Northern Ireland news

Coroner warns of ‘co-sleeping' next to babies after tot's death

A cause of death for five-month-old Charli Doherty cannot be established, a coroner has said
John Monaghan

THE father of a five-month-old baby who was found "limp" and not breathing while sleeping in her parents' bed has said he hopes "somebody can learn a valuable lesson" from the tragedy.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson had told an inquest into the death of Charli Belle Doherty that she was a "much loved and cared for" child and a post-mortem had shown "nothing which could account for the death".

Charli, born in August 2014, was conceived through IVF and was the first child together for Eileen Whoriskey and Neil Doherty, who has adult children from a previous relationship.

The inquest heard that on Saturday, January 10 last year, Charli was being looked after by her father at the family home in Briar Hill in Greysteel, Co Derry.

Ms Whoriskey was on her hen night in Derry city ahead of the couple's wedding, which was due to take place later in January.

Mr Doherty said he was "a bit nervous" on the night as Charli had been breastfed "but Eileen had left bottles of milk out with instructions", adding that the baby slept throughout most of the evening.

After going out to pick up Ms Whoriskey and returning home together in the car in the early hours of Sunday, she took Charli to her own bed while Mr Doherty sat up to watch television.

Mr Doherty told the inquest he "didn't feel Eileen was tipsy or drunk".

An emotional Ms Whoriskey recalled: "She was on her back and she had a dummy in her mouth. I put her at an angle so that I could easily lift her into the cot when she went to sleep."

After waking at around 6.10am, Mr Doherty said he went to "look for my wee angel".

"She was under the duvet. I pulled the duvet back and she was limp and not breathing," he said.

"I was running and shouting and I took her outside - I thought the rain might wake her up. I don't know what I was thinking."

Mr Doherty added: "I performed CPR on the kitchen floor. Her wee eyes were open and she was looking at the sky."

After spending time in Altnagelvin and being transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Charli's life support machine was switched off on Friday January 16.

Dr Daniel Hurrell, who carried out post-mortem examination, said the baby was in normal health and there was "no injury that could explain Charli's death, and no factors in the child's history".

"Because it is a case where there are complicating factors which may have contributed, we can't say it was sudden death syndrome.

"As such we are unable to exclude hyperthermia and overlaying (an adult falling on top of baby). If the baby had been in the cot, then yes, I would have said it was sudden death syndrome, in the circumstances."

He added: "Perhaps the child was covered by the duvet and suffered hyperthermia. There was no evidence of overlaying."

Concluding the inquest, coroner Suzanne Anderson said the cause of death was "unascertained".

"Co-sleeping is a hazardous exercise... there are lessons to be learnt in relation to being careful about taking babies to bed and especially when someone has had a few drinks.

"I accept completely your evidence of what has been a tragedy for you. I extend my deepest sympathies to you."

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Doherty said: "I just hope that somebody can learn a valuable lesson from this."

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