Anguished mother’s words as the girlfriend of her toddler’s father is jailed for life for murder

The parents of murdered toddler Santina Cawley have spoken of their pain since her life was taken by Karen Harrington.

Yesterday, Harrington was found guilty of the two-year-old girl’s murder and jailed for life.

She had inflicted dozens of devastating injuries on the defenceless child, including fractures of her arms, legs and skull, and leaving bruises on her entire body.

Harrington, of Lakeland’s Crescent, Cork was on trial charged with the Santina’s murder in July 2019, at a Central Criminal Court that was sitting in Cork city.

The jury took four hours and 46 minutes to return a unanimous guilty verdict following the fortnight-long trial.

Harrington had been in a relationship with the father of the child, Michael Cawley, at the time of the offence.

The trial was told that Mr Cawley had trusted Karen and did not have any concerns about leaving his daughter with her. Santina was found by Mr Cawley, critically injured under a soiled duvet on the morning of July 5, 2019 at the apartment of his then partner Harrington.

Santina was naked and clumps of the little girl’s hair were found in the woman’s apartment.

The injuries were so devastating that there was no chance of survival for the toddler.

Mr Cawley, in a victim impact statement delivered via a Garda family liaison officer, said: ‘The worst thing was finding her disfigured body under a blanket.

‘I will be haunted by this horror for the remainder of my life. This is beyond words. I have no words.

‘The trial is a difficult process, having to listen to graphic details of what happened to Santina, but a necessary one.’

Mr Cawley said that Santina was a ‘beautiful, happy, friendly, caring, fun loving’ girl.

‘She enjoyed life – always smiling, she loved life, everyone loved her. She brought joy to my heart. She was my pride and joy. I will always be so proud of her.

‘When I look at some of her clothes and toys in her bedroom it breaks my heart. I miss the sound of her sweet little voice, her laugh, her smile, her beautiful blue eyes and red hair.

‘She loved music, playing with her dolls and her sisters and brothers,’ he said.

‘She loved being involved with everything with was happening around her, folding clothes and helping around the house.’

Mr Cawley said that Santina’s birthday fell on May 6.

‘It breaks my heart to visit her grave. All I have now are heavenly birthdays and memories.

‘These beautiful memories can never be taken from me. This is honestly the worst thing any parent can go through. I would not wish this on any family,’ his statement said.

Mr Cawley added that his plan is to cherish the two-and-a-half years he had with his ‘beautiful little girl’ before thanking gardaí, voluntary group Support After Homicide, mental health workers, Cork University Hospital, first responders, ambulance staff and the legal teams and the jury.

Bridget O’Donoghue, Santina’s mother, also delivered a powerful victim impact statement through a Garda liaison officer.

Ms O’Donoghue said: ‘She was a premature baby. She was small but she was a fighter. She was loved and adored by her family the minute we saw her.

‘She was the baby of our family, loved cherished and spoiled by us all. Especially her nana. She loved her trips to town with me and her Nana. She as clever and bright. She knew all the names of the Teletubbies and was a happy soul.

‘She was very soft and gentle yet was hardy, determined and a little fighter,’ she said.

Ms O’Donoghue said that she would never forget the knock on the door in the early hours of May 5, 2019 when a garda told her she needed to come to the hospital as her child was fighting for her life.

‘There seemed to be so many doctors and nurses around. I did not understand what was happening. Eventually I was told that Santina had passed away from the her injuries and I went in to a state of shock. I could not believe what I had been told.

‘When I asked to see her, she was put in my arms and I could not believe the condition of her.

‘She was covered in bruises from head to toe.’

Ms O’Donoghue said that the day Santina died she took part of her mother with her.

‘I am devastated. My heart is in pieces and the hurt continues every day. So many times I have wished I could turn the clock back. The disbelief that this could have happened haunts me to this day. My last memory of Santina was her hugging and squeezing me and not wanting to leave me.

‘I thought I was leaving her for an overnight stay with her dad and would see her the next day.

‘I hope in Santina’s last moment she remembered and felt the love of me her mother, her nana and family. I want to get justice for my daughter.

‘It will be the last thing I can do for her. I hope in her short life she will remember how much she was loved and adored by me and her brothers and sisters and the bond she shared with her nana.’

Ms O’Donoghue said that she felt immense anger towards Harrington.

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