Man who left baby with brain damage blamed ‘tiredness’

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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  • Incident took place at a caravan park in Dunoon
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A MAN has been locked up for seven and a half years after leaving a tiny baby blind and with catastrophic brain damage.

Stephen Sweeney attacked the five week old child while on holiday with the boy’s mum in September 2013.

Be under no illusions, you pled guilty to a deliberate attack. You have accepted responsibility for severely damaging an innocent young child. No sentence can adequately reflect what you done.

Judge John Morris QC

Sweeney violently shook the baby and squeezed his body while apparently changing him.

The 27 year-old when later confronted over what happened moaned: “I was tired.”

Sweeney returned to the High Court in Glasgow today after pleading guilty to assaulting the child to the danger of his life.

Judge John Morris QC described the case as a “truly tragic” and that the boy’s life has been “devastated” by what happened.

He told Sweeney: “Be under no illusions, you pled guilty to a deliberate attack. You have accepted responsibility for severely damaging an innocent young child.

“No sentence can adequately reflect what you done.”

The judge said the jail-term would have been 10 years, but for the guilty plea.

First offender Sweeney looked shell-shocked as he was lead handcuffed to the cells.

Several of his family and friends who packed the court were in tears.

After the hearing, the boy’s mum – who had also turned up to see Sweeney being locked up – said the sentence was “just and fair”.

In a statement, describing her son’s ordeal, she added: “This is the kind of nightmare that you read about in the news and never believe that it could happen to your own child.”

The court earlier heard how Sweeney had joined the child and his mum on a break to Hunters Quay caravan park in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute.

The baby was said to be initially happy and content during the holiday.

But, tragically that changed in the early hours of September 3 2013 when the child awoke and Sweeney took him out his cot.

The child’s mum stayed in the bedroom, but could see him dealing with the youngster.

Prosecutor Jennifer Bain said the woman nodded off, but was startled by Sweeney yelling for help.

She discovered Sweeney, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, with the child on his knee while claiming: “He’s not right.”

Miss Bain: “She noticed her son appeared tired and drowsy, but that he was not asleep.

“She saw that he looked pale, his eyes were half shut and that he was taking short breaths. His leg was shaking and he appeared to be floppy.”

They initially took the child hospital in Dunoon, but was allowed to leave having been diagnosed with a viral infection.

But, the baby remained in obvious pain and was eventually taken to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill.

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

Doctors found he had haemorrhages, bruising and signs of rib fractures.

Miss Bain: “His condition deteriorated...he required resuscitation and ventilation.”

“He was unable to breathe 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.”

The boy did improve and was able to move.


But, medics believed the boy had been a victim of “abusive head trauma”.

The apparently healing rib fractures were likely caused by shaking.

Hospital staff later told Sweeney and the child’s mum the injuries were “non accidental”.

After the meeting, the mum confronted Sweeney who claimed he had “done something” while trying to “shush” the child.

He then blurted out: “Oh my god, I’ve done this. I’m responsible for this.”

Sweeney later told his mother that he had been bouncing the child on his knee and that the baby’s head had been moving backwards and forwards.

Another relative of the baby then asked Sweeney if he had “lost it”.

Sweeney told her: “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 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.”

Frances McMenamin QC, defending, today said Sweeney will have to “suffer the consequences” of what he did for the rest of his life.

She told the court: “Mr Sweeney has great difficulty coming to terms that what he did in those few moments...changed his life, but, above all else, the little boy’s life changed as well.”