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Monday 20 November 2017

No charges for dead boy's mother

Undated family handout photo of 20 month old Liam Gonzales Bennett
Undated family handout photo of 20 month old Liam Gonzales Bennett

Michael McHugh, Press Association

PROSECUTORS in Northern Ireland have decided not to pursue the mother of a toddler who died after he was beaten about the head.

Liam Gonzalez Bennett, from Ballymena, Co Antrim, was 20 months old when he died on February 8 2009. He had suffered 31 bruises to his head which pathologists said could have been caused by a clenched fist.

Even though the boy's mother, Samantha Bennett, and her former fiance, Noel McKeown, were questioned by detectives who had launched a murder investigation, no charges were brought. The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said the decision not to prosecute should stand.

Marianne O'Kane, a regional prosecutor at the PPS, said: "While it is clear that baby Liam's death was as a result of non-accidental injury, the evidence available is not sufficient to establish the identity of the person or persons responsible for causing that injury."

The coroner at the baby's inquest had requested that the Director of Public Prosecutions look at the matter again and said it was disturbing that no one had been made amenable.

Ms O'Kane said: "This review, carried out in line with the code for prosecutors, has concluded that the original decision not to prosecute either or both of the persons reported should stand.

Samantha Bennett following the inquest, held at Belfast Coroner's Court, into the death of her son Liam Gonzales Bennett
Samantha Bennett following the inquest, held at Belfast Coroner's Court, into the death of her son Liam Gonzales Bennett
Samantha Bennett following the inquest, held at Belfast Coroner's Court, into the death of her son Liam Gonzales Bennett
Samantha Bennett following the inquest, held at Belfast Coroner's Court, into the death of her son Liam Gonzales Bennett
Samantha Bennett following the inquest, held at Belfast Coroner's Court, into the death of her son Liam Gonzales Bennett
Samantha Bennett listens to her Solicitor Erni Waterworth (right) making a statement to the media following the inquest, held at Belfast Coroner's Court, into the death of her son Liam Gonzales Bennett

"There has been a thorough review of all the available evidence and information in this case, arising from both the police investigation into the death of baby Liam and following the conclusion of the inquest into the circumstances of his death."

She added: "I assure the public that every care has been taken in this case. We have worked closely with police and the evidence has been exhaustively examined and reviewed by senior lawyers within the PPS."

Giving evidence to an inquest at Belfast's Old Town Hall in 2013, Ms Bennett, a deputy retail manager, broke down in tears as she denied harming her son.

She sobbed and shook her head while answering "no" in response to a question from barrister Andrew Brown on whether she had inflicted the injuries on her son.

The court heard that Ms Bennett had bathed her two children and put Liam to bed first at around 6.30pm.

She had been trying to wean him off his dummy and noted that he had cried but settled after a short time. She said the toddler's bed time was normally later but he had been up early that morning and had an early afternoon nap.

Afterwards she read a story to her daughter and put her to bed.

Her ex-partner had returned home at about 6.30pm. He was using the family laptop when Ms Bennett left him alone with the children while she went to the shop for groceries and milk.

She was at a cash machine when a frantic phone call came through from Mr McKeown telling her that her son was not breathing.

Mr McKeown denied harming Liam and could not provide any reason why the toddler had such severe bruising to his head.

Asked by the coroner whether he had caused the boy's injuries, he replied: "No, I did not."

A reasonable prospect of conviction exists if, in relation to an identifiable individual, there is credible evidence which can prove beyond reasonable doubt the commission of a criminal offence by the individual who is prosecuted.

PPS prosecutors must also keep every case under review, to take into account additional evidence not known at the time of the initial decision and other changes in circumstances which occur as the case develops. If appropriate, the PPS may change the charges or stop a case.

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