Santina Cawley: Parents describe ‘torture’ of death as Karen Harrington jailed for life

Father Michael Cawley and mother Bridget O’Donoghue delivered powerful victim impact statements
Santina Cawley: Parents describe ‘torture’ of death as Karen Harrington jailed for life

Olivia Kelleher

The parents of two-year-old Santina Cawley have spoken of the immense pain and suffering they have endured since their daughter was murdered by Karen Harrington, who was today jailed for life.

Father Michael Cawley, in a victim impact statement delivered via a family liaison officer, said that his beloved daughter was “brutally murdered.”

“The worst thing was finding her disfigured body under a blanket. I will be haunted by this horror for the remainder of my life. This is beyond words. I have no words. The trial is a difficult process, having to listen to graphic details of what happened to Santina, but a necessary one.”

Mr Cawley said that Santina was a “beautiful, happy, friendly, caring, fun-loving” child.

“She enjoyed life — always smiling, she loved life, everyone loved her. She brought joy to my heart. She was my pride and joy. I will always be so proud of her.

“When I look at some of her clothes and toys in her bedroom it breaks my heart. I miss the sound of her sweet little voice, her laugh, her smile, her beautiful blue eyes and red hair. She loved music, playing with her dolls and her sisters and brothers.

"She loved being involved with everything with was happening around her, folding clothes and helping around the house."

Mental torture

Poignantly, Mr Cawley said that Santina’s birthday fell on May 6th last.

"It breaks my heart to visit her grave. All I have now are heavenly birthdays and memories. These beautiful memories can never be taken from me."

He described his life since the passing of Santina as “mental torture.”

“This is honestly the worst thing any parent can go through. I would not wish this on any family," he said.

He added that he plans to cherish the two-and-a-half years he had with his “beautiful little girl” before thanking gardaí, organisation Support after Homocide, mental health workers, Cork University Hospital, first responders, ambulance staff, the legal teams and the jury.

Meanwhile, Bridget O’Donoghue, the mother of the deceased, also delivered a powerful victim impact statement through a Garda liaison officer.

I thought I was leaving her for an overnight stay with her dad and would see her the next day.

Ms O’Donoghue said that Santina was an “old soul” who seemed to have been here before.

“She was a premature baby. She was small but she was a fighter. She was loved and adored by her family the minute we saw her. She was the baby of our family - loved, cherished and spoiled by us all. Especially her nana. She loved her rhymes, her cartoons and Barney. She loved her trips to town with me and her nana.

"She was very cute for her age. She was clever and bright. She knew all the names of the Teletubbies and was a happy soul. She was very soft and gentle yet was hardy, determined and a little fighter.”

Ms O’Donoghue said she would never forget the knock on the door in the early hours of May 5th, 2019 when a garda told her she needed to come to the hospital as her child was fighting for her life.

“There seemed to be so many doctors and nurses around. I did not understand what was happening. Eventually I was told that Santina had passed away from her injuries and I went into a state of shock. I could not believe what I had been told.

"When I asked to see her, she was put in my arms and I could not believe the condition of her, she was covered in bruises from head to toe. Her hands were cold, and she was so pale."

Immense anger

Ms O’Donoghue said that the day Santina died she took part of her with her.

“I am devastated. My heart is in pieces and the hurt continues every day. So many times I have wished I could turn the clock back, the disbelief that this could have happened haunts me to this day.

"My last memory of Santina was her hugging and squeezing me and not wanting to leave me. I thought I was leaving her for an overnight stay with her dad and would see her the next day.

"I hope in Santina’s last moment she remembered and felt the love of me her mother, her nana and family. I want to get justice for my daughter. It will be the last thing I can do for her. I hope in her short life she will remember how much she was loved and adored by me and her brothers and sisters and the bond she shared with her nana."

Ms O’Donoghue said she felt immense anger towards Karen Harrington.

“I continuously ask myself how could someone be so cruel to a two-year-old. A soft and gentle soul. Just how can you hurt a baby like this. I wonder was she (Santina) looking for me in those last moments. What was Santina thinking and feeling during her terrible death?”

Ms O’Donoghue thanked gardaí, ambulance and fire services, and the media. She also thanked her mother Eileen for her support.

Life imprisonment

Meanwhile, Mr Justice Michael McGrath sentenced Karen Harrington to mandatory life imprisonment. He commended the jury for their diligence and exempted them from further jury service for life.

He also spoke of the efforts of gardaí in the case which he said was a “difficult matter” for them to investigate.

Mr Justice McGrath also commended Mr Cawley, the father of the child, for the "courage and dignity" he displayed whilst giving evidence in the case. He described the case as having been “heart-wrenching” with the circumstances being “beyond description.”

Garda senior investigating officer Det Inspector Danny Coholan also issued a statement in which he thanked the community in Cork for their assistance and co-operation with the investigating team.

He also thanked the dedicated investigating team, saying that obtaining justice for Santina was always their ultimate goal.

“This was a particularly emotive case for the members that attended the scene and the investigation team, many having children of a similar age. Santina was always in our thoughts," he said.

"We would like again to publicly express our sympathies to Santina’s family and An Garda Síochána will continue to support them as they continue to grieve for Santina."

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