Ballymena toddler Liam Bennett's death 'non-accidental'

 Liam Gonzalez Bennett Liam Gonzalez Bennett died in hospital

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A coroner has said she will send the file on the death of a toddler to the Public Prosecution Service.

She was speaking after recording a verdict of non-accidental death in the case of Liam Gonzalez Bennett from Ballymena, County Antrim

The 20-month-old boy died in February 2009. He had suffered 31 bruises to his head that medical experts said were possibly as a result of being punched.

The coroner said it was disturbing that nobody had been made amenable.

Samantha Bennett, the toddler's mother told the inquest she could not give any explanation as to how he sustained his injuries.

She described how she had returned home from a shopping trip to find ambulance crews working on the unconscious child.

Her then fiancé, Noel McKeown, had been looking after Liam and the child's older sister at the couple's home in Sunningdale Park.

Ms Bennett wept as she described Liam lying on his bed wearing sunglasses earlier on the evening of his death. She had bought them for him as they were planning a trip to Tenerife to see his father.

She said at this time he had been "in good form", but that he had cried a little when she took his dummy away at bedtime. She had left to go shopping after ensuring Liam was asleep. Noel McKeown, she said, was on the computer.

A short time later, he rang her and told her Liam was not breathing and to "get home quick".

Samantha Bennett leaves court with family and legal representatives Samantha Bennett leaves court on Thursday with family and legal representatives

Her voice breaking, Ms Bennett said: "Liam was lying in the hall on the floorboards and paramedics were working on him. I was in shock and kept shouting 'what's happened to Liam, what's happened to Liam?'"

Mr McKeown had apparently tried to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation, guided by ambulance staff over the phone until they arrived.

The coroner asked Ms Bennett if she could give the court any explanation of how Liam had sustained his injuries.

Weeping, she replied with a single, almost inaudible, "no".

Asked by her own barrister if she had caused those injuries, again she replied "no".

Evidence from Australia

Mr McKeown also gave evidence to the inquest via Skype from Australia where he is currently working.

The coroner summarised Ms Bennett's evidence and asked Mr McKeown if he accepted this version of events. He said that he did.

Technical problems with the connection meant he could not be seen by those in the court. There was total silence as his voice came through the small speaker of a tablet computer.

He said Samantha Bennett had told him Liam was in bed and that he was not to disturb him. He said this was an unusually early time for Liam to be put to bed.

'Heard crying'

Mr McKeown also said it was unusual for Ms Bennett to go out shopping at that time on a Saturday night.

"A short time after Samantha left, I heard a crying noise coming from Liam's bedroom. I went in. His back was totally arched and he was struggling to breathe," he said.

He said that when Ms Bennett arrived home, she had been quiet.

As with Ms Bennett, Mr McKeown was asked if he had any explanation as to how the injuries had been caused? He replied "no".

The coroner asked "Did you cause those injuries?" He replied: "No, I did not."

No-one has ever been charged in relation to the death, despite the police having carried out an investigation at the time.

A retired detective told the inquest on Thursday that there was not enough evidence to establish who had caused the injuries to Liam.

In a statement released after the hearing, Samantha Bennett's lawyer said she had only been able to lay Liam to rest three days ago.

"However, the person who brought about that death has not yet faced prosecution," it said.

"As a result of the medical evidence presented to the coroner and in view of the fact that it has been referred back to the DPP, Samantha is hopeful that the police and the Public Prosecution Service may yet be in a position to progress this matter to a final resolution."

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