Santina Cawley murder trial: Witness says he heard accused taunting child

Karen Harrington has denied the murder of toddler at Elderwood Park in Cork

A witness said he heard a woman charged with the murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley taunting a child in a sarcastic voice just hours before the toddler was found unresponsive in her apartment .

Dylan Olney told the trial of Karen Harrington how he heard Ms Harrington, who lived in the apartment next to him at Elderwood Park in Cork, taunting a child who was crying in the early hours of the morning of July 5th, 2019.

“I heard a child crying, coming from next door, Number 26. That concerned me. It was not a crazy, painful crying. I did not think a child should be crying in that kind of situation. I could hear voices. I could hear taunting – ‘Poor baby, are you alright?’ It was not very nice.”

“It was getting worse as it went on and that’s not how to comfort a child, taunting her ‘poor baby’ – it was kind of sarcastic and then she was saying ‘Shut up’,” said Mr Olney adding that he reckoned that the taunting went on for between 15 and 20 minutes.


Mr Olney was giving evidence on the fifth day of the trial of Ms Harrington from Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork. She has denied the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5th, 2019.

Earlier, Mr Olney told the jury at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork that he had heard a commotion at 2am on July 5th, 2019, and footsteps on the timber gangway outside the upper floor of his duplex apartment in the complex.

“The next thing I heard was an almighty commotion – things getting broken and thrown around the place from next door, Karen Harrington’s apartment. A commotion like someone throwing a fit or a tantrum, throwing stuff around.

“I heard repetitive banging, repetitive thumping. I went out to investigate. It was a person banging open and closed the sliding door. It was Ms Harrington doing the smashing open and closing of her door. I said, ‘Listen, you f**king dingbat, you better stop that or I will call the guards.’

“I went into my own place. There was not much after that. She said, ‘Go ahead, call them.’ I could hear her say, ‘Call them, call them’. Mysteriously, she appeared in the garden down below, saying, “Dylan, call ’em’,” he said.

Mr Olney said that he was “creeped out” by Ms Harrington’s behaviour as “she was acting weird, she was acting crazy” and when she later knocked at his door, looking for a cigarette lighter, he refused to give her one and told her wanted nothing to do with her.


Cross-examined by defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, Mr Olney disagreed that Ms Harrington was practically asleep from 4am to 5am at the time he said he heard her taunting Santina and that the taunting had never happened but Mr Olney said he had no doubt about what he heard.

“She was like someone possessed – it was creepy, the way she was going on, banging the door and then, saying ‘Call them, call them,” said Mr Olney, adding that when he heard the child crying, he became concerned and immediately contacted Anglesea Street Garda station.

Mr Olney told Mr Grehan SC that he could not be sure that he mentioned that he had concerns about a child when he rang Anglesea Street Garda station at around 4.31am but it had gone all quiet and was “dead silent” when the gardaí arrived some 20 minutes later.

He said that one of the gardaí asked him what they were looking at and he replied ‘murder” but when the gardaí called up to Ms Harrington’s apartment, they got no response, despite knocking repeatedly and they left, explaining they could not enter the apartment without a warrant.

He said that gardaí told him to contact them again if there was any further disturbance and he told how some minutes after the gardaí left, he heard a man walk along the upper gangway and he recognised him as Michael Cawley who was in a relationship with Ms Harrington.

He asked Mr Cawley “what the hell was up” and said there was a huge commotion coming from the house but Mr Cawley went into Ms Harrington’s flat only to emerge less than a minute later, asking him to call an ambulance and crying “My Baby is dead, my baby’s dead.”

Mr Cawley was calm at first then but then he appeared shocked and he was inconsolable, said Mr Olney as he told how he saw Ms Harrington leave her apartment just minutes later wearing the same flowery pyjamas that she had been wearing earlier in the evening when he met her. The case continues.

Earlier a neighbour of Ms Harrington told how she heard her screaming to call gardaí and she would tell them everything on the night the toddler sustained fatal injuries.

Aoife Niamh McGaley said she knew Karen Harrington since she was a teenager. Ms McGaley said she was living in the Elderwood apartment block on the Boreenamanna Road when she heard her neighbour Ms Harrington shouting in the early hours of July 5th 2019.

“Around 3amish, I heard arguing – it sounded like arguing between a man and a woman, voices were kind of muffled – a bit after that, I heard Karen screaming, ‘I’m going to tell them’ and I heard glass smash.

“She was screaming at some guy, Dylan and some guy, Colm, she was screaming at them to get the guards, she was going to tell them everything . . . she was saying ‘I’m going to tell them all’,” Ms McGaley told the fifth day of Ms Harrington’s trial.

Ms McGaley also told the jury that when she heard arguing between what sounded like a woman and a man at around 3am that she initially thought it was coming from another apartment in the block, but then she recognised Ms Harrington as one of the participants.

She said she also heard the sound of breaking glass – like a window smashing rather than a glass breaking – so she went down the corridor to Ms Harrington’s duplex apartment and began banging on the door to see if everything was alright but she got no answer.


She said she looked in and saw what looked like the shadow of a person standing in the kitchen but she couldn’t see them clearly and she was shouting to Ms Harrington because she was “genuinely concerned” for her but she still was getting no answer.

She raced down to the main door to the apartment on the lower level and she could hear that someone was very upset inside the apartment so she started kicking the door to try and get someone to open up, she told the court.

“I could hear someone who was very upset - it sounded like it was Karen who was upset and was sobbing and Karen came out to the door and said from inside the door ‘Is it the guards’ and I told her it was me and she opened the door.

“She looked very distressed and very upset - she was wearing a pyjama bottom with flowers and a string vest top - she was quieter in herself and she kept apologising - she said ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to be shouting and causing trouble, I’m going to bed now’,”

She noticed a mark on the side of Ms Harrington's face and some of her hair had been ripped out as if somebody had grabbed her hair and pulled out clumps, said Mc McGaley, adding that she noticed that a Betty Boop statue that Ms Harrington loved had been smashed just inside the door.

“I got the impression she was scared of something ….. I got this uneasy feeling for her . . . I was not happy about the situation at all. I went back to my apartment and I heard her arguing with someone with a very deep voice – it was a male unless it was a woman with a very deep voice.”

Ms McGaley told how, at around at 3.42am, Ms Harrington rang her and asked for a lighter but she told her she did not have a lighter whereupon Ms Harrington said ‘No bother, girl’.The case continues before the jury and Mr Justice Michael MacGrath.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times