Cavan childminder denies shaking baby in her care

Sandra Higgins accused of intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm

A childminder on trial for assaulting a 10-month-old baby told gardaí the baby was not shaken in her care.

Sandra Higgins (34) also said that she cared for the baby girl like she was one of her own children.

Ms Higgins of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, County Cavan has pleaded not guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby at her home on March 28th, 2012.

On day two of the trial, Detective Garda Linda Harkin told Sean Gillane SC prosecuting, that Ms Higgins was arrested and interviewed on April 13th, 2012.

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The registered childminder told gardaí she was born in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh but had moved to Cavan and gone on to study practical child care in Dublin.

She started minding the baby from June 2011 and said that she treated her “like one of my own”. She said she had a good relationship with the mother.

She said the child’s first walk was on February 27th and after this there were a number of falls and bumps.

She said that in March the baby was sick and was running a temperature and was sleeping a lot. On the date of the alleged assault the baby was better than the day before but was very quiet.

She said that morning they played for a while and the infant had a nap. She had a sleep in the afternoon too and then Ms Higgins said she woke her and placed her down on the floor in the playroom.

She told gardaí: “Her cheeks were flushed on waking. She went very quiet. She sat like she was in a trance. She sat looking at me.

“She went forward and back. She fell forward herself. She went on to her side and I remember she went on to her tummy. I remember her arms were stiff. Her whole body was jerking.

“She was jerking all over the floor. I remember pushing toys out of the way. She started to get sick.”

She said her body was going cold and limp. She drove the infant to Cavan General Hospital.

Asked about previous bumps and bruises the infant had received while in her care Ms Higgins told gardaí: “I didn’t assault [her]. She had falls. She had a seizure. She was never assaulted.”

“I cared for [her] like I cared for my own children”.

She admitted that she only filled out an incident report form in relation to a number of falls during March after the infant was hospitalised. She said she did this after a social worker advised her to sit down and go over the previous weeks and record “anything else that came into my head”.

She admitted that she had failed to keep some records properly but denied she was creating records for a cover-up. She also denied making additions to the child-minding diary.

Ms Higgins’ mother Joyce Higgins told Mr Gillane she had called to her daughter’s home on March 28th. She said the child was flushed and red in the face and very quiet.

She said she noticed bruising at the centre of the infant’s forehead which looked in colour like an old bruise.

The jury were shown garda photographs of bruises to the infant’s head and body while consultant paediatrician Dr Alan Finan described these to the court.

Mr Gillane told the jury that the images were not pleasant but it was agreed that they were necessary.

Dr Finan said the child had “extensive bruising all over her body”.

The child’s uncle, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, told the trial that he was living with his sister in the child’s family home in 2012. He said in February 2012 there were concerns about the childminding situation.

He told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, that in February she received a noticeable bump on her head at the childminders. He said she got a black eye about a month before she was hospitalised on March 28th, a bump on her head about two weeks later, and a week later she got a mark down the back of her legs.

He said he saw all these injuries himself and they were there after her return from being minded.

On the morning of the incident he said the child was bright and bubbly as usual. He said that later that day his sister rang him to say the child had become very sick and was in hospital. She said his sister sounded very flustered.

The day after the baby was hospitalised he was at home when Ms Higgins called. He spoke to her at the front door and she wanted to know how the child was.

“She was very insistent on what exactly was wrong. She was asking specific questions about the doctor’s examinations and that. Information I wouldn’t have and wouldn’t have given to her even if I had. I basically said I didn’t know and I thought she was improving.” he said.

He agreed with Remy Farrell SC, defending, that he gave her a “cool reception”. He said the following day his sister asked him to pick up the childminding diary from Ms Higgins. His brother-in-law drove him to the house and he met Ms Higgins and asked her for the baby bag and the diary.

He said she gave him the baby bag and a bag of clothes and a car seat. She said the notebook was in the baby bag and he emptied the bag onto the floor just inside the door.

He said there was no notebook. He said the accused was then trying to get him out the door and told him it must be in the clothes bag.

He denied a suggestion from defence counsel that emptying the bag was “somewhat aggressive”. He said he left and went home and searched in vain for the diary before going back to Ms Higgins and telling her the diary could not be found. She said she did not know where else it would be.

He said he travelled back to the hospital and in the meantime Ms Higgins had sent his sister a text to say she had found the diary and had dropped it into the family home.

In other evidence, two members of staff from Cavan Childcare Committee said they met the accused on the morning of March 28th and she had two children in a double buggy. One of these was the infant in question. Both witnesses said the infant seemed fine.

Social worker Kay McLoughlin told the trial she received a notification from the hospital over a concern that the injuries to the baby might be non-accidental. She went to the hospital on March 29th and met the parents.

She said they co-operated with her. “They were very anxious that the gardaí become involved,” she told the court.

The following day she met the accused and interviewed her.

Ms Higgins stated that the baby “seemed fine” when dropped off by her mother that morning. Ms McLoughlin met the accused again on April 4th and made inquires about her training and first aid training.

The trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court is set to run for six days before Judge Patricia Ryan and a jury of eight men and four women. There is a court order prohibiting publication of the child's name.