The Public Prosecution Service has confirmed it is considering referring the sentence imposed on a County Tyrone father who seriously injured his baby son to the Court of Appeal.
However, the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) under whom the child was registered has largely stonewalled questions around the case including why closer monitoring was not in place as the father has convictions for sexually abusing children.
The defendant, who is aged in his thirties but can’t be named to protect the victim, admitted serious child cruelty offences against his baby son who was just months old at the time between May and August 2021.
During sentencing at Dungannon Crown Court it emerged he has previous convictions for sexually abusing a number of children.
Shockingly, an in-depth psychiatric assessment concluded: “It would be extremely unwise and dangerous to ever allow him any parental responsibility for any child.”
The defendant was a stay-at-home parent looking after the baby while his partner worked and staff at a daycare facility noted bruising to his face.
This had also been noted around four weeks previously and on the second occasion, staff alerted Social Services.
Medical examination established the baby had suffered non-accidental injuries including fractures to his lower left leg, right shoulder and two ribs.
Initially, the defendant offered several explanations before admitting “squeezing” the baby’s chest causing the rib fractures, on one occasion hearing “a popping sound”.
The facial bruising was from grabbing the baby’s cheeks when he was crying.
Judge Brian Sherrard told the defendant: “You accepted culpability for violence and cruelty towards your baby when he was entirely helpless and dependent on his carers. You abused the trust that society placed in you in the most egregious manner …. The gravitas of offending lies not only in causing these injuries but in allowing your baby to suffer from them … You became increasingly frustrated and angry and these emotions were directed at your baby. You had low tolerance when he refused to feed … You were taking drink and drugs to excess and very prone to provocation.”
He continued: “You have previous convictions for causing harm to children. This case involved multiple incidents of serious cruelty and neglect. The baby was seriously injured and moreover, you ignored those injuries. Harm was quite apparent. Any right-thinking member of our community could not fail to be horrified by anybody causing a very young baby to sustain such serious injuries. The public have a very real concern for the welfare of our children.”
Turning to the psychiatric assessment Judge Sherrard said: “Perhaps the most shocking statement concludes it would be extremely unwise and dangerous to ever allow you any parental responsibility for any child.”
Describing this as “particularity damning and negative” he imposed a term of three years imprisonment, split into 12 months custody and 24 months on licence.
Following this, the PPS was asked if it intended to appeal the sentence on the grounds of undue leniency to which a spokesperson replied: “While sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions has the power to refer particular sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that they may be unduly lenient. An unduly lenient sentence is one that falls outside the range of sentences that a judge, taking into consideration all relevant factors and having regard to sentencing guidance, could reasonably consider appropriate. We are considering whether there is a legal ground to refer the sentence in this case to the Court of Appeal for consideration.”
Meanwhile, the Western Trust was asked if they or those involved in the baby’s welfare were aware of the father’s convictions, substance misuse and anger issues and if so, was he assessed as suitable to have unsupervised care and why was the baby not on the ‘At Risk’ register from birth and closely monitored?
Also in light of the baby’s very young age, why did a health visitor or similar not see bruising to his face on one of the multiple occasions?
Finally, is there to be a review into the handling of this matter and if so what are the Terms of Reference or if this has been if completed what recommendations were made and if pending, when is it expected to conclude?
A Western Trust spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individuals for reasons of privacy/confidentiality. We will carefully consider the outcome of this case to see if any learning can be identified and actioned.”
It was pointed out that “the individual” was anonymised to protect the child thus safeguarding confidentiality, but the Western Trust declined further comment.