Dad killed baby daughter by trying to change her nappy while 'horribly drunk'

Stephen Gallagher.
Stephen Gallagher.

A doting dad killed his 14-week old baby girl when he tried to change her nappy while "horribly drunk".

Skylar Cowan Gallagher, who was born seven weeks premature, had been left in the care of her father Stephen Gallagher, 35, while her mother went out for the night last June.


Newcastle Crown Court heard when the baby's mum Angela Cowan left the family home, her baby girl was content, clean and asleep in her bouncy chair in the living room.


When the horrified mum returned early the next morning, her precious young daughter was lying face-down and lifeless on the rug, without her nappy on.


The baby's father, who had been downing cans of lager and cider and was so drunk he urinated under the fish tank, was asleep on the sofa, with no memory


of what had happened to his baby.


Despite the desperate mum's frantic effort to get help for her little girl, she was pronounced dead at hospital from asphyxiation.


Gallagher, of Hepscott Avenue, Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, has never been able to explain what exactly happened to the baby girl.


He admitted causing or allowing the death of a child and has been jailed for 32 months.


Judge John Milford QC told him: "You had started drinking that evening at about 7pm. You continued to do so and got yourself horribly drunk, so drunk that at


some point on that night you actually relieved yourself in the sitting room, under the fish tank.


"You were so drunk you have no memory of what occurred and what led to Skylar's death.


"One has to infer from the evidence what must have happened. "There came a time, at around midnight, when you removed Skylar from the safety of her bouncy chair and attempted to change her nappy, which was dirty.


"You were so drunk you were unable to do so.


"So it was, she was found just after 5am, on her mother's return. She was lying face downwards on the rug by the sofa with no nappy.


"Whether you placed her there, whether she fell there, whether she rolled off the sofa to get there is a matter of speculation.


"The one place that baby should not have been was face down on the rug, so young that she was unable to right herself onto her back.


"In a case such as this the harm is extreme, it involved the death of a defenceless infant."


Judge Milford rejected outright the defence team submission that Gallagher could be adequately punished in the community.


The judge said: "I would not entertain suspension in a case such as this, where a defenceless child meets their death through the overindulgence of the


father."


Prosecutor Jo Kidd told the court Skylar had been born on March 16 and had no medical problems despite her being seven weeks early.


It was on June 27 that Miss Cowan went on her night out.


Miss Kidd said: "When she left at 11.20 the baby had been fed, her nappy had been changed and she was asleep in her bouncy chair in the living room.


"Despite that, Mr Gallagher continued drinking over the course of the evening."


The court heard during police interview Gallagher had been unable to say how much exactly he had had to drink but there were 11 empty cans of lager and


cider found by the police.


The baby's mother had had "two or three".


Miss Kidd added: "Angela Cowan was due to return at some point in the early hours of that morning.


"However, during the course of the early hours had gone to a friend's home, fallen asleep and did not return to the family home until shorty after 5am.


"When she arrived home, she went into the living room to find the defendant asleep on the sofa and Skylar essentially dead on the living room rug."


The court heard a post mortem revealed no external injuries on the baby and the prosecution do not suggest any intentional act to harm her.


Witness statements taken from both sets of grandparents described Gallagher as a "doting father" who has been left crushed by what he did.


Anne Richardson, defending, said Gallagher has always, rightly, blamed himself for what happened to his daughter and never tried to accuse anyone else.


Miss Richardson said: "He always had a job and his way of dealing with what he has done is work harder and longer hours.


"He cannot explain to the court or the police or anybody exactly what happened that night."


Miss Richardson said Gallagher was not a habitual drinker who would leave any children in his charge to simply get on with it.


She added: "He can never turn back the clock and for him, as for the rest of the extended family, this remains an utter tragedy."


Gallagher has no previous convictions but two cautions for being drunk and disorderly and one for cultivating cannabis.

Following the hearing, Detective Inspector Carl Moss said: “Our thoughts remain with Skylar’s family after her tragic and unnecessary death.”