Medical expert tells trial of “solid evidence” child had been abused

By Aoife Nic Ardghail

A medical expert has told the trial of a Cavan child-minder accused of causing serious harm to a baby that in his view there was “solid evidence” the child had been abused.

On the second day of the trial of Sandra Higgins (37), consultant paediatrician Dr Christopher Hobbs read from hospital reports detailing the baby's injuries.

Sandra Higgins

These included brain haemorrhages, facial bruising, detached retinas and rib fractures.

Dr Hobbs, a UK expert in physical signs of child abuse, told the jury that a radiologist's report showed rib fractures on both of the baby's sides and that these injuries were at least 7-10 days old.

He said looking at the pattern of bruising and the rib fractures, there was “solid evidence” that the infant had been abused.

He said the “triad” of brain injuries, that is bleeding on the brain, retinal haemorrhage and brain dysfunction, pointed to non-accidental trauma.

Ms Higgins of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan, has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the 10-month-old baby at the accused's home on March 28, 2012.

Dr Hobbs told Kerida Naidoo SC, prosecuting, that he had been asked for his expert opinion in the investigation.

He said he agreed with other doctors that the baby had suffered a “serious, life-threatening, non-accidental injury”.

He accepted when Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, defending, put it to him that a radiologist said the rib fractures were at least two or three weeks old, but stated he couldn't put an age on the bruises.

Dr Hobbs explained there was no way to date bruises, but accepted that in a previous trial he had said the “fingertip” bruises on the baby's back appeared yellow.

He agreed he was aware the baby's parents indicated that she had fallen and banged her head on at least one occasion while in their care.

Dr Hobbs agreed the baby had been seen by her GP three times since the previous Christmas and that Ms Higgins had asked the parents if the doctor had done a full bodily examination on the child.

He accepted that nobody reported a concern before March 28, but added that this was “very common” in cases of child abuse.

He agreed when Mr Ó Lideadha put it to him that Ms Higgins' diary entries of the baby vomiting on dates prior to her being hospitalised did not paint a picture of a perfectly well child.

The doctor added that though the infant may not have been “100 percent” and had an ear infection on the morning, she was not seriously ill or taking fits at that stage.

“As far as I know she took feeds and then had a catastrophic collapse and that resulted in injury, and the only reason for that is trauma,” said Dr Hobbs.

The trial, which is scheduled to last for three weeks, continues before Judge Pauline Codd and a jury of five women and seven men.

Earlier, reading from medical records furnished to him, Dr Hobbs said the baby's mother told doctors that Ms Higgins informed her the child had fallen and vomited in early March 2012, while in her care.

He said the mother told doctors she had noticed a large bruise under the little girl's left eye on that occasion.

The mother added that she noticed more bruises on the baby on subsequent dates and that she began seeking alternative childminding.

Dr Hobbs said from the notes, the baby's mother stated that Ms Higgins had given explanations for the bruises, including the child falling over and bumping her head on toys.

The doctor said the records showed the baby was brought to Cavan General Hospital A&E unconscious and “pale and floppy”, with bruising on her face and body.

He said she was transferred to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin two days later, where she continued having seizures.

Referring to photographs taken by doctors at Cavan General Hospital, Dr Hobbs highlighted the bruising he confirmed were visible on the child's body.

He pointed out a number of small circular bruises on a photo of the baby's back, saying these looked like “fingertip bruises” because they were small and clustered.

The trial continues before Judge Pauline Codd and a jury of five women and seven men.


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