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Thursday 15 November 2018

How could he lie to my face? - Mum's pain as dad jailed for son's murder

John Tighe. Photo: Collins Courts
John Tighe. Photo: Collins Courts

A Mayo man, jailed for life yesterday for the brutal murder of his baby son, was described as a "heartless liar" by the baby's mother in court.

John Tighe (40), of Lavallyroe, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, who choked his son to death using a folded up wad of tissues forced down the baby's throat, had pleaded not guilty to murdering six-month-old Joshua Sussbier Tighe at his home on June 1, 2013.

The jury of nine women and three men returned at 3pm yesterday after seven hours and 32 minutes of deliberation to deliver its verdict.

Tighe sat motionless following the verdict and attempted to speak to Joshua's mother, Natasha Sussbier, after she delivered an impact statement, in which she detailed the trauma she has suffered since her son's death. She walked past him without speaking.

In her statement, she told prosecuting counsel Paul Murray SC that Tighe had controlled her, lied to her face and that she finally realised he was not telling the truth when members of her family showed her the medical evidence that proved Joshua did not die accidentally.

"How can someone be so heartless as to lie to my face about something so serious?," she said.

Following the death of her son, her "pride and joy", she said she had never experienced such heartache and anger.

She said she could still feel the coldness of her baby's hand as he lay lifeless in Tighe's home and she begged him: "Come back Joshua! Don't leave mummy here."

Every time she visits his grave, she remembers her baby boy being put into the ground.

She said she did not want to believe that Tighe was responsible and although there was never the same trust between them, she went back to him.

Vulnerable

She said the question of what really happened was always at the back of her mind. She should have "copped on", she said, but Tighe convinced her and tried to turn her against the people who were helping her.

She was just 17 when they met and she believes that her age made her vulnerable and that he controlled her. She said she still had questions over Joshua's death and that only Tighe knows what happened to her boy.

Following her statement, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy addressed Tighe and told him: "As prescribed by law, I hereby sentence you to prison for life."

Tighe had always maintained that his son's death was accidental, telling gardai that he had carelessly left a wad of tissue within the baby's reach while he went to the toilet.

When he returned, he said the baby was choking and must have put the wad into his own mouth.

The prosecution called expert witnesses who said that the child could not have formed or swallowed the wad, which was removed from his throat during the post-mortem.

It consisted of two pieces of scrunched-up tissue paper, from different boxes, weighed 19g and measured 5cm by 3.5cm by 2.5cm.

Tighe lived in Lavallyroe all his life and met Ms Sussbier through a friend in 2011.

Tighe told gardai that he sent her 1,500 texts every week before she moved in with him in early 2012.

Ms Sussbier soon got pregnant and Joshua was born in November of that year. He was a healthy boy and Tighe told gardai that he and Ms Sussbier were "delighted".

The relationship, however, had become strained and she moved out only a few months after the birth.

They agreed to share custody of Joshua, three days each and they would alternate the seventh day.

On May 31, 2013, Ms Sussbier and her new boyfriend posted a message to Facebook, saying: "Daniel Sommerville and Natasha Sussbier are in a relationship."

Tighe collected Joshua from her that evening and on the following afternoon, the child choked to death on the wad of tissue.

The prosecution suggested that the Facebook message formed the background to the assault on Joshua, but Tighe told gardai he knew about Ms Sussbier's new relationship before it was revealed on Facebook, having seen her and Mr Sommerville holding hands.

During the emergency call made by Tighe, he said he was changing the baby's nappy, went to the toilet, and when he returned the baby was choking and had "gone a bit blue".

Nurses told him to hit, slap and tap the baby's back and front and attempt to push the obstruction out by pressing below his sternum.

When Tighe said he could see the blockage they told him to grab it and pull it out, but he told them he could not and that the baby was not breathing. By the time a doctor arrived, 23 minutes after Tighe made the call, Joshua was dead.

Strained

The call was played several times to the jury, who could hear Joshua's strained breathing at the start of the call before it later faded out.

Ms Sussbier, during her statement, said that she could not get the sound of her son taking his last breaths out of her head.

The prosecution also relied on the evidence of paediatricians Dr Hilary Stokes and Dr Peter Keenan.

Dr Stokes said a child Joshua's age could not have formed the wad with its hands or by chewing.

She added that babies are not designed to swallow something that size in one go, adding: "It is not in any of us to do that."

Dr Keenan said that Joshua could have put a pre-balled wad that size into his mouth and closed his mouth but could not have swallowed it to the point where it was found "around the corner" in Joshua's throat.

Micheal P O'Higgins SC, for the defence, suggested to the jury that Tighe could have left the pre-balled wad within the baby's reach and, as per Dr Keenan's evidence, Joshua could have put it in his own mouth.

He further suggested that Tighe's efforts to remove the wad with his fingers could have caused it to lodge further down the throat.

Mr Justice McCarthy explained to the jury that to be guilty of murder, Tighe must have committed an unlawful act with the intention to kill or cause serious injury to Joshua.

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