Santina Cawley murder trial: Father woke accused asking 'what did you do to my child?'

Santina Cawley Murder Trial: Father Woke Accused Asking 'What Did You Do To My Child?'
Karen Harrington (37) of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, Cork is on trial charged with the murder of Santina Cawley (pictured) on July 5th, 2019.
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Olivia Kelleher

Updated: 4.20pm

A woman on trial for the murder of a two-year-old child told gardaí she fell asleep in her apartment only to be woken by her then-partner, who accused her of killing his daughter.


Karen Harrington (37) is on trial at a Central Criminal, sitting in Cork, charged with the murder of Santina Cawley in an apartment at 26 Elderwood Park, in Boreenmanna Road, Cork city, on July 5th, 2019.

At that time, Ms Harrington was in a relationship Santina's father, Michael Cawley.

Ms Harrington was arrested in connection with Santina's murder on July 8th, 2019.


On Friday afternoon, the court heard that during her detention at Gurranbraher Garda station, Ms Harrington told gardaí she was a “caring” person who had taken over the raising of her younger sisters as a teenager. She also stated that Mr Cawley was a good father and that they had been together for about six months.

Ms Harrington said she had had an argument with Mr Cawley in the early hours of July 5th at her then-apartment Elderwood Park. She stated she had earlier had a disagreement with Mr Cawley while she was socialising in the home of a friend, Martina Higgins, who lived in the same apartment complex.

Ms Harrington said Mr Cawley accused her of kissing "foreigners" in a casino in Cork.

The accused said she left her friend's apartment at around 1.30am, telling gardaí that when she returned to her own apartment she accidentally broke a drinking glass, claiming that she later cut her feet on the broken glass while arguing with Mr Cawley.


She said that when Mr Cawley returned with Santina at approximately 3am, the couple began arguing once again. Ms Harrington added that Santina was crying and "hysterical", but had "calmed down" by the time the accused fell asleep.


Ms Harrington told gardaí that a neighbour, Aoife Nimah McGaley later knocked on her door, expressing concern about the noise coming from her apartment, while she also recalled "ranting and raving" with neighbour Dylan Olney when he also mentioned the noise.

She told gardaí her next memory was of being woken from her sleep by Mr Cawley who had returned to the apartment: “Michael was standing in front of me with the baby. I took her. She was lifeless. She was white.

"He was saying ‘what did you do to my child?’ She had a pale face. She was looking lifeless. I can see her lips. I imagined she was alive. I panicked and I ran. My mind was leaving me. I went blank," Ms Harrington said.


The accused said Mr Cawley was "roaring" at her, so she left the apartment to return to Ms Higgins apartment within the same complex. However, when Ms Higgins did not answer, she left the complex to go to another friend's home nearby.

Of the arguements with Mr Cawley, Ms Harrington said there had been "chaos" but were verbal and not violent. “He didn’t hit me but there was a mark on my eye. I don’t know where it came from.”

Seargent Michelle O’Leary also told the court that she interviewed Ms Harrington at Bridewell Garda station on the morning of July 5th, 2019, after the accused volunentarily travelled with her to the station at 6.40am.

Sgt O’Leary said she cautioned Ms Harrington, adding that the accused co-operated fully with gardaí and handed over her clothes for examination. She agreed to provide a specimen of her blood and consented to scrapings being taken from under her fingernails as well as providing swabs to gardai.


Sgt O'Leary added that Ms Harrington told gardaí she had gone to the Atlantic Pond in Cork on the evening of July 4th with Ms Higgins, where she had two glasses of vodka and coke before returning to Ms Higgins apartment at Elderwood Drive that evening.

The court heard Sgt O’Leary arrived at the scene of the incident at 5.20am the following morning, after gardaí received a call about a serious situation involving a child.

Sgt O’Leary said she entered the apartment where Santina had been found critically injured, where she saw her colleague Seargent Bryan Teahan checking the child for a pulse. A faint pulse was detected and Sgt O’Leary moved a duvet to facilitate the commencement of CPR on the youngster.

Sgt O’Leary added that the kitchen of the property was in “disarray” and there was broken glass on the floor.

After being infomed by Mr Olney that Ms Harrington had returned to the apartment complex, Sgt O’Leary spoke to the accused, who confirmed that she lived in the apartment in which the child was discovered.

"There was a smell of alcohol but I wouldn’t describe her as intoxicated. She was hungover," Sgt O'Leary said.

The case will resume on Monday before Justice Michael McGrath and a jury of eleven people after the twelfth juror was excused earlier this week.

Father's evidence

Earlier, Sergeant Brian Maher told the trial that he walked over 6km to Cork University Hospital (CUH) alongside Santina's father after she was found critically injured.

Santina was found lying under a stained duvet with critical injuries at 5am on the morning of July 5th, and was pronounced dead at 9.20am on the same day in her mother Bridget's arms at CUH.

Sgt Maher told the jury that he attended the scene of the incident shortly after 5am on July 5th 2019, meeting Mr Cawley outside the property.

Mr Cawley was described as being "extremely distraught" and kept asking about the condition of his daughter. Sgt Maher said there was a smell of alcohol from Mr Cawley but added "he did not seem to be intoxicated".

After declining to get into a garda car to be taken to Anglesea Street Garda station, Mr Crawley wished to go to CUH, Sgt Maher told the court.

"I said we would go together, so we set off to walk together," he said.

"I continued to speak to him on the way to hospital. On numerous occasions, he wanted to know was she (Santina) alive or dead. I was trying to support him as best I could. He was extremely emotional."

Sgt Maher said staff at CUH told gardaí to prepare Mr Cawley for the worst when they arrived at the hospital, at which point Santina's mother had already arrived and had been informed of her daughter's critical condition.

The witness added he was present when Mr Cawley was informed of the death of Santine later that morning.

The court heard that later, Sgt Maher went with Mr Cawley to his home in the Leeside Apartments in Grattan Street, Cork in a Garda car and Mr Cawley voluntarily handed over his clothing for forensic testing.

"On seeing his daughter’s toys in the apartment, he broke down again," Sgt Maher said.

Noise complaints

Sergeant Mark Leonard told the trial he had been called on three occasions to the Elderwood complex in the early hours of July 5th, 2019. Two of the calls involved noise complaints, while the third call involved the discovery of the injured Santina.

Sgt Leonard said as he approached the property shortly before 5.30am on the morning in question, he heard a male voice "shouting and screaming and crying" from upstairs.

When Sgt Leonard went inside the apartment he said he saw Santina "motionless" lying on a duvet.

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He added he saw a visibily upset Mr Cawley in the kitchen area: "He was crying and screaming. He kept repeating: 'She killed my baby'.

"Later, he told me the 'she' he was referring to was Karen Harrington," Sgt Leonard said.

The case continues in front of Justice Michael McGrath and a jury of seven men and four women after the twelfth juror was excused earlier this week.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can freephone the Samaritans 24 hours a day for confidential support at 116 123 or email You can also freephone the national Bereavement Support Line run by the HSE and Irish Hospice Foundation at 1800 80 70 77 (Monday-Friday 10am-1pm), and the contact information for a range of mental health supports is available at In the case of an emergency, or if you or someone you know is at risk of suicide or self-harm, dial 999/112. 

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