No prosecutions in battered toddler case

20 month old Liam Gonzales Bennett
20 month old Liam Gonzales Bennett

The Public Prosecution Service has said that there will be no prosecutions in connection with a toddler’s “non-accidental” death.

Liam Gonzalez Bennett, from Ballymena, County Antrim, died in February 2009 and a pathologist told his inquest that the 20-month-old had been blinded by a beating inflicted just before he died.

Pacemaker press 11/10/13 Samantha Bennett mother of Liam Gonzales Bennett  stands while her solicitor Ernie Waterworth speaks regarding her case. The coroner has said she will send the file on the death of a toddler to the Public Prosecution Service. She was speaking after recording a verdict of non-accidental death in the case of Liam Gonzales Bennett from Ballymena, County Antrim. The 20-month-old boy died in February 2009. He had suffered 31 bruises to his head that medical experts said were possibly as a result of being punched. Picture Mark marlow/pacemaker press

Pacemaker press 11/10/13 Samantha Bennett mother of Liam Gonzales Bennett stands while her solicitor Ernie Waterworth speaks regarding her case. The coroner has said she will send the file on the death of a toddler to the Public Prosecution Service. She was speaking after recording a verdict of non-accidental death in the case of Liam Gonzales Bennett from Ballymena, County Antrim. The 20-month-old boy died in February 2009. He had suffered 31 bruises to his head that medical experts said were possibly as a result of being punched. Picture Mark marlow/pacemaker press

The PPS has concluded, in a review of its decision not to prosecute, that while the child died due to non-accidental injury, there was not enough evidence to proceed against either or both of the individuals originally reported to it

The toddler’s injuries were discovered when he was found unresponsive in his cot while his mother, Samantha Bennett, was out shopping. Her fiancé at the time, Noel McKeown, was looking after the boy and his older sister at the couple’s home in Sunningdale Park in the Carniny area of the town.

Mr McKeown claimed he found that Liam was not breathing and called the child’s mother and then an ambulance. The toddler died in the intensive care unit at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital the following day. He had sustained 31 bruises to his head that medical experts told his inquest were consistent with being punched.

Marianne O’Kane, Regional Prosecutor of PPS Eastern Region said: “There has been a thorough review of all the available evidence and information in this case, arising from both the police investigation into the death of baby Liam and following the conclusion of the inquest into the circumstances of his death.

“While it is clear that baby Liam’s death was as a result of non-accidental injury, the evidence available is not sufficient to establish the identity of the person or persons responsible for causing that injury,” she said.

In 2013, an inquest recorded a verdict of non-accidental death and the coroner said it was disturbing that no-one had been held accountable. She sent a file to the PPS.

Liam’s mother, Samantha Bennett, told the inquest she could not give any explanation as to how he sustained his injuries.

She described how she had returned home from a shopping trip to find ambulance crews working on her unconscious child.

The inquest was told that Ms Bennett and her former fiancé were interviewed by police on at least three separate occasions but offered no explanation for the injuries.

“I assure the public that every care has been taken in this case. We have worked closely with police and the evidence has been exhaustively examined and reviewed by senior lawyers within the PPS,” Ms O’Kane said.

“Those involved in this case have been informed of the outcome of the review and also of the fact that the case may be re-opened should any relevant new evidence or information become available in future.”