries could not have occurred accidentally.

The child's mother told Ms Fawsitt that she travelled to the hospital after receiving a call from Ms Higgins, telling her that the baby had suffered a seizure.

“Sandra told me that my daughter was sitting down on the floor playing when she vomited and had a seizure,” the mother said.

Dr Alan Finan, a consultant paediatrician at Cavan General Hospital, told the court that two of his colleagues briefed him as to the child's condition on admission.

"She was unconscious, actively seizing, her limbs were jerking, she was pale and not responding as a normal 10-month-old would. She was not responsive and had no interest in her surroundings," he said. He said that the child was given oxygen and medicine for convulsions.

Dr Finan described what he termed "extensive bruising" to the child's face and head, on both sides of her forehead, and a significant underlying swelling on her hairline.

He also referred to bruising in her groin area and left buttock and described multiple small 'fingertip' bruises on her back.

He said it was his “conclusive view” the injuries happened on the day the child was hospitalised. He said this was the only credible explanation.

However, defence counsel Remy Farrell told the court that in the doctor's initial report, dated April 2, he stated that “precise dating of [the] injuries is not possible at this time”. In the report he said this dating could be made upon further evaluation.

The baby's mother said Ms Higgins kept a diary each day which was handed over during the Garda investigation. She testified that she believed some of the entries about injuries and illness had been changed or added after the 28th of March.

Mr Farrell put it to her that the notebook had been forensically examined and there was no evidence that entries had been made after the fact.

The trial continues before Judge Martin Nolan and a jury of six men and six women. There is a court order prohibiting publication of anything that would identify the child.

Additional Evidence

Giving evidence, the mother said that when she arrived at the hospital her child was unconscious. She noticed the baby had a swelling between her eyebrows and asked the accused what had happened.

An investigation was launched and as part of this the mother told gardaí that she was concerned that some of the entries in a child-minding diary kept by Ms Higgins had been changed or added.

The court heard that in early 2012 there were incidents of the child having bumps and bruises.

The mother recalled that on March 5 she noticed her daughter had a black eye and asked Ms. Higgins about it. The defendant said that the child had hit her head off the leg of the table, the witness testified.

A few days later the mother said she noticed that the bruise seemed to have "grown in size" and again asked Ms Higgins about it. She said the defendant told her that the child had fallen for a second time.

The mother said she was becoming increasingly concerned at this stage and discussed the matter with her husband and with her friend.

She testified that on a number of occasions Ms Higgins had recorded that the child had vomited after eating her tea.

"I began to wonder if maybe my daughter had vomited from the upset of falling," she said.

She began to make enquiries regarding other child-minders in the area and informed the defendant that she would be having her daughter minded by relatives.

The mother told the court that an entry about the child bumping her head on March 22 wasn't there before.

References to the child vomiting on three dates in March and to falling over on toys on March 6 were not in the diary before the date of hospitalisation, the mother testified.

Under cross examination she agreed with Remy Farrell SC, defending, that she didn't read all the entries in the diary every day and that she had not noticed other entries about bumps.

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