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26th-Feb-2015 09:27 am - Liam Gonzalez Bennett: PPS review confirms no prosecutions over toddler's death
26 February 2015

** So the new designation for murder is "non-accidental" death. Has the Public Prosecution Service not heard of DNA testing and other forensic investigations? If this is the best they can do, it is shameful and a disgrace.

The Public Prosecution Service has said it is standing by its decision not to prosecute two people in connection with a toddler's "non-accidental" death.

Liam Gonzalez Bennett, from Ballymena, County Antrim, died in February 2009.

A pathologist told his inquest that the 20-month-old was beaten so hard that he was left blind minutes before he died.

In a review of its decision not to prosecute, the PPS said that while the child died due to non-accidental injury, there was not enough evidence.

It said it had concluded the the original decision not to proceed against either or both of the individuals reported to it should stand.

Liam'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.

A pathologist told Liam Gonzalez Bennett's inquest that the child had been beaten so hard that he was left blind minutes before he died

Mr McKeown said he found that Liam was not breathing and called the child's mother and then an ambulance.

Liam was taken Antrim Area Hospital before being transferred to the intensive care unit at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, where he died 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."

4th-Nov-2013 08:53 am - Police Ombudsman scrutinises PSNI handling of Co Antrim toddler Liam Gonzalez Bennett's death
Belfast Telegraph
04 November 2013

Liam Gonzalez Bennett

An SDLP councillor has welcomed the launch of a Police Ombudsman probe in to how the PSNI conducted an investigation, after no one was prosecuted for the death of a Co Antrim toddler.

Declan O'Loan – whose wife Nuala formerly occupied the Ombudsman's post – sent a letter of complaint to Dr Michael Maguire's office, as he was troubled by details that emerged during the inquest earlier this month into the death of Liam Gonzalez Bennett.

Mr O'Loan said: "Someone needs to break in to this case to see if there can have been justification for no charges having been taken and to establish if there was failure in some part of the legal chain.

"The Police Ombudsman is well placed to begin the necessary inquiries, and I welcome the fact that he has done so."

The 20-month-old died on February 8, 2009, the day after he was rushed to hospital from his home at Sunningdale Park in Ballymena, having suffered 31 head injuries, leading to blindness and brain death.

His mother Samantha Bennett and stepfather Paul Noel McKeown were arrested and were questioned several times. But no prosecution was ever brought, and police are not seeking anyone else in connection with the little boy's death.

In court, Dr Alistair Bentley, Deputy State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, concluded the bruises on Liam's head may have been caused by the "knuckles of a clenched fist".

At Liam's inquest, Coroner Suzanne Anderson requested that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) look at the matter again.

Mr O'Loan said Mr Maguire had written to the coroner, Ms Anderson, seeking the reasons for her referral of the case back to the PPS and asking whether she had concerns about the quality of the police investigation.

He said the Ombudsman has also written to the DPP expressing an interest in the review that will take place and requesting that should the PPS identify any concerns about the adequacy of the police investigation, they refer the matter to him.
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