A woman has avoided prison in a child cruelty case, after it was established her partner who has since absconded, inflicted the shocking injuries on their newborn baby boy.
The woman, who is aged in her twenties but cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, admitted failing to protect him knowing he had been assaulted, injured and at risk of significant harm from unlawful acts on dates in November and December 2020.
Her partner, the baby’s father – also aged in his twenties – is accused of unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on the child, but he fled the area before the charges could be put to him.
An arrest warrant was issued in July this year, however, to date he had not been found.
Dungannon Crown Court heard the woman gave birth on November 17, 2022 and just under a month later, while undergoing glaucoma screening, doctors noted retinal haemorrhages.
Further examination found significant brain injury, as well fractures of the right arm, left upper and lower leg and multiple ribs.
The injuries were caused by violent shaking, but it was not possible to say when they occurred.
While it appeared unlikely the woman was aware of the injuries themselves and the court accepted she did not cause them, the perpetrator was her partner and the child’s father who is presently “unamenable to prosecution”.
This made her “criminally liable” by knowing the risk of exposing the child to his father.
Judge Brian Sherrard remarked: “It is a blessing that the child has made a full recovery from his injuries which can only be described as exceptionally serious”.
The baby was the youngest in the household, with the woman having two other children from a previous relationship – all of whom are now in care.
The judge accepted the woman was a young mother without a great deal of support, but noted this wasn’t the first time the children were potentially exposed to harm.
At the time of the attack on the baby, all three children were already on the Child Protection Register, due to domestic abuse by the father of the older children.
While acknowledging the woman was a victim of domestic abuse, Judge Sherrard told her: “It aggravates your offending that you chose to bring another abusive, volatile man into the household. Despite everything, it is concerning that you continue to minimise your role in this appalling offence. I consider it an aggravating factor that you point the finger of blame at issues surrounding the child’s birth when it’s quite apparent he was grotesquely injured while in your care.”
The judge continued: “Given the harm caused to this child, who was entirely vulnerable, and your role in that harm, had you been found guilty by a jury it is unlikely you would have been sentenced to less than 20 months immediate imprisonment. You pleaded guilty at an early opportunity making the appropriate sentence 12 months imprisonment.”
However Judge Sherrard noted while care proceedings for the children remain live, the woman is being “permitted the opportunity to demonstrate capacity for protective parenting”.
He added: “An immediate custodial term would potentially truncate that. I cannot rule out the possibility that may not produce the best outcome for the children. In those unusual circumstances I will suspend the sentence for three years.”