Warning to parents after Co Londonderry baby died sleeping in bed beside mother

Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast
Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast

Frenzied attempts to revive a gravely ill child have been recounted during a highly emotional court hearing.

Five-month-old Charli Belle Doherty died last January after being taken into bed to sleep by her mother, who had recently returned from her hen night and was set to get married the following week.

The coroner accepted that the child was well-cared for by her parents, and ruled that the reason for her death was unknown.

However, the court also heard that – in general terms – taking babies to bed can be dangerous, and the child’s father said his only hope is now that other parents heed that warning.

The inquest in Belfast was told that Charli, who lived at Briar Hill in Greysteel, Co Londonderry, was conceived via IVF treatment. She was born normally, and developed normally.

On the night of January 10, 2015, mother Eileen Whoriskey went out for the evening, leaving the child in the care of father Neil Doherty, and returned to the house in the early hours of the morning.

During his evidence, Dr Daniel Hurrell – a paediatric pathologist – said she was estimated to have had roughly a bottle of wine to drink.

Neil, when he was on the stand, said she had not been “tipsy”, and that he himself had only had a glass of wine and possibly a beer.

Eileen (who works in the insurance industry) washed, had tea and a sandwich, then went to bed, taking the baby in with her. Neil (a council maintenance worker) came to the bedroom later.

Visibly distraught when she took to the stand, Eileen’s statement of evidence was read to the court.

In it she said: “She was a good baby. But wouldn’t sleep in her own cot. As soon as I put her in her own cot she would wake. I tried everything to get her to sleep in her cot.”

When Neil came to the bedroom at about 6.15am, he looked for the baby and found her lying on her back in bed when he pulled back the quilt – but something was wrong.

When he lifted her she was breathing in a shallow way, and seemed like a “rag doll”.

In his own evidence to the court he described flying into an angry panic, saying that he became “like a bull – roaring and shouting”.

He began CPR on the floor, and also told the hearing: “I ran outside, thinking the rain would waken her up. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

The ambulance was called, and Eileen ran out to the vehicle when it arrived.

The child was taken to Altnagelvin, but later transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

She died there after being on life support at about 11.40am on January 16.

Dr Hurrell carried out a post-mortem on the child.

While she had undergone seizures in hospital and was suffering from a condition called “hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy” (which can be brought on by a lack of oxygen, for example), what caused this condition in the first place could not be determined.

Dr Hurrell had concluded that the cause of death as “unascertained”.

If the baby had died in the cot, he said Sudden Infant Death Syndrome could have been registered as the cause.

However, he also said that going to bed with a child, “particularly after alcohol consumption”, is recognised to be a “hazardous sleeping environment”.

During his evidence session, he said that being under a cover can create a “micro-environment” which may make a child too hot, or cause them to breathe in more carbon dioxide.

While an adult or and older child may unconsciously shift position to account for this, a baby would be too young to do so.

In her findings, coroner Suzanne Anderson said it was not possible to exclude the idea of hyperthermia (being too hot) or “CO2 rebreathing” as triggers for the child’s illness.

The possibility of “overlaying” (that is, the mother having lain on the child by accident) could also not be ruled out as a potential factor.

Eileen had given evidence to say she had felt “useless, like her mummy had failed her”.

But the coroner said that “Charli was very much a well-loved and cared for baby”.

She added: “It’s an absolute tragedy for you as a couple to have lost her in this way.”

She said it was necessary to raise awareness “just to be careful about taking babies into beds, particularly when anyone has had a few drinks prior to doing that”.

Speaking briefly outside, Neil told the News Letter: “If someone can learn a valuable lesson from this, then I welcome that. That’s all I want to say. I’m sorry. I can’t say anything else. I just hope people can learn something from all of this.”