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Karen Harrington joins group of killers serving life in Irish prisons for murdering a child

Little Santina Cawley’s murderer joins infamous group of sickos behinds bars

Karen Harrington murdered the two-year-old© Daragh Mc Sweeney

Tragic Santina Cawley

Patrick Slattery

Katelyn Ryan died after Patrick Slattery burned down her home© ??/>?G?? ?> &?????

Derek Hickey stabbed his infant daughter

Fergus Whitty was found guilty of murdering his daughter Vanessa

Eamon DillonSunday World

The terrible injuries suffered by two-year-old murder victim Santina Cawley were laid bare in the Central Criminal Court.

“The murder of Santina Cawley, a defenceless two-year-old child, is truly shocking. It goes against nature for parents to bury a child but to lose a child in these circumstances is beyond description,” said Judge Michael McGrath.

He was speaking at the trial of Karen Harrington, who is now serving a life sentence after a jury convicted her of Santina’s murder at her Cork city home.

The trial heard how Harrington could have been the only person to have inflicted the 49 external and four internal injuries on Santina after a row with her partner and the child’s father, Michael Cawley.

The crime of infanticide is rare but when it does happen it is a profoundly shocking tragedy.

Karen Harrington, who had no record of violence, has maintained her innocence and is appealing her conviction.

She joins a small but infamous group of killers serving a life sentence for killing children and young people, some of whom are now among the longest-serving prisoners in the State.

Tragic Santina Cawley

One of those is Ian Watson, who was jailed in November 1984 for the murder of a 12-year-old boy in Arklow, Co Wicklow.

The 68-year-old was jailed in November 1984 for the murder after pleading guilty and was jailed for life.

As was the practice at the time, none of the evidence surrounding the circumstances of the killing was heard in open court.

Shortly after his arrest in April that year, gardaí struggled to prevent a mob from getting at Watson as they transferred him from Arklow District Court following a hearing.

He was punched several times as a crowd surged towards the unmarked Garda car being used to transport him.

Judge Paul Carney effectively changed the practice of not hearing about the defendant’s motive if they plead guilty when it came to Jerome Kavanagh’s trial in 1995. Kavanagh, now in an open prison, pleaded guilty to the stabbing to death of his four-year-old neighbour Ciaran Malone after breaking into his home near Caragh, Co Kildare in February the same year.

“It seems to me the people of Ireland are entitled to know Jerome Kavanagh’s explanation of why he took a life,” said Judge Carney.

After legal argument the court heard how Kavanagh, then a 23-year-old apprentice printer, had gone to the house with a plan to rape the boy’s mother, but was surprised by the presence of another woman.

Fergus Whitty was found guilty of murdering his daughter Vanessa

Cork man Fergus Whitty was also jailed for life after a jury found him guilty of murdering his six-month-old baby daughter Vanessa. Then aged 31, he had denied the murder at his home in Cork city, on September 15, 1996.


He had admitted assaulting the infant and that as a result she had sustained severe injuries which resulted in her death.

Whitty made a statement to gardaí admitting he punched the baby three times after he “snapped” because she would not stop crying.

Derek Hickey stabbed his infant daughter

Leilah Hickey was just three months old when she was stabbed to death in her cot by her father Derek Hickey at the family home in April 2000. Her father, who turned 47 in Arbour Hill Prison last week, was given the mandatory life sentence after a 15-minute court hearing in which he pleaded guilty.

Patrick Slattery is serving a life sentence for the murder of Katelyn Ryan (four) in April 2003 when he burned down her family home in Limerick.

Patrick Slattery

The then 22-year-old said he had been the subject of a relentless campaign of bullying by a relation of the family and didn’t mean to harm anyone.

Other kids had been in the house for a sleep-over and nine people needed treatment following the fire. Katelyn died two days later from her injuries.

Katelyn Ryan died after Patrick Slattery burned down her home© ??/>?G?? ?> &?????

Sanjeev Chada is serving life for the murder of his two sons Eoghan (10) and Ruairi (five) in 2013, having failed to take his life after deliberately crashing his car.

He strangled both sons and caused a blunt force injury to the older boy, and then drove around for several hours with their bodies in the boot of his car.

Chada, who had run up debts gambling on internet share trading, was also facing investigation for stealing money at the time. The boys’ mother, Kathleen, has since been a prominent voice in supporting stronger legislation to protect the rights of victims and their families.

In 2019, Brooklyn Colbert (11) was hit with a hammer and stabbed 27 times by his uncle Patrick Dillon, who pleaded guilty in February 2021 to the killing.

A psychiatrist said Dillon was known to mental health services and had been hearing voices since 2016 but was not psychotic.

Judge Michael White described the murder as a “horrific breach of trust” and an “unspeakably violent crime”.

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