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Santina Cawley's father receives suspended sentence for assaulting ex-partner found guilty of her murder

The offence occurred eighteen months after the toddler was found with catastrophic injuries at Elderwood Park in Cork.

THE FATHER OF two-year-old Santina Cawley who was murdered at an apartment in Cork city has been given a ten-month suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to assaulting and causing harm to his former partner who was jailed last month after she was found guilty of killing the toddler.

Michael Cawley, of Leeside Apartments in Bachelors Quay in Cork city, appeared before Cork District Court today in connection with a charge of assault causing harm to 37-year-old Karen Harrington on 26 January 2021.

The offence occurred eighteen months after Santina was found with catastrophic injuries at Elderwood Park in Boreenmanna Road in Cork.

The toddler was rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital where she died on the morning of the 5 July, 2019.

Sgt Pat Lyons told Cork District Court today that 37-year-old Michael Cawley had spotted Harrington boarding a bus at Merchant’s Quay in Cork city in January 2021.

He went on board the bus and threw his former partner to the ground before going on to kick her a number of times in the chest and the stomach.

Lyons said the attack was caught on CCTV. Harrington sustained soft tissue injuries to her chest arising out of the incident.

Following the assault, Cawley presented at the Bridewell Garda Station in Cork city where he told officers of what had occurred. He made himself available to gardaí and co-operated fully with the probe into the incident.

Lyons said that the defendant had four previous convictions for assault causing harm dating back to 2004 in Co Clare for which he received two concurrent three-year sentences. Cawley also had a conviction for possession of a weapon and a conviction for breaching a court order in 2018.

Defence solicitor Frank Buttimer said that his client fully accepted responsibility for the assault on Harrington.

Buttimer noted the seriousness of the offence and stated that he wasn’t seeking to undermine same. However, he said it was important to give the court some context in the case.

He said that Cawley had been in a relationship with Harrington which ended in July 2019 when his daughter was murdered.

Buttimer said that at the time the offence occurred, Harrington was out on bail charged with the murder of his client’s two year old daughter Santina. She has since been convicted of the murder of the toddler.

“The injured party in this case was out on bail at the time of this incident – the proceedings against her were scheduled to go ahead around this time but had to be adjourned due to Covid-19 when my client had an entirely random encounter with her on Merchant’s Quay,” said Buttimer.

“My client saw the injured party get on a bus, he got on, approached her and the incident happened as described – he assaulted her in a momentary loss of composure and reason, and it was as described, lasting approximately ten to 15 seconds,” he added.

Buttimer emphasised that his client immediately went to the garda station after he assaulted Harrington.

He said that his client was under enormous strain at the time having not only lost his child but being aware of also having to attend a murder trial where he knew he would have to give evidence. He stated that Cawley couldn’t understand why Harrington had entered a not guilty plea in the case.

“There may be some degree of understanding as to why he did, what he did.”
He accepts that the loss of reason and that he should have trusted the legal process rather than take the law into his own hands,” said Buttimer.

He stated that Cawley was currently under the care of both a counsellor and a consultant psychiatrist.

Lyons told Judge Olann Kelleher that the State was submitting a victim impact statement on behalf of Harrington.

However, he said that the statement strayed well beyond the scope of the assault and he was not sure of its relevance.

Buttimer told the court that he had very strong concerns about Harrington’s victim impact statement given that it strayed from the point of such a statement.

Judge Kelleher said that the purpose of a victim impact statement was to detail the impact of a crime on a person. However, having read the statement, he found that Harrington had elaborated on matters that were not relevant to the case.

“There are matters in Ms Harrington’s victim impact statement that are not relevant to this case – I can’t take them into account, and I won’t take them into account,” said Judge Kelleher.

He noted the guilty plea in the case, which spared Harrington the trauma of having to testify.

However, he said it was clear from Cawley’s previous convictions that he was a person with a history of violence and that concerned him.

“This is a very serious charge – he attacked a woman on the bus, knocked her to the ground and kicked her repeatedly – given his history, he is obviously a very violent man … I accept his guilty plea but he cannot take the law into his own hands and he must pay the consequences for that.”

Judge Kelleher said he had to mark the seriousness of the charge with a prison sentence.

He sentenced Cawley to ten months in jail, but he suspended the sentence in its entirety on condition that he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of two years.

Meanwhile, Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon in Cork was jailed for life last month after a jury unanimously convicted her of the murder of Santina Cawley following a trial at the Central Criminal Court sitting in the city. The jury took under five hours to reach their verdict.

Harrington had vehemently denied any responsibility in relation to the death of the youngster. She gave direct evidence during the course of the trial in which she told the jury that she did not murder Santina.

Michael Cawley, in a victim impact statement delivered via a family liaison officer, said that his beloved daughter was a “beautiful, happy, friendly, caring, fun loving” girl.

“She enjoyed life — always smiling, she loved life, everyone loved her. She brought joy to my heart. She was my pride and joy. I will always be so proud of her.”

Olivia Kelleher