Court hears account of day of Cork toddler Santina Cawley's death

Memos of interviews the accused gave to gardaí were read to Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and the jury of four women and seven men at the Central Criminal Court.
Court hears account of day of Cork toddler Santina Cawley's death

Accused Karen Harrington arriving at the Central Criminal Court at Anglesea Street, Cork this week. Ms Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, denies the murder of Santina Cawley. Picture: Larry Cummins

THE Cork woman who denies murdering two-year-old Santina Cawley told investigating gardaí that she comforted the child when she cried hysterically but woke to be asked by her then partner – “What did you do to my child?”

Karen Harrington, aged 38, of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, denies the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5, 2019.

Memos of interviews the accused gave to gardaí were read to Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and the jury of four women and seven men at the Central Criminal Court. One juror was previously excused.

In one of the first answers she gave to gardaí she said she was the eldest of four sisters and said, “I am a very caring person.”

She said she met Michael Cawley about six months previously in a random encounter at MacCurtain Street in Cork, she was fond of him and they were going out together afterwards.

“He was a loving, caring dad,” she said. She said he was separated from his wife but sometimes minded his other four children, as well as Santina.

She agreed with a summary of her movements on the day — as she described them — read back to her by Sergeant Niall Hayes: Visited casino at MacCurtain Street, went to grandmother’s, returned to casino, went to Martina Higgins’ apartment, went together to Atlantic Pond where they had some drinks, Michael Cawley picked them up, they bought more drink, went to Martina’s, had a few drinks, felt sick, went home to her own apartment, got glass of water, glass broke, cut her foot, lay on couch, had a cigarette, fell asleep, Michael arrived back with Santina, he and Karen had an argument, Santina was in hysterics, Karen picked her up and comforted her, took off her clothes, except her nappy, because she was roasting, woke up and interacted with a neighbour, woke a third time to Michael Cawley in front of her with Santina in his arms lifeless, and then Karen ran to Martina’s.

Asked why Santina was hysterical, she said she did not know.

She said she comforted her and took off her clothes because the child was roasting.

Asked how she comforted her, she said, “I just picked her up. I had her in my arms… She looked grand. She was roasting but OK.”

Asked how she would behave in an argument, she said she would rant and rave.

While the accused said she did not remember, she said Martina told her that Michael called her [Karen] “the height of names” and said she kissed foreigners from the casino. She said she did not do so.

Asked how she felt about Michael accusing her in that regard, she replied, “Upset. Disgusted.”

She recalled Michael saying to her over and over when she woke for the third time on the couch, “What did you do to my child?”

Sgt Michelle O’Leary told the Central Criminal Court that she asked Karen Harrington what had happened to Santina Cawley after Ms Harrington had come to the Bridewell Garda Station in a voluntary capacity on the morning of July 5 2019.

Sgt O’Leary said that Ms Harrington told her that she and Mr Cawley had an argument over small stuff, what she described as “couple’s stuff”, and that Mr Cawley left and she thought that he was going back to Ms Higgins’ apartment.

“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, adding that Ms Harrington told her that Mr Cawley put Santina in her arms but she handed her back to him and left to go to Ms Higgins’ apartment.

Sgt O’Leary said that Ms Harrington told her she got no response at Ms Higgins’s apartment and ended up outside Yvonne Walsh’s house and told Ms Walsh that Mr Cawley had accused her of smothering his child.

Sgt O’Leary said, “I would describe her [Ms Harrington] as hungover – there was a smell of alcohol from her breath but she was not intoxicated.”

Sgt O’Leary said that tensions were high as Mr Cawley was also present and very emotional, so she asked Ms Harrington to accompany her to the Bridewell.


A highly emotional journey made by Santina Cawley’s dad to the hospital on the morning she died was described in detail in the trial of his then partner for the child’s murder.

Sergeant Brian Maher gave evidence of arriving at the scene on Boreenmanna Road, Cork, on that morning.

“A number of my colleagues were talking to Michael Cawley. He was agitated, extremely distraught and emotional.

“Inspector [Noel] Madden tasked to speak to Mr Cawley. He was down the road from the scene, outside the Maxol shop on Boreenmanna Road. I introduced myself as a detective garda (his rank at the time). He was wearing orange shorts, T-shirt and runners. He was extremely distraught.

“I was asking him questions. He had a smell of intoxicating liquor but he was not intoxicated. He was enquiring about Santina – did I know if his daughter was dead or alive at the time.

“I asked him to accompany me to Anglesea Street Garda station to give me an account. He was emotional. He refused my request to go.

“On numerous occasions he asked was she dead or alive. I asked him to come with me. He did not want to. He wanted to go to hospital. He wanted to walk to the hospital. I asked would it be OK for me to accompany him. We walked to CUH together.

“I continued to speak to him on the way to hospital. On numerous occasions he wanted to know was she alive or dead. I was trying to support him as best I could. He was extremely emotional.

“When we arrived in the hospital I identified ourselves as a member of An Garda Síochána and as Michael Cawley – father of Santina Cawley. During our time in the hospital he had been crying and extremely upset.”

Hospital staff told Sgt Maher that the parents should be prepared for the worst. At 9.20 am, Santina died.

“I was present when Mr Cawley was informed of this. It was an emotional time for Mr Cawley and for everyone involved, including hospital staff,” Sgt Maher said.

Earlier, Mr Cawley asked Sgt Maher to inform his ex-wife Bridget O’Donoghue and his father that Santina was being brought to the hospital.

Later, Sgt Maher and Detective Garda Bryan Murphy accompanied Michael Cawley to his apartment at Leeside apartments on Grattan Street as they required to take the clothes he was wearing for analysis. (Forensic analysis later found that Mr Cawley’s clothes had no bloodstains of any kind.)

Sgt Maher recalled entering the apartment and Mr Cawley’s reaction: “On seeing his daughter’s toys in the apartment he broke down again.”

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