Northern Ireland

Christopher O'Neill not guilty of murdering baby girl

Christopher O'Neill rejected and "absolutely" denied any suggestion he would have done anything to harm his child Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Christopher O'Neill rejected and "absolutely" denied any suggestion he would have done anything to harm his child

A west Belfast man has been found not guilty of murdering his baby daughter, who died three years ago after she was rushed to hospital from her home.

Christopher O'Neill, from Whiterock Road, had denied killing three-month-old Cárágh Walsh in February 2014.

The jury at Craigavon Crown Court acquitted the 26-year-old defendant by a majority of at least 10 to one.

There were emotional scenes in the court as the baby's mother and her family protested against the verdict.

Cárágh's mother Tammie-Louise expressed her disappointment at the decision.

"Three years ago I lost my baby daughter and she is not coming back," she said. "We have to live with the loss of Cárágh as a family for the rest of our lives."

Det Ch Insp Justyn Galloway said the PSNI would "continue to support the family in any way we can and will, together with the PPS, consider the verdict that was delivered today".

Image copyright Family
Image caption Three-month-old Cárágh Walsh died in February 2014

Mr O'Neill sat in the dock with his head in his hands after the verdict, and when the judge freed him he was hugged by his tearful relatives.

His defence solicitor said Mr O'Neill and his family did not wish to comment, except to say that it had been "a very difficult case, and one in which there have been no winners".

During his trial, Mr O'Neill rejected and "absolutely" denied any suggestion he would have done anything to harm his child.

Baby Cárágh was rushed from her Glasvey home in Twinbrook to hospital on 5 February, 2014, where she died two days later.

The jury accepted his claims that far from attacking her in a rage, he had done all he could to save the toddler after she had awoken with a "painful cry" and was "barely breathing".

'Completely scared'

They rejected the prosecution's case that although a caring father, Mr O'Neill had finally found it all too much and lost control, assaulted and abused the infant in a momentary rage.

Mr O'Neill maintained that he loved his daughter and would "never" have done anything to harm her.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Mr O'Neill said he tried to revive the baby with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

"I didn't want to leave her, I just wanted to be with her all of the time," he had told the trial.

First in police interviews, and again during his four-week trial, Mr O'Neill said that he "did most of the looking-after of baby Cárágh", during the first weeks of her life and after the family moved into their own flat in Twinbrook.

He said that on the day his daughter took ill, he was watching a DVD, when she suddenly awoke in her bouncer, her arms reaching out in front of her.

Mr O'Neill described how he tried to revive her, even giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

He accepted that at one stage he lifted her up in front of him and "shook her"; he did not know how many times he had done so.

"I felt helpless and scared... completely scared of Cárágh dying," he said.

"I knew something wrong was happening."

When it was suggested he had lost his temper, Mr O'Neill told the jury: "I would never hurt my daughter... that's completely wrong. I was trying to help her."

He also told the jury that not a day goes by that he does not think of his daughter.