Cavan woman pleads not guilty to causing serious harm to 10-month old baby

CourtsBy Sunday World
Sandra Higgins
Sandra Higgins

A registered child-minder has gone on trial charged with causing serious harm to a ten-month-old baby.

On the first day of the trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court the infant's mother testified that her daughter was fine on the morning of March 28, 2012 when she dropped her to the home of Sandra Higgins (34).

Ms Higgins of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, County Cavan has pleaded not guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby at her home on March 28, 2012.

At around 4.30pm that day Ms Higgins had brought the infant to the A&E ward of Cavan General hospital.

Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, told the jury that they would hear evidence that the child was suffering active seizures and had extensive bruising around the face and both sides of the head.

Opening the State's case, Mr Gillane said that a medical expert will say that retinal haemorrhaging suffered by the infant was consistent with violent shaking injury which was not accidental.

The child's mother told the court that she went to the hospital after receiving a call from Ms Higgins from the hospital and told her the infant had had some kind of a fit or seizure.

“She said [the child] was fine all day. She had a sleep. She had her tea. She just sat down on the floor to play and vomited and had a seizure,” the witness said.

She said when she got to the hospital her child was unconscious. “I was very upset. I couldn't believe it. [She] had been fine that morning.”

She noticed the infant had a swelling between her eyebrows and asked the accused about this, she said.

Ms Higgins told her the infant had been fine all day and said she had not fallen or bumped her head.

She told the mother that the bump between her eyebrows was from a different day, the court heard.

The witness said she was sure the bump wasn't there that morning.

She said that over the next days the child was subject to a number of examinations and a doctor told her that the baby had two rib fractures that were three to four weeks old. There was also medical opinion that some of the injuries were the result of violent shaking.

The court heard that in early 2012 there were incidents of the child having bumps and bruises.

Her parents were concerned that Ms Higgins “wasn't keeping a close enough eye” on the infant and began looking for an alternative child-minder.

After an investigation was launched the mother told gardai that she was concerned that some of the entries in a child-minding diary kept by Ms Higgins had been changed or added.

She told the court that an entry about the child bumping her head on March 22 wasn't there before.

References to spitting up phlegm on March 5, to falling over on toys on March 6 and throwing up when fed on March 26, were not in the diary before March 28, the mother testified.

She agreed with Remy Farrell SC, defending, that she didn't read all the entries in the diary every day and that she had not noticed other entries about bumps.

She also agreed that it was Ms Higgins who suggested on March 5 the child be brought to the doctor or get a check-up because she had a temperature.

The trial is set to run for six days before Judge Patricia Ryan and a jury of eight men and four women. There is a court order prohibiting publication of anything that would identify the child.

In his opening speech Mr Gillane said that the defence will call an expert witness who will say that there is no evidence to support a diagnosis of violent shaking and that it's not possible to say if the injuries were inflicted or accidental.

Mr Gillane told the jurors that they should look at the evidence in a manner that is cold and dispassionate. “Prejudice and sympathy should be left outside the jury room,” he said.

The child's mother gave evidence that shortly after her daughter was born in May 2011 she came under pressure from her employers to return to work because the company was in receivership.

She met Ms Higgins who told her she worked in a crèche for years and was an experienced child-minder. She began working one day a week after arranging for Ms Higgins to take her child for that day.

Ms Higgins started minding the infant five days a week from November when the mother's maternity leave ended. The mother testified: “I never had any concern about the child minding arrangements at that stage”.

At this point Ms Higgins began keeping a daily child-minding diary in a notebook, noting things like nappy changes, bottle feeds and meals. The mother said she would look at this “most days”.

She said that in February 2012 she asked Ms Higgins to reduce the child's day time sleeping time so that the child would sleep better during the night. She said this was an amicable conversation.

She said that on March 5 the accused rang her to say the child had vomited. She went to pick her up and saw the child had a black eye.

Ms Higgins told her the child had followed her into the kitchen and pulled herself up against a table leg before falling against the table leg and floor tiles, the court heard.

The next day she left the child back to Ms Higgins but brought her to the doctor's that afternoon.

The doctor said she may have a cold coming on and prescribed some antibiotics to be used only if she got worse.

He commented on the eye bruise. The witness testified that the following day Ms Higgins asked her how the child was and if the doctor had stripped her down during the check-over.

The child's father told the jury that in February his daughter had bumped her head off the fireplace at the family home, leaving her with a “slight red mark” on her face.

He said on March 23 he noticed a large bump on the baby's head. “I said [she] was coming home with too many bumps and bruises and I said it was time to move on,” he testified.

He said that around this time he was worn down and got the flu and “we all got it”.