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Santina Cawley's dad tells murder trial he begged tot to speak to him after finding her injured

Santina was found with critical injuries at 26 Elderwood Park off the Boreenamanna Road in Cork city at 5am on July 5, 2019.

Michael Cawley, father of Santina Cawley. Photo: Cork Courts Limited

Ralph Riegel

A father told a murder trial he fell to his knees and cried as he begged his two-year-old daughter to speak to him after he discovered her lying critically injured in his then-girlfriend's apartment.

Michael Cawley (37) told a Central Criminal Court trial he later challenged his then girlfriend, murder accused Karen Harrington (37), if it was the blood of his daughter, Santina (2), he could see spattered all around her Cork apartment.

Harrington has pleaded not guilty to the murder of the little girl at a Central Criminal Court trial in Cork before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and five women.

Santina Cawley (2)

Santina was found with critical injuries at 26 Elderwood Park off the Boreenamanna Road in Cork city at 5am on July 5, 2019.

She was discovered badly injured when her father 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).

She had suffered devastating injuries including a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury as well as a serious spinal injury.

Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon in Cork, was first charged with the murder of the child three years ago before Cork District Court.

In evidence on the third day of the trial, Mr Cawley said he had been socialising with Karen Harrington, Santina and a neighbouring family on July 4 and into the early hours of July 5.

Murder accused Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts

At 3am on July 5, he realised he had lost his phone - and decided to walk into Cork city centre to locate his cousin.

He said he left Santina in the care of Karen Harrington at her home at No 26 Elderwood from 3am until he returned later at 5am.

"She (Santina) was grand. She was OK. She was familiar with Karen. She got on great with Karen. She (Santina) was in great form," he said.

Mr Cawley said the defendant had indicated she would look after his daughter while he was gone.

"I asked her (Karen) to look after her (Santina). I wouldn't be too long (gone from the apartment). Karen said 'Yeah'. Santina was awake."

Mr Cawley said he was gone from No 26 Elderwood from 3am until 5am.

When he arrived back on foot, a neighbour, Dylan Olney, met him before he entered No 26.

"I asked what was going on. He said 'Karen is gone mad - roaring and screaming to your baby. Is that your baby in there?' (He said) he could hear a baby crying."

Mr Cawley said he noticed that some rubber was now hanging loose from a sliding door of No 26.

When he went into the apartment, he was met by a scene of disarray with chairs scattered around the flat.

"There was blood on the floor near the sink. There was broken glass on the ground. Karen was on the couch lying down.

"I could see the blanket where Santina was but the blanket was over her face. She was on the same spot (where I left her). I asked Karen what was going on? What is happening?

"I took the blanket off Santina. Santina was naked. She had no clothes on. She was wearing clothes when I left her."

Mr Cawley said he immediately realised his daughter was injured.

"Her one eye was half closed and the other was open. There was a bruise on her left face. I picked her up and she was warm.

"I tried to speak to her - I was on my knees crying: 'Santina, please, please say something.' I said to the neighbours to please call the guards.

"I was asking Karen what was going on with my baby...she didn't answer."

Mr Cawley said the defendant then left the scene.

"She (Karen Harrington) just ran down the stairs and left through the bottom of the apartment through the front door."

Mr Cawley said he met the defendant later outside the apartment when gardaí and paramedics were working in vain to save his daughter.

"I asked Karen was that my daughter's blood over all the kitchen? She said: 'No, that was my blood from my foot'. I was crying my heart out. I was in bits. I was in shock."

In cross-examination, Mr Cawley said he couldn't remember a row during earlier socialising which had left his then girlfriend very upset.

Defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, put it to Mr Cawley that he had told Karen Harrington: "Go back to your foreigners and Pakis."

Mr Cawley said he could not remember a conversation where he accused his then girlfriend of having affairs at a casino she frequented.

Mr Grehan asked the witness whether he had upset his girlfriend by calling her "a whore or a prostitute".

"I may or may not have," Mr Cawley said as he insisted he could not remember.

But he acknowledged that Karen Harrington may have been unhappy when she left the apartment of a neighbour, Martina Higgins, where they were drinking to return to No 26.

Mr Cawley said he was a good father and that: "It was a privilege to look after Santina."

He said he had separated from his wife, Bridget O'Donoghue, in 2018 and began a relationship with Karen Harrington in December that year.

Mr Cawley rejected suggestions he did not want to have to care for Santina.

He also strongly disagreed with Mr Grehan that he "couldn't cope".

"I never said to Martina (Higgins) for her mother to take my daughter at any time. I never begged Martina."

Mr Cawley acknowledged that, while the group was socialising in apartment 30, the home of Martina Higgins and her partner Eric Okunala, he took exception to what he claimed was a drink being thrown over Ms Higgins by her partner.

"I would consider it insulting (to throw a drink over a woman). I may have taken off my shirt (to him)."

Mr Cawley said he couldn't remember calling Eric "a rat" because he was threatening to call the gardaí unless Mr Cawley quit their apartment and returned to his own home.

The trial was previously told by Sean Gillane SC, for the State, that neighbours heard screaming, roaring and a child crying in apartment No 26 around 4am on July 5.

Gardaí were alerted and arrived at the property at 4.52am.

However, they were unable to access No 26 and heard no sign of a disturbance.

Officers left at 5.01am - only to arrive back at the property at 5.23am when the alarm was raised after Santina was discovered lying naked and critically injured on a duvet.

A neighbour, Dylan Olney, who lives in No 27, called gardaí having heard a loud disturbance from Harrington's flat.

Mr Gillane said the prosecution will enter testimony that little Santina's devastating injuries could not have been suffered in the normal rough and tumble of child play.

A post mortem examination was conducted at CUH which found Santina had sustained poly trauma and "devastating injuries with no chance of recovery".

When gardaí searched Karen Harrington's apartment they discovered blood stains and clumps of the child's hair lying torn out by a couch.

A stud from Santina's left ear lobe was found lying on the floor.

"There was scarcely a part of her body that did not display some form of trauma," Mr Gillane said.

He said the State will introduce evidence at the trial from neighbours who were concerned at the sound of a loud disturbance in the defendant's apartment at No 26 Elderwood Park around 4am.

Mr Gillane said Mr Olney heard the sound of the defendant screaming - and then a child crying.

Other neighbours heard the sound of a door slamming as well as shouting and roaring from within No 26.

"Not only could he (Mr Olney) hear a child crying, he could hear the accused (Harrington) shouting directly at the child, mocking and taunting the child and terrorising the child," Mr Gillane said.

Almost 40 different CCTV clips were harvested by gardaí from hundreds of hours of security camera footage.

The trial was shown clips of a woman, which Det Garda Maurice O'Connor said was believed to be Karen Harrington, leaving Elderwood estate on foot at 5.15am on July 5.

A female was caught by cameras exiting apartment 26 at 5.11am - at the same time as Mr Cawley arrived back at the flat from Cork city centre.

The woman was then tracked by seven different CCTV cameras moving from Boreenmanna Road towards Blackrock until 5.41am.

The jury was shown CCTV footage which tracked Mr Cawley leaving the Elderwood estate alone after 3am, walking into Cork city centre and then back to the estate, arriving at 5.11am.

The trial, which is expected to last up to five weeks, continues.

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