Karen Harrington told detectives she ‘felt sick’ when informed Santina Cawley (2) had died in hospital, murder trial hears

Santina Cawley. Photo: Provision

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

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Ralph Riegel

MURDER accused Karen Harrington (37) told detectives that Santina Cawley (2) was "roaring, crying...and in hysterics" in her apartment after an early-morning row between her and her then boyfriend, Michael Cawley (37).

The defendant also told officers during a Garda interview she felt sick when informed the critically injured toddler had just died in a Cork hospital.

The revelation came as a Central Criminal Court murder trial heard details of several statements Harrington gave to gardaí in the days after the death of the little girl.

Ms 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.

Ms Harrington lived in the flat at the time.

The little girl was discovered badly injured when her father, Mr Cawley, returned to his then-girlfriend's flat. He had left the property two hours earlier, at 3am, to walk alone into Cork city centre in a bid to locate his 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 polytrauma and "devastating injuries with no chance of recovery", including a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal injury.

The little girl was found with 49 different external injuries and four separate internal injuries.

The jury were read details of several statements the defendant gave to gardaí on July 5 and later on July 8/9.

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

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

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

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

The trial was told Ms Harrington voluntarily gave her clothing to gardaí for testing and also agreed to supply blood, fingernail samples 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 gardaí between July 8 and 9.

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

She said she had returned to her own Elderwood apartment from her friend Martina Higgins's 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 is a very caring person.

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

Ms 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."

Santina Cawley. Photo: Provision

The defendant told gardaí 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 gardaí 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, Ms 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 Ms Harrington at Elderwood.

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

Sergeant Brian Maher said he arrived at the Elderwood complex shortly after 5am on July 5, 2019, when Santina was discovered.

He was outside the apartment complex and met Mr Cawley.

"He was agitated, distraught and very emotional," he said.

Mr Cawley kept asking about the condition of his little girl and whether she was still alive.

Sgt Maher said he got a smell of intoxicating liquor from Mr Cawley but "he did not seem to be intoxicated”.

Mr Cawley declined a garda request to go in a Garda car to Angelsea Street Garda Station as he was too worried about his daughter.

The garda then walked with Mr Cawley almost 6km to CUH.

"He wanted to go to Cork University Hospital. He wanted to walk from Boreenmanna Road (the 6km) to hospital. I said we would go together. So we set off to walk together."

Mr Cawley had wanted to travel in the ambulance with Santina to CUH but was not allowed for medical reasons given the desperate efforts of paramedics to stabilise the little girl's condition.

During the long walk to CUH, Sgt Maher said Mr Cawley remained very upset.

"I was thinking [I would walk with him] to support him through the journey. He was very emotional."

Sgt Maher said that when they arrived at CUH he made hospital staff aware that he was a garda, who Mr Cawley was and sought information on Santina's condition.

"CUH staff told us (gardaí) to help prepare Michael Cawley for the worst."

Sgt Maher also assisted Mr Cawley in ensuring his wife, Bridget, from whom he was separated, was informed of Santina’s critical condition.

The woman had already been informed of Santina's critical condition and was at CUH.

The child died in her mother's arms at 6.20am.

Later, Sgt Maher went with Mr Cawley to his Grattan Street flat in a Garda car and was provided with the clothing he was wearing on July 4/5 for forensic testing.

Mr Cawley was wearing shorts, a T shirt and joggers.

He said Mr Cawley again became very emotional when he spotted his daughter's toys lying in the apartment.

Sergeant Mark Leonard told the trial he had been called three times to the Elderwood complex in the early hours of July 5 – twice in respect of noise complaints and the third, final time in respect of the discovery of a critically-injured Santina Cawley.

As he approached No 26 Elderwood Park at 5.23am, he heard a man shouting from upstairs.

"It was a male voice – shouting and screaming and crying," he said.

Inside the apartment, he spotted Santina lying on a duvet.

"There was a young girl lying on a duvet. She was motionless and naked. She was pale blue in colour and appeared not to be breathing."

In the kitchen area, he saw a male (Michael Cawley) who was very distressed.

"He was crying and screaming – he kept repeating: 'She killed my baby.' Later, he told me the 'she' he was referring to was Karen Harrington."

The trial continues.

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