‘Devastating injuries’: Santina Cawley (2) died in mother’s arms, murder trial hears

Accused Karen Harrington was never mean to any child, sister tells court

A two-year-old toddler suffered “devastating injuries” and died in the arms of her mother at Cork University Hospital less than four hours after she was found in the apartment of a woman charged with her murder, a trial has heard.

Santina Cawley was rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital after being found with serious injuries by her father Michael Cawley at the apartment of his partner, Karen Harrington, and she was treated by staff at Cork University Hospital who battled to save her life.

Consultant paediatrician Prof Deirdre Murray said in a statement read out at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork that Santina Cawley had sustained "devastating injuries" and died in the arms of her mother, Bridget O'Donoghue, at CUH at 9.20am on July 5th, 2019.

Prof Murray's statement was read to the jury of seven men and four women on the sixth day of the trial of Ms Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork who denies the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5th, 2019.


Earlier, Ms Harrington's younger sister, Michelle Harrington testified that in April 2019 when Santina suffered an injury to her femur it was Ms Harrington who accompanied Michael Cawley to hospital with the infant for her appointments.

Michelle Harrington told how she spoke to her sister late on the night of July 4th, 2019 and when they spoke again around noon the next day, she had seen news coverage in relation to what had happened at Elderwood Park so she asked her sister what had happened.

“She [Karen] could barely speak. She kept saying ‘Santina is dead’,” said Michelle Harrington, adding that her sister told her that she was asleep in her apartment when she heard a child crying and she woke up to find that Santina was dead.

Michelle Harrington said her sister told her the reason that child had no clothes on when she was found was because her top got wet earlier. Asked about blood at the scene, Karen Harrington told her sister that she cut her own foot during the evening.

Cross-examined by defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC, Michelle Harrington agreed with him when he said Ms Harrington was "clearly very upset" and the reason she was not able to throw any light on what happened was because she said she was asleep and only woke on hearing the child crying.

Michelle Harrington revealed that her older sister was just 15 when she assumed the role of parent for her and her younger sisters during a family crisis when they were growing up and she said it was not in her older sister’s nature to be mean to a child, and she was always good with children.

Another sister, Janice Harrington, told how she spoke to Karen Harrington a day or two later about what happened in her apartment, and she told her she did not know what happened and all she could remember was Michael Cawley with Santina in her arms and telling her she was dead.

“She said she took Santina in her arms for a few seconds and then handed her back to Michael and ran from the apartment,” said Janice Harrington, who had earlier revealed she spoke to her sister at about 3.35am on July 5th and she sounded as if she had just woken up or was about to go to sleep.

Another witness, Yvonne Walsh, told how she was up and sitting on the wall outside her house at Cherry Lawn in Blackrock having a cigarette at about 6am on the morning of July 5th when she saw Ms Harrington approaching.

“I thought I’d seen a ghost – I know Karen so well and the way she appeared at my home that morning, she was in shock – she was wearing leggings and a top (but) I didn’t take note of what she was wearing, I can’t say what colour. I saw her face and she was distraught.”

She asked what was wrong and Karen Harrington said she thought there was something wrong with Santina and she gave her a hug, and said she did not know what was after happening, said Ms Walsh, adding that they were not aware at that stage that Santina was dead.

“She said as far as she knew, the child was lain down on a blanket … she said she just got a shock because he [Michael Cawley] placed the baby into her arms and said ‘Karen – you smothered my child’– she said that the child was lifeless and her head was floppy,” said Ms Walsh.

Ms Walsh told how she drove Ms Harrington back to the Elderwood complex to see what had happened and there were gardaí and ambulance personnel about and Michael Cawley came over to her and asked Ms Harrington what she had done to Santina.

“He said ‘Karen – what have you done to my child?’ – there was this big growling man coming at us,” said Ms Walsh, adding she knew Ms Harrington from birth, and she was the only one, apart from her own mother, that she ever trusted to mind her own daughter. The case continues.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times