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Jury to continue its deliberations in Cavan shaken baby case

Sandra Higgins has pleaded not guilty to causing serious harm to a young baby.

Sandra Higgins pictured today outside court.
Sandra Higgins pictured today outside court.
Image: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE JURY WILL continue its deliberations tomorrow in the trial of a childminder charged with assaulting a ten-month-old baby.

Registered childminder Sandra Higgins, 34, is alleged to have caused the injuries to the baby girl she was minding at her home.

Ms Higgins of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, Co Cavan has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby on 28 March 2012.

The trial heard evidence that the child was fine that morning and during the day. Around 5pm, Ms Higgins brought her to Cavan General Hospital where she presented with a brain bleed, detached retina and fractured ribs. She had seizures for over five days.

The prosecution alleges the baby’s symptoms were consistent with a violent shaking.

Doctors who treated the baby girl said it was highly likely that the injuries to the child happened while she was in the care of Ms Higgins and that the injuries were non-accidental.

Expert witnesses for the defence said the evidence was more suggestive of a head trauma and could have been the re-activation of an old injury.

On day six of the trial Judge Patricia Ryan told the jury that their verdict should not be based on sympathy for the child or her parents or for the accused. She said they must use their common sense when looking at the evidence in the case.

The trial

In his closing speech yesterday Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, told the jury that they should “stress test” the evidence of two expert defence witnesses. He said they were “hand in glove” sharing a fixed view about shaken-baby syndrome, which was contrary to all the medical literature.

He said that the evidence was that the child was a perfectly normal baby up to the time before the alleged assault.

“She was bubbly, she was babbly, she was playful. She was developing in every single respect you might expect,” counsel said.

He said the jury would have to ask themselves a simple question:

When did the child go from normal to abnormal and what does that mean to you?

Defence closing speech

Defence counsel Remy Farrell SC said that it is accepted that the injuries suffered by the child were non-accidental.

“The old injuries are wholly consistent with some trauma. It’s blindingly obvious whatever event occurred weeks before could have caused a subdural haemorrhage,” he said.

He told the jury that there was not a “screed of evidence” to support the “subtle implication” made by the prosecution that Ms Higgins had caused these older injuries such as finger tip bruises and fractured ribs.

He said that prosecution witness, consultant paediatrician Dr Christopher Hobbs, had said that a bruise on the baby’s ear was indicative of abuse. He said the child’s mother had very little to say about these bruises.

He said the jury should find it “downright odd” that Ms Higgins should have to explain these bruises when she was not the person to bathe the baby.

He said that nobody seemed to dispute that Ms Higgins was the one who advised the mother to bring the baby to the doctor when she was chesty. Counsel said:

Somebody who had physically abused a child, possibly fractured ribs, that person would recommend the child being brought to the doctors? It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

He said that two legs to the prosecution case were that the injury occurred on the day of the alleged offence and that the child was in the sole custody of Ms Higgins that day.

Mr Farrell said that the evidence was that the child was left with Ms Higgins’ mother for a time on the day.

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“They present this case on the basis of a process of elimination,” he said, adding that up to five people had access to and cared for the child.

He said the mother’s evidence about a child-minding diary being “doctored” was unreliable because she accepted in the witness box she had not read all the entries. Mr Gillane told the jury that entries were written into the diary after the child’s hospitalisation.

Different evidence

He told them to consider a diary entry about the child falling over on toys that he said was out of sequence with other entries that day. He asked was there “a lie” to Ms Higgins saying she couldn’t find the diary when it was initially sought by the baby’s uncle.

Mr Farrell said the State’s own witness Dr Hobbs testified that one could not time the injuries conclusively.

“His concession that you cannot time the injuries conclusively must be the end of the prosecution case,” Mr Farrell said.

Mr Gillane said UK-based neuropathologist Dr Waney Squire, who had told the trial that shaken-baby syndrome has no scientific validation, was a pathologist who did not treat sick children and was “the ultimate back seat driver” in clinical terms.

He said she had chosen a radiologist on the other side of the world, Dr Julie Mack, to review the baby’s scans because she knew they shared a view.

“This is extraordinary and the opposite of an open inquiring scientific mind,” he said.

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About the author:

Declan Brennan

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