Northern Ireland

Four years for County Londonderry child cruelty dad

Crown Court Derry
Image caption The case was heard in the Crown Court in Londonderry

A County Londonderry man who denied child cruelty against his son has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Robert Anderson, 27, shook the baby so violently that he was left permanently blind, brain-damaged and can only respond to noise.

The judge also imposed a concurrent sentence of two years in relation to a second count of child neglect. The baby cannot be named for legal reasons.

Anderson was found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm.

He was also found unanimously guilty of cruelty to his baby son by neglect and ordered to spend 12 months on probation when he is released from prison.

The child now suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy and will need care and attention for the rest of his life.

Anderson admitted dropping the baby accidentally and then shaking him when he had breathing difficulties.

'Defenceless child'

However, he said that when the baby started breathing normally again, he did not call for help as he "had no credit on his mobile phone".

Judge Phillip Babington told Anderson he had caused catastrophic injuries to a totally defenceless child.

"As a human being and as your son, it was your duty to seek help for him at that time but you failed." he said.

One of the child's female relatives said words "could not describe his present condition".

"Heart-breaking isn't the word for it. Nothing will ever describe what happened to that child, the poor wee creature," she said.

She said his daily routine was simple - as a result of injuries sustained in the incident the baby could only respond to noise, was unable to speak and had multiple disability and mobility problems.

"He would get up, sit in his chair and listen to his music and is fed through a tube - there's nothing more he can do - and gives out his big smile. He has the biggest smile ever, a beautiful smile," she said.

"That's his routine. We just have to live with it and give him all the love and care that we can.

"He's a very special wee boy and he's the most beautiful wee boy you will ever see."

Describing the case as "tragic," Niall Anderson, head of NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said the child's "horrendous injuries" were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome.

'Long-term care'

"It really all stems from the damage to the brain, the violent whiplash of the head for a young baby and the movement of the brain inside the skull and the damage that can occur, bleeding in the brain, retinal bleeding and very severe injuries that are consistent with that," he said.

Mr Anderson said it was clear that an indefinite long-term care programme would be necessary for the child "if it was ever to have a hope of any form of independent living".

"It's horrendous for the wider family as well, it's tragedy for everybody involved because the outcomes here are simply not good and in the long-term will persist and there will be difficulties for this child on an ongoing basis."

He said it was very worrying just how often such cases could occur in homes "without coming to the surface because of the most serious injuries".

"We don't know the extent to which this could be happening in homes, perhaps not resulting in these very, very serious injuries that we are seeing.

"All we can really measure are those cases which come to the point of seeking treatment for the injuries, those cases which go to the doctors, go to the hospitals.

"In Northern Ireland we are talking about perhaps three to five of these cases per year."

'Stress and frustration'

Mr Anderson said the NSPCC believed that with awareness and education, Shaken Baby Syndrome "could be largely prevented".

He said parents would need to recognise within themselves, signs of anger, stress and frustration.

"If they only knew how to manage that and to identify that, a lot of this could be avoided," he said.

Mr Anderson said that if new parents were aware of these symptoms, they could "put the baby down, count to ten and take a breath".

"Evidence of making these interventions early has showed that it can reduce the incidence of Shaken Baby Syndrome."

The NSPCC, he said, was currently working on "early warning" methods of helping parents of new babies.

He said these were likely to take the form of a DVD and written information given to parents who were about to take their new baby home from hospital

"Evidence from elsewhere, from the United States for example, of running these early intervention programmes shows that it definitely has an impact in reducing the incidence of Shaken Baby Syndrome."

Correction: An earlier version of this report said the defendant had swung the child by the leg. This information was mistakenly included and it has now been removed.