Neighbour was ‘creeped out’ by behaviour of murder accused on night Santina Cawley (2) was found critically injured, court hears

Santina Cawley died on July 5, 2019

Ralph Riegel

A neighbour of murder accused Karen Harrington (37) said he rang gardaí after becoming very concerned about a crying baby being sarcastically taunted from the apartment next door.

Dylan Olney told the Central Criminal Court he was “a bit creeped out” by the behaviour of the accused in the early hours of the morning.

Ms Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley.

The trial is before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and four women.

Santina was found lying naked with critical injuries on a blanket at 26 Elderwood Park, off Boreenamanna Road, Cork, at 5am on July 5, 2019. Ms Harrington lived in the flat at the time.

The child was discovered when her father, Michael Cawley (37), returned to his then-girlfriend's flat, having left the property two hours earlier to walk alone into Cork city centre in a bid to find his cousin.

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

She had suffered a fractured skull, traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal injury.

Mr Olney told the trial he was concerned about the behaviour of the accused.

He said he went to bed at 2am, but heard a commotion outside an apartment complex walkway.

“It was like someone throwing a fit or a tantrum. I thought, ‘Oh God, here we go again’,” he said.

“The accused person was smashing the sliding door open and closed. Slamming the door over and over.”

Mr Olney said he told the defendant: “Listen, you f***ing dingbat, you better stop doing that or I will call the gardaí.”

He went back into his apartment, but the defendant then began shouting at him to call the gardaí.

“She was shouting, ‘Dylan, go and call them, call them, call them’,” he said. “I was a bit creeped out by it because she was acting weird.”

Some time later, the accused knocked on his door asking for a lighter.

“I said you are getting nothing off me. I closed and locked the door,” Mr Olney said.

He then became concerned when he heard a baby crying for 15 or 20 minutes from the next door apartment.

“The next thing I heard a child - a child crying. It alarmed me,” he said. “I didn't think a child should be in that kind of situation.”

He said he could hear a female voice from the next door apartment.

“I could hear taunting - ‘Oh, poor baby, all right, stop crying baby’, something like that. I thought I heard her say ‘Stop it’ or ‘Shut up’. I said I am going to call the cops because I didn't like what was going on.”

Mr Olney recalled that the child’s cries were getting worse from the taunting, and he said he believed he had mentioned his concerns over the safety of the child in his call to gardaí.

He said he rang them because “I was concerned about the wellbeing of the child I heard”.

“I did not think it was the way to comfort a crying child - it was the opposite. ‘Ah, poor baby’, it was kind of sarcastic.

“That is what I could make out from the muffled sound I was hearing.”

Mr Olney said he saw gardaí arriving at 4.52am and went to let them in and take them to apartment 26.

However, they were unable to gain access to the apartment and there was no sound now coming from within.

“There was dead silence - you could hear a pin drop,” he said.

Gardaí left a short time later, but after a few minutes he heard a man arriving on the walkway outside his apartment.

“I looked outside. It was a bloke [Michael Cawley, Santina’s father]. I recognised him - I knew he was related to her [Ms Harrington] somehow.

“I asked him what the hell was going on? What’s the story with yer one? She has caused a fuss.”

Mr Olney said he informed the man the woman had “gone mental”.

Minutes later, the man came out of number 26, shouting that his child was dead.

“I heard him coming out and shouting, ‘Call an ambulance, my baby is dead’. He was roaring - inconsolable. He kept roaring, ‘My baby is dead, my baby is dead’. I rang the gardaí. He was very distraught - he was just shouting.”

Mr Olney said that when officers arrived, one asked him what was going on.

“He [the garda] said, “What are we looking at?” I said a murder.”

Mr Olney said he also saw Ms Harrington running away from the scene, only to return later in a small silver car.

Another neighbour, Martin McSweeney, said he saw the accused early that morning and she looked “like a ghost”.

The witness was awoken at 3am by the sound of a sliding door opening and closing 30 or 40 times.

He said she was at one point mumbling to herself and saying: “I’ll show them, I’ll show them - this isn’t a f***king joke.”

He said she appeared to be “out of it” and wondered whether she was “drunk or on drugs”.

Another neighbour, Aoife Niamh McGaley, who has known Ms Harrington since her teens, said she heard the sound of arguing, breaking glass and screaming coming from the neighbouring apartment in the early hours of July 5

“I heard noise. I heard shouting,” she said. “It was 3am-ish. I heard arguing and it sounded like arguing between a man and a woman. It was muffled.

“It was a bit after that that I heard Karen screaming, ‘I am going to tell them all’. Then I heard glass smash, but it didn’t make sense at all.”

Ms McGaley said she believed one of the voices involved in the argument was quite deep and sounded male.

Later, she heard the sound of a woman screaming.

“She (the accused) was screaming, ‘I’ll tell, I’ll tell,” she said. “I was in my bedroom. I immediately jumped up. I grabbed my hoodie and threw it on. I ran up my stairs and down to Karen’s apartment.”

Ms McGaley said she knocked repeatedly on the door to check on the welfare of Ms Harrington.

“I was genuinely concerned for Karen’s safety,” she said.

The witness said she was convinced she heard the sounds of an argument between a man and a woman coming from the flat.

At one point, she said she saw what she thought was “the shadow of a person” in the apartment, but could not make it out clearly.

“I could make out [the sound of] someone sobbing. At that point I was very, very concerned,” she said.

A short time later, Ms Harrington opened her door. She was wearing pyjama bottoms and a string vest.

“She looked very distressed,” Ms McGaley said. “She looked very upset. She was quieter in herself.”

The witness said she spotted a Betty Boop statue the accused adored lying smashed inside the apartment with fragments scattered over the floor.

“She kept apologising [for the noise]. She said she didn’t mean to cause [a problem]. Karen came up and turned - I noticed a mark on the side of her face. It looked like a chunk [of her hair] had been torn down.

“I got the impression she was scared of something. I got an uneasy feeling for her.”

Ms McGaley said she did not see anyone else in the apartment and returned to her own home when she was assured by Ms Harrington that she was going to bed.

“But I wasn’t happy with the situation at all. I went back to my own apartment. But I definitely heard arguing with someone with a deep voice,” she said.

She was so concerned that she decided to ring Ms Harrington’s sister.

That phone call was made at 3.27am, and at 3.42am Ms Harrington rang her looking for a light for a cigarette.

At around 5am, Ms McGaley said she heard further screaming.

“She was outside the apartment screaming to some guy called Dylan. She was screaming, ‘Dylan, come on, come on - call the guards’.”

A short time later, Ms McGaley said she heard the sound of a man wailing.

Sean Gillane SC, for the State, said Santina’s injuries could not have been suffered in the normal rough and tumble of child play.

A post-mortem examination was conducted at CUH and found she had sustained poly trauma and “devastating injuries with no chance of recovery”.

The court heard that when gardaí searched Ms Harrington’s apartment, they found bloodstains and clumps of the child’s hair 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.

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

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