Man who seriously injured toddler with punch faces jail

Darren Eamon Fegan
Darren Eamon Fegan

A Co Armagh man who punched a small girl in the head after claiming she “wouldn’t stop crying” faces jail next month.

Belfast Crown Court heard that the attack by Darren Eamonn Fagan had been “life changing” impact on the child and her parents.

Her future prognosis is yet to be fully determined by doctors.

Fagan, formerly of Clonavon Avenue, Portadown, told a probation officer that he attacked the child because he wanted peace to watch the X-Factor.

The offences related to an assault on the toddler at her home in Bessbrook, Co Armagh on Sunday, October 19, 2014.

The court heard that at the time of the attack the girl had been aged two years and four months old.

The 29-year-old Fagan had been due to stand trial for attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

However, he was recently re-arraigned and pleaded guilty to the charge of grievous bodily harm with intent.

His guilty plea was accepted by the prosecution who asked that the attempted murder charge be “left on the books in the usual terms”.

Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said that the mother was separated from the girl’s father and at time was with Fagan, “who she had met in person eight to 10 times”.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said that the young girl had spent part of the weekend with her grandparents and also her father who had all reported her to have been in good health.

That same weekend, Fagan had stayed at the woman’s house overnight and on the Sunday “started drinking cider from 1.30pm”.

The mother told police that the girl’s father had dropped her over on Sunday evening.

She was “in good form” but had then become unsettled when she was put to bed, describing her face as “red and sweating” when she went to check on her.

After going to the kitchen to look for ibuprofen child medicine, she said she noticed that Fagan was no longer in the living room.

It was as she went upstairs that her daughter “stopped crying”, and she heard a “sudden noise... like a thud”.

The court was told that within three seconds of hearing the thud she was in the room and saw the defendant standing up, crouched over her daughter’s bed, and that she noticed a large lump on the left side of her head.

She ran with her daughter down the stairs towards the front door but the defendant would not let her out saying, “I can explain,” the court heard.

Mr Murphy said the mother managed to get out the front door and ran up the street to a house where people she knew lived.

“The child was violently vomiting at this stage,” the senior prosecutor told the judge.

The “lifeless” child was brought into the house where a police officer performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Fagan was arrested, cautioned, and replied: “I did not do anything.”

Then while being taken away by police car, Mr Murphy said Fagan started to become “violent and started headbutting the inside of the car”.

A paediatrician who examined the child at Daisy Hill Hospital said she had a “large bulge to the left side of her head and had sustained an acute subdural haemorrhage (bleeding on the brain)”.

She was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hosptial in Belfast and an MRI scan revealed that the child had sustained “multiple fractures” to the head.

The court heard doctors said the child would require “intervention and support in the future” and there was also a “significant risk of developing epilepsy” in the future.

The senior prosecutor told the judge that Fagan was “interviewed extensively by police” who claimed the child had been screaming and the mother and fallen down the stairs with the child who hit her head.

Fagan “mendaciously” claimed throughout his interviews that the mother had been “drinking and taking drugs”.

But Mr Murphy said that was not the case, and that the mother was pregnant at the time.

The court heard Fagan told a probation officer that he “punched the child to her head as she would not stop crying”, claiming he wanted peace to sit with the child’s mother and watch X Factor on television.

He was asked by probation how he hit the victim and Mr Murphy said that “it is clear from this that he assaulted the child with extreme force”.

Mr Murphy added: “This was a serious assault on a defenceless toddler”.

Judge Miller was told that Fagan had an “extensive criminal record” including convictions for violence.

These included 10 counts of assault and two of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

One of those convictions was for assaulting the 20-month-old child of a previous partner.

The Probation Service had assessed Fagan as “dangerous” who posed a “high likelihood of re-offending and a significant risk of serious harm” to the public in the future”.

Defence counsel Ciaran Mallon QC described it as “explosive incident” during which the defendant had lost self-control.

“He had no hatred for the child whatsoever,” he said.

“In fact, in the days before his incident he took the mother and child to McDonald’s and they had played in the park.”

He said that Fagan had had an “absolutely wretched childhood and upbringing” and from the age of two onwards had been spent in either foster homes or secure foster accommodation.

This resulted, said Mr Mallon, in Fagan having “no coping mechanism” in dealing with his problems and his addictions.

The judge was told Fagan was forced into taking heroin by his mother at a young age and on the night in question had taken a “cocktail of drink and drugs”.

He said Fagan had expressed his remorse for the attack on the child and had also expressed this remorse in a letter which was handed to the judge.

He urged the judge to afford Fagan up to 25 per cent reduction in any sentence imposed given his guilty plea, his remorse and his personal circumstances at the time, adding that the sentencing range was between four-and-a half years up to 13 years.

But Judge Miller remarked: “I have to say Mr Mallon I fully accept and take full cognizance of the turmoil that the defendant was going through but I don’t see how a 25 per cent reduction can be given, given that full credit is 33 per cent.”

The judge said that a copy of Fagan’s letter to the court would be given to the victim’s family, adding: “This is a case of considerable importance and I wish to consider not only the papers already before the court but other material handed into today and I will deliver my sentencing remarks as soon as I can.”

Remanding Fagan back into custody, Judge Miller said he would pass sentence on Friday, June 9.