Santina Cawley murder trial: Father says he trusted girlfriend who ‘got on’ with toddler

Michael Cawley's former partner Karen Harrington is on trial charged with the murder of Santina Cawley in Cork on July 5th, 2019
Santina Cawley murder trial: Father says he trusted girlfriend who ‘got on’ with toddler

Olivia Kelleher

A father has told a murder trial that he trusted his then girlfriend with his two-year-old daughter and that she and his child had a good relationship.

Michael Cawley was giving evidence on the fourth day of a trial at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork.

His former partner, Karen Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, Cork, is on trial charged with the murder of Santina Cawley at apartment 26 in Elderwood Park, Cork on July 5th, 2019.

Mr Cawley became emotional on Thursday morning and broke down crying in the box when the defence counsel showed him CCTV footage of himself and his daughter shopping in Aldi in Cork the day before she was found critically injured.

The trial heard that when he found Santina injured at the apartment shortly after 5am on July 5th, 2019, she had sustained extensive bruising to almost every part of her body, fractures to her skull and ribs, damage to her spine and a brain injury.

Clumps of her torn out hair were found on the apartment floor, as was a stud which had been in her left earlobe.

Mr Cawley said that he had left Santina with his partner in the past and that the pair had got on well.

“Karen got on brilliant with her. She got on with Santina and Santina would have got on with her. I left her with Karen a few times and there was never a problem. I thought it would be okay for me to leave Santina with Karen. I trusted Karen.”

Shock

Mr Cawley said that he received the shock of his life when he returned to Ms Harrington’s apartment on July 5th shortly after 5am to find kitchen chairs on the floor, blood and broken glass in the property.

He then found his daughter critically injured and naked under a blanket. The emergency services were called and Santina was taken to Cork University Hospital where she died at 9.20am.

Sean Gillane, SC, for the prosecution had earlier told the trial that Santina had devastating injuries from which there was no chance of recovery.

Mr Cawley said that everyone loved his daughter Santina as she was “very friendly” and “loved people”.

He refuted suggestions from defence barrister Brendan Grehan, SC, that he had given out to Ms Harrington in her then apartment in Elderwood Park shortly after 3am. He denied accusing her of going off with foreigners in a casino.

The couple and Santina had earlier been in attendance at another apartment in the Elderwood complex with a couple called Martina Higgins and Eric Okunala.

The trial had heard that Ms Harrington had left the apartment at 1.25am and returned to her own flat. The evidence has been that Michael Cawley returned to the flat at 3.05am on July 5th, 2019 but left five minutes later in order to retrieve a forgotten phone.

Five minutes

When Mr Okunala told him to come back to get his phone the following day, he ended up leaving the complex to go to Cork city centre in a bid to find his cousin.

Mr Cawley said that he would only have been absent for five minutes if he had been able to get his phone. He said that he would have called his cousin with directions.

Mr Cawley told the jury of seven men and five woman when he returned home shortly after 5am he was met outside Ms Harrington’s apartment by her next-door neighbour Dylan Olney, who asked if it was his baby was in the company of Ms Harrington inside the flat.

He stated that Mr Olney told him that Ms Harrington had been “screaming and roaring” at the baby. Mr Cawley stated that he was deeply distressed by what he saw when he turned the key to gain access to the property.

“I see chairs on the floor and her blood on the floor and glass broken.”

He said when he saw his injured child he asked Ms Harrington to call an ambulance but she ran away. The case continues this afternoon.

This article was amended at 2.58pm on 28/4/22.

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