Woman accused of girl’s murder told gardaí she was left alone with her

Karen Harrington denies murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley in Cork in 2019

A woman accused of the murder of a two-year-old girl told gardaí she was alone with her on the night she died after the child’s father went out looking for his phone, a court has heard.

Karen Harrington (38)

of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork has denied the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, Cork on July 5th, 2019.

Yesterday , the eighth day of the trial at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork, prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC led Insp David Callaghan through the memos of Garda interviews with Ms Harrington following her arrest on July 8th.


She told interviewing gardaí she had met Santina's father Michael Cawley in December 2018 and they started seeing each other. "We grew close and I was just getting to know him," she said in one interview.

Ms Harrington was asked in interview who was in the apartment where Santina was found unresponsive by her father and she replied that the only people there were the three of them.

The jury has already heard evidence that Mr Cawley left the apartment after 3am to first look for his mobile phone and then walk into Cork city centre to try and find his cousin. The jury was shown CCTV footage of him walking from Elderwood to the city centre and back.

Ms Harrington was asked by detectives who was in the apartment after a neighbour, Aoife Niamh McGaley, called to her door to check on her some time before 3.27am and Ms Harrington replied that she was the only one in the apartment with Santina.

In another of the interviews, Ms Harrington told gardaí she had been drinking with her friend Martina Higgins in her apartment at Elderwood Drive and that they had been joined by Mr Cawley and Santina.

Last memory

She told gardaí that she started to feel sick so she left alone. When she got home, she fell asleep only to be awoken when Mr Cawley came back with Santina at 3am.

The had an argument and Mr Cawley left to go Ms Higgins’s apartment to look for his phone.

She said Santina became upset after her father left. “She was roaring crying … she was in my arms, she was in hysterics, I tried to calm her, she was roasting, I took off her top, that was my last memory of her.”

Ms Harrington told gardaí she was awoken by Mr Cawley sometime after 5am when he returned to find Santina unresponsive.

She said Mr Cawley handed Santina to her and she saw that her face was pale and her body was lifeless and she handed the child back to him.

She told gardaí that Mr Cawley was shouting “Karen, what have you done to my child ?” at her.

She said she panicked and ran out of the apartment and went to Ms Higgins’ apartment but got no response. She then met another friend, Yvonne Walsh in Blackrock who comforted her when she told her that something had happened to Santina.

Earlier, Sgt Michelle O’Leary told the Central Criminal Court she asked Karen Harrington what had happened to Santina after Ms Harrington had come to the Bridewell Garda station in a voluntary capacity on the morning of July 5th, 2019.

Sgt O’Leary said Ms Harrington told her she had been drinking with Ms Higgins at Elderwood Drive when Mr Cawley arrived with Santina. The child was wearing a pink top and pants and was in good form, she said.

Ms Harrington said she returned to her own apartment at Elderwood Park and fell asleep on the couch. She was woken by Mr Cawley returning with Santina whom he put on a blanket on the floor, she said.

Sgt O’Leary said Ms Harrington told her that she and Mr Cawley had an argument over small stuff “what she described as couple’s stuff”. Ms Harrington said that Mr Cawley left and she thought he was going back to Ms Higgins’ apartment.

“She said she fell asleep and the next thing she recalled was Michael Cawley shouting at her ‘Karen – what happened my child,’” said Sgt O’Leary. She said that Ms Harrington told her Mr Cawley had put Santina in her arms but she handed her back to him and left to go to Ms Higgins’ apartment.

Earlier, Sgt O’Leary told how she was at the Elderwood complex when Ms Harrington arrived with Ms Walsh and was identified to her by neighbour Dylan Olney as the occupant of the flat where Santina had been found unresponsive by Mr Cawley.

Very emotional

“I would describe her (Ms Harrington) as hungover – there was a smell of alcohol from her breath but she was not intoxicated,” said Sgt O’Leary. She said that tensions were high as Mr Cawley was also present and very emotional so she asked Ms Harrington to accompany her to the Bridewell.

Sgt O’Leary said she told Ms Harrington she was requesting her to come with her in a voluntary capacity and she was free to decline to do so or to leave at any time and when they arrived at the Bridewell, she again cautioned her that anything that she said might be used as evidence against her.

Earlier, Sgt Mark Leonard told how he and his colleague Garda David Tobin had been called three times to the Elderwood complex after receiving complaints of noise and on arriving on the third occasion just before 5.20am, they met Mr Olney who brought them to the apartment.

Sgt Leonard said as he approached Ms Harrington's duplex apartment at 5.23am, he heard a man shouting. As he entered, he announced that he was a member of An Garda Síochána before spotting Santina lying on the floor.

“There was a young girl lying on a duvet. She was motionless and naked. She was pale, blue in colour and appeared not to be breathing,” said Sgt Leonard, adding that he noticed a man, whom he later learned was Mr Cawley, in a distressed state in the kitchen.

“He was crying and screaming – I asked him what had happened – he said: ‘She killed my baby’

“I asked him who ‘she’ was and he kept repeating ‘she killed my baby’ but eventually Michael Cawley told me ‘she’ was Karen Harrington.”


Earlier, Sgt Brian Maher gave evidence of arriving at the scene on Boreenmanna Road, Cork, on the morning in question where he encountered a number of colleagues talking to Mr Cawley. He said that Mr Cawley was agitated and extremely distraught and emotional.

“Inspector (Noel) Madden tasked to speak to Mr Cawley. He was down the road from the scene, outside the Maxol shop on Boreenmanna Road,” he said.

“ He was extremely distraught. He had a smell of intoxicating liquor but he was not intoxicated. He was enquiring about Santina – did I know if his daughter was dead or alive at the time. I asked him to accompany me to Anglesea Street Garda station to give me an account. He was emotional. He refused my request to go.

“On numerous occasions he asked was she dead or alive. I asked him to come with me. He did not want to. He wanted to go to hospital. He wanted to walk to the hospital. I asked would it be okay for me to accompany him. We walked to CUH together.”

Sgt Maher said that during the 7kms walk to CUH, he continued to speak to Mr Cawley. “On numerous occasions he wanted to know was she alive or dead. I was trying to support him as best I could. He was extremely emotional.

“When we arrived in the hospital, I identified ourselves as a member of An Garda Síochána and as Michael Cawley – father of Santina Cawley. During our time in the hospital, he had been crying and extremely upset.”

Santina was pronounced dead at 9.20am. “I was present when Mr Cawley was informed of this. It was an emotional time for Mr Cawley and for everyone involved, including hospital staff,” Sgt. Maher said.

Earlier, Mr Cawley asked Sgt Maher to inform his ex-wife Bridget O’Donoghue and his father that Santina was being brought to the hospital . However, Ms O’Donoghue had already been notified and was already at the hospital, he said.

Later, Sgt Maher and Det Garda Bryan Murphy accompanied Mr Cawley to his apartment at Leeside apartments on Grattan Street as they needed to obtain the clothes he was wearing for forensic analysis.

Sgt Maher recalled that on entering his Leeside apartment, Mr Cawley became very emotional. “On seeing his daughter’s toys in the apartment, he broke down again,” he said.

The case continues.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times