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Coroner finds baby died after being violently shaken

Baby Caragh Walsh, who died in February 2014. Credit: Family photo

A coroner has found that baby Caragh Walsh, who passed away in February 2014, died as a result of being violently shaken.

The 13-week-old baby girl’s father, Christopher O’Neill from west Belfast, was found not guilty of her murder last year.

An inquest into little Caragh’s death has now concluded that she suffered a severe brain injury after being shaken.

Her mother, Tammie-Louise Walsh, heard Monday’s findings before leaving the Coroner’s Court in Belfast surrounded by family.

Her father was also present for proceedings at the court.

Baby Caragh became unwell while she was being looked after by her father on 5 February 2014.

He called for an ambulance when he said Caragh woke up and had difficulty breathing and the infant was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she later died.

During the inquest, the Coroner's Court heard the 999 call made by Christopher O’Neill.

At the time, he told medics and the police that he had shaken his daughter to try to revive her.

In delivering his findings, Coroner Joe McCrisken said he was satisfied that “violent shaking” had caused bleeds to Caragh’s brain.

He also said the baby was shaken with “extreme force” and that there could have been more than one episode of shaking.

The inquest had heard that Caragh had also sustained a number of fractures to her legs and a dislocated elbow.

The coroner said the evidence showed that the injuries had been caused four to 10 days before her death, and some fractures to her legs could have been caused by an episode of shaking.

Coroner McCrisken said he rejected expert evidence provided to the inquest by a Dr Ayoub, who claimed baby Caragh’s injuries were caused by the disease rickets.

He also said he intended to warn all judges in Northern Ireland about what he described as the “potential dangers of allowing Dr Ayoub to give evidence before a jury or in any other case”.

The coroner made clear at the start of Monday’s hearing that it was not the job of the inquest to attribute blame for the child’s death.

But he said he hoped the inquest had provided some answers for the family.

At the end of the hearing, the coroner added that the medical care Caragh had received before her death had been exemplary.

He said while the medics who treated her had been questioned several times since her death, no criticism of the team at the hospital was justified.

  • Vicki Hawthorne reports from the Coroner's Court