Baby blinded, brain-damaged by ‘tired’ babysitter

The High Court in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
The High Court in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
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A MAN who shook a five-week-old baby boy so hard he left him blind and brain damaged later admitted he may have “lost it” with the child because he was feeling tired.

Stephen Sweeney shook and squeezed the infant while apparently changing him during a holiday with the baby’s mother in September 2013.

The attack was so severe ­medics believed the baby would not survive. He now has cerebral palsy, is registered blind and faces an uncertain future.

Sweeney, 27, pleaded guilty to assaulting the child to the danger of his life. He showed no emotion during yesterday’s hearing and will learn his fate later this month.

Sweeney joined the child and his mother on a short break to Hunters Quay caravan park in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute. The baby was said to be initially happy and content during the holiday.

The High Court in Glasgow heard the child awoke in the early hours of 3 September for his regular feed and Sweeney decided to take him from his cot. The child’s mother stayed in the bedroom but could see Sweeney with the baby.

Advocate depute Jennifer Bain, prosecuting, said the mother fell asleep but was startled by Sweeney calling for help. She then discovered Sweeney, from Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, with the child on his knee saying: “He’s not right.”

They took the baby to the local hospital where medics checked him. He was allowed to leave having been diagnosed with a viral infection. The baby refused to be fed back at the holiday park and was in obvious pain so was taken to Glasgow for tests at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill.

During the journey, the baby was described as “shivering and sweating”.

Doctors at Yorkhill found he had haemorrhages and bruising. He also had signs of rib fractures.

The baby was transferred to intensive care as his condition worsened. The advocate depute added: “He was unable to breath independently and he continued to have seizures.

“The accused and the boy’s mum were told to prepare for the worst and the child was administered with his Last Rites.”

Later that month, hospital staff told Sweeney and the child’s mother the injuries were “non-accidental”. After the meeting, the mother confronted Sweeney who claimed he had “done something” while trying to “shush” the child. He then said: “Oh my god, I’ve done this. I’m responsible for this.”

The next day, Sweeney told his mother he had been bouncing the baby on his knee and that his head had been moving backwards and forwards.

Another relative of the baby then asked Sweeney if he had “lost it”. Sweeney said: “I don’t know – I was tired.”

He was detained by police on September 20 2013 and claimed what happened was “an accident”.

Sweeney said he had held the boy tightly that morning as he moved him up and down as well as backwards and forwards.

On being charged, Sweeney whined: “I understand, but I wouldn’t hurt him.”

Leading paediatrician Dr Helen Hammond OBE was asked to provide expert opinion on the case.

Dr Hammond said the injuries were consistent with the baby being shaken and gripped.

She added the way the boy appeared at hospital could be explained by Sweeney’s claims he “bounced” the boy on his knee while not supporting his head.

But, the force would have to be “excessive” to cause the brain injuries.

She added bruising on the child’s bottom also pointed to the child being “thumped down hard” on a knee.

The court heard the prognosis for the boy was “poor”.

Miss Bain said he is registered blind, now has cerebral palsy and suffers from epilepsy.

The prosecutor went on: “He is – and will continue to be – significantly impaired both physically and mentally.”

Sweeney’s QC Frances McMenamin told the court what happened “on so many levels was utterly tragic”.

Judge John Morris QC deferred sentence.

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