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Saturday 10 December 2016

Injuries suffered by ten-month-old baby were non accidental and life threatening, trial hears

Sandra Higgins (34) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town. Pic: Court Collins.
Sandra Higgins (34) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town. Pic: Court Collins.

THE trial of a private child minder who denies causing serious harm to a ten-month-old baby has heard that injuries suffered by the child were non accidental and life threatening.

This morning Sandra Higgins, 34, of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby at her home on 28 March 2012.

Prosecutor Sean Gillane SC told the jury of eight men and four women that the case involves a single count of causing serious harm to the baby which involved a substantial risk of death.

The prosecution claims that the child was subjected to violent shaking leading to injuries including brain injury, bleeding around the brain and retinal haemmoraging.

READ MORE: Childminder pleads not guilty to charge of causing serious harm to baby

However, Mr Gillane said an expert witness called by the defence will testify in the case that there is no evidence to support a diagnosis of shaking.

In his opening speech to the jury, Mr Gillane said the incident took place three years ago in the then home of Ms Higgins who provided services as a registered childminder.

The child, who can not be named for legal reasons, was 10 months of age at the time the prosecution says injuries were caused to her.

She is is now four years of age.

Following the birth of the infant, the mother's workplace was placed into receivership and the child's mother returned to work early.

The mother sought childcare to return to work for one day a week.

An arrangement was struck that the child would be cared for one day a week by Ms Higgins from 9.30am to 4.30pm and the arrangement initially worked successfully, the court heard.

By November of that year, when the child was just over five months, the mother decided to return to work full time.

This lead to a stepping up of the childcare arrangement between the parents and Ms Higgins who filled out a notebook detailing events during the day as part of her role as a childminder.

In January 2012, the infant began to crawl and arrangements were made to adjust sleeping patterns as the parents were concerned at the amount of time the child slept.

Mr Gillane said that In March 2012, concern began to be felt by the child's parents in respect of "bumps and bruises" on the child.

On March 5, 2012, Ms Higgins told the child's mother that the child had been vomiting and there was a bruise under the child's eye on that day when the child was collected.

An explanation was given that the child had fallen after holding on to the leg of a table to stand, the court heard.

Mr Gillane said that by March 10, 2012, the parents decided that they would change childminder and began to seek alternatives as this could not be Another bruise was noted on March 12th, 2012, again explained by a fall.

There was also a similar situation on March 23rd of that year said Mr Gillane.

The court heard that there clear decision was reached at the end of March to make alternative childcare arrangements and, on Monday March 26th, an arrangement was put in place with a local crèche.

That very evening, the mother told the accused on collecting the child that she was going to be moved to another arrangement.

The mother, to avoid embarrassment, told Ms O'Higgins a "white lie" that the child would now be cared for by another family member.

The following day Ms Higgins asked for a reference.

On March 28th, the child was dropped at Ms Higgins home at 9.30am.

At that time, the child was "in fine form" and dropped off in the ordinary way by her mother, said Mr Gillane.

However at 4.30 pm the mother heard a call from Ms Higgins to say she was in the A&E department with the child.

Mr Gillane said that the situation "appeared fairly grave" at that time and the child was very ill.

Efforts were made to get the mother's husband to hospital.

Dr Alan Finan and a locum doctor were involved in the care of the child and emergency treatment was necessitated.

The Court heard that the child was suffering from active seizures and she had extensive bruising around both sides of her head and face and she had underlying swelling.

Other injuries included injuries to the back and buttocks area.

A CT scan revealed subdural haemmorage and seizures included for some five days, said Mr Gillane.

There was a skeletal survey which revealed rib fractures that were historical in nature.

Two days later, a child expert from confirmed retinal haemmoraging consistent with violent shaking injury.

Dr Finan also concluded that the injuries suffered by the child were non accidental and life threatening.

Mr Gillane told the jury that prejudice and sympathy together should be left outside the jury room and told them to look at the evidence in a cold and dispassionate manner.

The jury heard that they will hear also expert evidence in the case, including evidence from medical personnell in different fields that will assist in navigating through some of the technical evidence in the case.

The trial, which is being heard by Judge Patricia Ryan, is set to last up to six days.

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