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Cork toddler Santina Cawley (2) 'died from blunt force trauma', murder trial told

The revelation came as Dr Margaret Bolster gave evidence on the ninth day of the murder trial of Karen Harrington (37)

Santina Cawley. Photo: Provision

Ralph Riegel

A toddler found naked and critically injured on a duvet in a Cork flat with 53 different injuries died from blunt force trauma.

The revelation came as Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster gave evidence on the ninth day of the murder trial of Karen Harrington (37).

The trial had previously heard that Santina Cawley (2) was found with 49 different external injuries and four serious internal injuries.

Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Santina at a Central Criminal Court trial before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and four women.

Santina was found lying naked on a dirty blanket with critical injuries at 26 Elderwood Park off the Boreenamanna Road in Cork city at 5am on July 5 2019.

Karen Harrington lived in the flat at the time.

The little girl was discovered badly injured when her father, Michael Cawley (37), returned to his then-girlfriend's flat having left the property two hours earlier at 3am to walk alone into Cork city centre in a bid to locate his Limerick cousin.

Despite desperate efforts by doctors and paramedics to stabilise the condition of the little girl, she was pronounced dead a short time after being rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH).

A post mortem examination was conducted at CUH which found Santina had sustained poly trauma and "devastating injuries with no chance of recovery" including a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal injury.

Dr Bolster - who has conducted over 16,000 post mortem examinations throughout her career - told the trial she conducted an examination of Santina at CUH.

Dr Bolster also examined the scene where Santina was discovered.

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Santina was found to have suffered a complex fracture to her skull which had displaced an entire 10cm portion of skull bone.

Dr Bolster said she also noted a fracture to the child's femur which had fragmented at the joint bone.

Santina had also suffered a fracture to the upper portion of her humerus or right arm bone which had also resulted in further bone fragmentation.

Virtually every part of Santina's body displayed signs of bruises and abrasions.

The skull fracture and trauma to her head had resulted in an acute cerebral contusion as well as a traumatic brain injury.

Dr Bolster also found that there was bleeding into the spinal cord in Santina's neck area.

Multiple emboli were found throughout her system from bone marrow linked to the fractures she had suffered.

"(This child) had suffered a serious traumatic brain injury that would have resulted in a deep coma," she said.

Dr Bolster also noted that the fracture to Santina's skull was very complex and extended over a large portion of her head.

Michael Cawley, father of Santina Cawley. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

She said the nature of the injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma and were not consistent with any kind of accidental fall.

Dr Bolster said there was a traumatic brain injury and an injury to the upper cervical spinal cord.

"In my view these were not accidental," she said.

"There was no way this child was walking around with these fractures.

"Once the head injury was inflicted she would have been in a coma," Dr Bolster said, noting that the child would then not have been able to cry.

"She would have been in a deep coma. Extensive damage was done and the brain was swollen. This was a severe and traumatic brain injury.

"There was also bleeding into and around the spinal cord.

"Obviously the head has been struck and this will result in movement (in the brain and spinal cord.

"The head has been swung around or something has struck the head....this will result in movement of the brain and stretching of the spinal cord."

Dr Bolster confirmed she had also referred elements of the post mortem examination and histology to Dr Michael McDermott at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin.

There was no trace of any underlying illness with Santina.

"There was absolutely no evidence of underlying bone disease."

"(But) a child's bones are elastic and a child's bones are more easily fractured than an adult's bones."

The jury were previously read details of several statements Karen Harrington gave to Gardai on July 5 and later on July 8/9.

Harrington voluntarily agreed to go to the Bridewell Garda Station in the hours after Santina was found critically injured on July 5.

At the station, she asked Det Sergeant Clodagh O'Sullivan how Santina was.

"I informed her that Santina had passed away - she said she felt sick."

The trial was told Harrington voluntarily gave her clothing to Gardai for testing and also agreed to supply blood, finger-nail and swab samples.

On July 8, Harrington was arrested at an address in Blackrock and taken to Gurranabraher Garda Station for questioning.

She was very emotional during parts of five interviews she gave to Gardai between July 8 and 9.

Inspector David Callaghan said that Harrington was asked about what had happened to Santina.

She said she had returned to her own Elderwood apartment from her friend Martina Higgins' home where she had been socialising around 1.30am on July 5 after feeling ill.

"I felt unwell. I went home. I got sick in my hands. (I had) two glasses of vodka and a Heineken...and two glasses of cider."

The defendant was adamant she did not have a lot to drink.

But she admitted she was "ranting and raving" during a later row with a neighbour over the noise she was making.

Michael Cawley returned to her apartment (around 3am) with Santina and she woke up.

"I woke up and Michael and me were arguing. I don't know what we were arguing about. We were arguing and (then) he was gone. She (Santina) was crying. She was in hysterics. Michael was gone."

"It was chaos - I can't remember the argument. It was verbal. He did not hit me."

"I was trying to calm her (Santina). She was roasting so I took them (her clothes) off. My last memory of her is taking her clothes off."

"She was wearing nothing but a nappy. I took off her clothes because she was roasting. I laid down beside her...I soothed her. I picked her up. I had her in my arms. She was roasting but she was OK."

The defendant insisted she was a very caring person.

"She (had been) roaring and crying and I tried to console her. Michael was gone."

Karen Harrington insisted the only people in her apartment that night were herself, Michael and Santina Cawley.

The defendant said she fell asleep for a third time on a couch in her apartment near where Santina was sleeping on a blanket.

She was awoken by Michael Cawley on his return (5am) and his demand to know what had happened to Santina.

"He (Michael) was roaring at me: 'Karen, Karen, what did you do to my child?' I'm blank - I just remember the words."

"I took her. She was lifeless. She was white. Pale and weak and lifeless. He was saying what did you do to my child? I panicked and ran. I don't know but I ran. My mind is leaving me."

The defendant told Gardai she had accidentally broken a water glass and had cut her right foot on the broken glass lying on the floor.

She left Elderwood on foot and later returned to the scene in a friend's car.

The defendant repeatedly told Gardai she felt ill.

"I can't - I feel sick in my stomach. My mind is blank, just blank. I can't understand, myself. I want to vomit. I feel very weak - I don't feel in a position to speak."

On July 4, Harrington told Sgt Michelle O'Leary in a voluntary statement she had fallen asleep in the apartment in the early hours and only woke up when her then partner, Mr Cawley, asked her what had happened to his child.

She said she had earlier had an argument over "small stuff....couple's stuff" with Mr Cawley.

Mr Cawley left the apartment and she fell asleep.

“She said she fell asleep and the next thing she recalled was Michael Cawley shouting at her ‘Karen – what happened my child'," Sgt O’Leary said.

The Garda said the defendant told her Mr Cawley placed Santina in her arms but she immediately handed the child back and left the apartment.

Sgt O'Leary noted the smell of alcohol from Harrington at the Elderwood scenes round 6am.

“I would describe her (Harrington) as hungover. There was a smell of alcohol from her breath but she was not intoxicated,” she said.

The trial, which is expected to last for four weeks, continues.

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