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26 Jun 2022

Longford man left six-month-old baby unattended by river for over three hours

‘Abandoned’: Child was hypothermic after being left wearing just a nappy in cold, wet conditions

Longford man left six-month-old baby unattended by river for over three hours

A man charged with two counts of child cruelty after leaving his six-month-old baby unattended in a buggy by the river for three hours on a cold March morning is due to reappear at the October sittings of Longford Circuit Court.

The man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the children, is facing a prison term of three years with a portion of that suspended pending the results of a probation report which is to be furnished to the court by October.

At a recent sitting of Longford Circuit Court, Judge Keenan Johnson heard details of how, at 5.30am on March 17, 2020, Gardaí received a call from a woman asking if her partner had been arrested earlier that night.

Gardaí told her he had not been arrested and asked her if the man had left the house. She replied that she couldn’t find him. Gardaí also noted that she was under the influence of alcohol.

At 6am, the woman called the station again and was noticeably upset. She told Gardaí that her partner had taken their six-month-old son and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and she didn’t know where.

Gardaí looked at CCTV footage from the town but couldn’t get a visual of the accused.

At approximately 6am, Garda John Fitzmaurice attended the home of the accused and his partner and was told that the man had consumed alcohol at a wake the previous day.

The woman had gone to bed at 1am and the children were in bed at this stage. However, when she woke at 5.30am, both the accused and their two children were not in the house.

The court heard that, at 6.57am, at the Albert Reynolds Peace Park, a woman had parked her car to go for a run with a friend when she heard shouting and looked at the river.

She could see a male coming out wearing a grey vest and pulling a buggy out of the water while shouting ‘my baby, my baby!’

She said the man had the baby in his arms and a little girl beside him and walked up to a nearby house where he started banging on the door and shouting for help.

At 7.05am, Gardaí received a call reporting that a male was banging on the door of a home where a woman let him and the two children in.

Gardaí were told that the accused was confused and disoriented. He wasn’t sure where he was or how he had gotten there.

The two children were crying and soaking wet. An ambulance arrived at 8am to provide medical treatment and the children were taken to hospital.

The two women who had seen him at the Mall, entered the home and said the accused was sitting at the kitchen table with the kids wrapped in blankets.

The floor was soaking wet and the baby was very cold and wearing just a nappy, while the little girl was in wet pyjamas with no shoes on.

The owner of the house, in her statement to Gardaí, said she heard the man banging on her door and shouting ‘help me, I’m freezing’.

When she opened the door, he asked her to call an ambulance and was concerned that the baby wasn’t crying at first. When he did start crying, she said she was relieved.

When Gardaí arrived, the woman said she “couldn’t say he was drunk but he didn’t know where he was or what had happened”.

She also said that the man “fell on his bottom” while he was on the phone to the ambulance.

The court heard how Professor Michael O’Grady, Paediatrician, was the consultant on call when the children arrived to Mullingar Regional Hospital, accompanied by Gardaí.

The baby, the court heard, had a temperature of 33.1 degrees celcius, with Professor O’Grady saying anything below 35 degrees is considered hypothermic. He also had a low oxygen reading.

The wet clothing was removed from the children and they were gently warmed. Both interacted normally and were appropriately grown and well nourished with no evidence of injuries.

Investigations by Gardaí revealed that, following a row with his partner, the accused had left the house, taking the two children with him. CCTV footage showed him going to the Camlin river at the Albert Reynolds Peace Park.

“He’d gone down into the Camlin, with the buggy, entered the fire station with just (his daughter) and left the buggy unattended for three hours and six minutes,” said Gda Buckley.

“To get into the fire station, you have to go in through the river and around the fence.”

The court heard how the accused had gone down to the river and into the grounds of the fire station to seek shelter.

CCTV footage showed him entering the fire station with his daughter, leaving his baby son strapped into the buggy on the river bank. From 4.25am until 6.58am, the accused was sheltering with his daughter in a fire vehicle, before he reemerged and looked for help getting out.

CCTV footage showed Gardaí that, after attempting to crawl under the gate with his daughter, he realised his son was still in the buggy and started descending down into the river and around the fence to attend to the baby.

He picked the child out of the buggy and made his way to a nearby house to seek help.

The accused man was later arrested for endangerment and questioned by Gardaí on three occasions. Nothing of evidential value arose from the first interview. During the second interview, he told Gardaí he’d been drinking at a wake with his brother and that he’d had an argument with his partner and brought the kids out of the house to calm them down.

He said he loves his girlfriend and kids and “couldn’t put them in harm’s way”. He also told Gardaí he remembered shouting for help.

“I’m very, very, very sorry. I had too much to drink. It shouldn’t have happened. I lost my whole family as a result,” he said.

While the court heard the accused has a long list of serious previous convictions, there were none of this type of offence and, when assessed in the hospital, it was stressed that the children were in good health and properly nourished.

Barrister for the defence, Mr John Shortt, put it to Garda Buckley that, while this was a “very, very serious incident”, it “was not set against a background of continued abuse”.

“The facts speak for themselves,” said Mr Shortt.

“He has a litany of previous convictions and the charges are frightening. It is a horrific incident set against a background of huge alcohol abuse.”

The children, the court heard, were placed into care for a number of months before returning back home to their parents.

Their father, Mr Shortt explained, has realised “the absolute necessity” to stay off the drink and he has since undergone residential treatment at Cuan Mhuire to deal with his addiction.

He is also under the supervision of the probation service and, while they say he’s of “high risk” of reoffending in the next 12 months, that assessment was made “against the background of addiction”, Mr Shortt said.

“My initial application is for the court not to sentence or change his status today.

“It is a disease. A blight. If he is cured of the disease, I submit with confidence he will not re-offend.

“He is afflicted with a disease he has to take responsibility for and cure himself of and he is doing that - largely because of the support of his partner and the realisation of what he has to lose.

“I would ask the court not to change his status today. If we come back in October, he can continue his rehabilitation and the rehabilitation of one person might inspire others.

“This was an incredibly serious and distressing incident but he is not an abuser. He is a man who possesses a lot of love.

“I am not saying a custodial sentence is not appropriate but to change his status at this moment could be detrimental.”

Judge Johnson commended the members of the public for the help they offered the accused but noted the serious facts of the case, namely the intoxication, the taking of the children and leaving the baby unattended for over three hours until he was in a hypothermic state.

“It does appear that it was a one-off incident,” he said, “but that doesn’t excuse it.

“It is very fortunate that the baby didn’t suffer more. To be abandoned like that in wet conditions is horrific. No child deserves to be treated in such a fashion.

“One can’t but feel that the children have been negatively impacted by that. Hopefully (the baby) was too young to be negatively affected but I can’t say the same for (the girl).”

Mitigating factors included the fact that the accused has made recent efforts to engage with treatment, the fact that he has a supportive relationship and was genuinely remorseful for his offending.

Judge Johnson then agreed to adjourn sentencing to the October sittings of Longford Circuit Court on the condition that the accused continue to engage with treatment and remain intoxicant free.

He also ordered a probation report to be furnished to the court when the case reappears in October, stating that, should he receive a positive report, the accused was looking at a three-year prison sentence with a portion of that suspended.

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