‘Please say something, please’: Father of Santina Cawley (2) tells court of finding toddler unresponsive

Karen Harrington (38) denies the murder of toddler in her apartment in Cork city

Michael Cawley, father of 2-year-old Santina at Cork Court Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The father of a two-year-old toddler, found with serious injuries in the home of a woman accused of murdering the child, has told how he returned in the early hours to find his daughter unresponsive under a blanket on a sofa.

Michael Cawley (37) told how he came back to Karen Harrington's duplex apartment at Elderwood in Cork shortly after 5am to find the place in disarray and his daughter, Santina, lying naked and unresponsive on a sofa.

Mr Cawley was giving evidence on the third day of the trial of Ms Harrington (38) of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork who has denied the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5th, 2019.

Mr Cawley told the jury of seven men and five women: “I could see kitchen chairs on the floor. I could see blood on the floor near the sink. I could see broken glass on the ground. I could see Karen on the couch lying down.


“I could see the blanket where Santina was put. The blanket was over her. She was under the blanket in the same spot. I said to Karen, ‘What is going on?’ I pulled the blanket off her. Santina was naked – no clothes on her.

“She was wearing clothes when I left. Santina did not look right in the face. One of her eyes was half-closed, like a blink, the other eye opened. There was a bruise on the left side of her forehead.

“I checked her pulse. She was warm. I tried to speak to her. I was down on my knees – ‘Santina, please, Santina, please say something please’ but she wasn’t responding.”

Folded blanket

Mr Cawley had earlier testified he had left Santina down on a folded blanket beside Ms Harrington who was lying on a couch when he decided to walk into Cork city to try to find his cousin who had come down from Limerick.

He confirmed that he and Ms Harrington had been in a relationship at the time and that he and his daughter, Santina, used to stay over at Ms Harrington’s place. “She [Santina] got on great with her [Ms Harrington],” he said.

He told how he met Ms Harrington’s next-door neighbour when he came back to Elderwood after 5am and the neighbour came out to him and told him he had heard Ms Harrington screaming and the baby crying.

“He [the neighbour] said “Karen is gone mad, screaming at your baby. Is that your baby?’” said Mr Cawley, adding that he wasn’t alarmed at that stage as he thought Santina might be crying because she needed food or a nappy change.

He said that when he went into the apartment and saw the scene there, he asked Ms Harrington “What is going on with my baby?” but Ms Harrington ran down the stairs and exited the apartment by a lower door.

He said that later when gardai and ambulance paramedics arrived at the scene he saw Ms Harrington with another woman and he went over to her and asked her if it was Santina’s blood that was in the kitchen.

He said that Ms Harrington said the blood did not belong to Santina but was from her own foot and the woman, who was with Ms Harrington, told him that “Karen wouldn’t touch a fly.”


Cross examined by defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, Mr Cawley agreed he had been drinking earlier that night at the apartment of Ms Harrington's friend, Martina Higgins and he accepted he and Ms Harrington had a row.

Initially, Mr Cawley said he didn’t know why Ms Harrington left early but he later accepted she had gone home angry after they had a row when he called her “a hoor and a prostitute” and accused her of fraternising with other men.

Mr Grehan said: "The trouble started at the party when you got a call to say your cousin was coming from Limerick and you wanted to bring him to Karen's apartment in Elderwood to stay the night?".

Mr Cawley denied this and said Ms Harrington would have been aware from much earlier in the day that his cousin was coming from Limerick and needed somewhere to stay but she did not have a problem with that.

Mr Grehan put it to Mr Cawley: “You said she meets Blacks and Pakis in the casino and says ‘Hiya, Hiya” to them …. You told her to go back to her foreigners and you called her a hoor and a prostitute?”

Mr Cawley said that he had no recollection of saying that on the night to Ms Harrington but he agreed with Mr Grehan that Ms Harrington did not want to be with him when she left the party at around 1.25am.


Mr Grehan also put it to Mr Cawley that he was expressing frustration to Ms Higgins about having to care for Santina and he had asked Ms Higgins to ring her mother to see if she would foster Santina as he knew she fostered children.

“It was a privilege to look after Santina and I always wanted her in my life,” said Mr Cawley, who denied that he asked Ms Higgins to ring her mother and that he was getting frustrated because Santina was “whinging and crying”.

“No, I did not want her (Ms Higgins’ mother) to foster Santina,” said Mr Cawley who also denied saying that he wanted to give Santina back to her mother, his ex-wife, Bridget O’Donoghue from whom he separated in 2018.

Mr Cawley accepted that at one point in the night, he challenged Ms Higgins' boyfriend, Eric Okunula to a fight but it had nothing to do with Mr Okanula threatening to call the guards because he was loud and would not leave.

He said he took offence when Mr Okunula threw Ms Higgins’ drink out of her glass as he felt it was disrespectful and he wondered if he would have behaved in such a fashion towards a man so he challenged over his behaviour.

He admitted taking off his shirt to engage Mr Okunula in a bare-knuckle fight but he denied calling Mr Okunula “a rat” for saying he was going to call the guards and he told him not to bother as he was going and he left with Santina.

Mr Cawley said that he had earlier asked Ms Higgins if they could stay at her apartment that night as Santina was asleep on the couch and he didn’t want to wake her and he thought they might both spend the night there.

He said that he didn’t want to bring Santina back to Leeside Apartments where he lived because he had been drinking and couldn’t drive and was too far to walk with Santina so he decided to bring her to Ms Harrington’s apartment.

“I thought it would be easier to stay at Karen Harrington’s,” said Mr Cawley, adding that he believed that he both carried Santina on his chest and in a buggy back to Ms Harrington’s apartment in the complex. The case continues.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times