Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Man admits horror attack on Bessbrook toddler

The man who inflicted ‘life-changing injuries’ on a Bessbrook toddler three years ago will be sentenced next month after he admitted the attack ahead of a hearing at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

Darren Eamonn Fagan (29) was told he faces a jail sentence after admitting to a probation officer that he had punched the two year old girl to her head “as she would not stop crying” and he claimed he wanted peace to watch the X Factor on TV.

The court also heard how Fagan has a previous conviction for assaulting the 20-month-old child of a former partner.

He had originally been due to stand trial for attempted murder and grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent but had recently pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of GBH with intent.

During his re-arraignment, his guilty plea was accepted by the prosecution but they asked that the attempted murder charge be “left on the books in the usual terms”. Friday’s hearing revealed Fagan’s violent history and “extensive criminal record” which included further convictions for violence, including a conviction for assaulting an infant.

The assault of the two year old daughter of his Bessbrook girlfriend – which took place on 19 October 2014 – sent shockwaves throughout the local community and there was widespread revulsion when it was confirmed that the attack had left the child with permanent brain damage.

The court heard that at the time of the attack, the child’s mother had met Fagan about “eight to 10 times”. He had stayed over at the Bessbrook property on the night before the assault and it was alleged that Fagan started drinking cider around 1.30pm on the day of the attack.

According to an account the child’s mother gave to police, her daughter had arrived home from her father’s care that evening in “good form” but became unsettled after going to bed.  She said the toddler’s face was “red and sweating” when she went to check on her and she decided to go to the kitchen to look for medicine.  After doing so, she said she noticed that Fagan was not in the living room any more.

As she went back upstairs to her daughter, the mum alleges that her daughter “stopped crying” and she heard a “sudden noise… like a thud”.

A prosecution barrister explained that within three seconds of hearing the thud, the mother was in the room and saw the defendant “standing up, crouched over her daughter’s bed” and noticed “a large lump on the left side of her head.”

The barrister added that she shouted at him: ‘Oh my God, you’ve hit her!’ to which the defendant replied that it was “not what it looks like”.

After running down the stairs with her daughter, the mum said Fagan would not let her out through the front door saying he could explain what happened. After managing to escape with the toddler, she carried her up the street to a neighbour’s house.

The senior prosecutor told the judge that the child was “violently vomiting at this stage” with the distraught mother telling people at her neighbour’s home to ring for an ambulance.

The court heard that police officers on the scene performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the child, before she was transferred by ambulance to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. The toddler had sustained severe head injuries, including multiple fractures and a brain haemorrhage which have resulted in permanent brain damage requiring “intervention and support in the future”. The young victim also has a significant risk of developing epilepsy, the judge was told.

The prosecution said that when police eventually apprehended Fagan, he admitted he was the one they were looking for in connection with the attack but he later tried to blame the child’s injuries on her mother.

It was revealed that Fagan became violent after his arrest “and started head-butting the inside of the car” en route to the police station.

A defence barrister described the attack as an “explosive incident” which was carried out with “no premeditation” by his client.

Underlining Fagan’s “absolutely wretched” upbringing in foster accommodation, the defence told the court how he was forced into taking heroin by his mother at a young age and that he had taken a “cocktail of drink and drugs” on the night of the attack.

A letter in which Fagan expressed his remorse for the attack was also handed to the judge by the defence barrister and is to be passed on to the victim’s family.

The judge remanded the 29 year old back into custody ahead of sentencing on 9th June.