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Delays in forensic reports ‘worrisome’ says judge in toddler murder charge case

'We could be looking at a very long time and both accused are in custody'

Darren John Armstrong is charged with the murder of baby Ali Jayden Doyle while Jade Dempsey (pictured) is charged with causing her daughter’s death by an unlawful act

A judge has expressed concerns over the length of time currently taken for forensic reports to be provided to courts, describing the situation as “worrisome”.

District Judge Peter Magill was speaking during a review hearing in the case of murdered toddler Ali Jayden Doyle, which Dungannon Magistrates Court was advised is “fast approaching” the one-year mark.

The two-year-old died after sustaining what was described as an “extensive, non-accidental head injury” on August 8 last year.

Darren John Armstrong (32), of Park Avenue, Dungannon is charged with murder, while his partner, the child’s mother Jade Dempsey (25), of Sycamore Drive, also in Dungannon, is charged with causing her daughter’s death by an unlawful act.

Both are jointly accused of perverting justice by providing misleading information to police.

Despite being expressly warned against bringing the children in contact with Armstrong, Dempsey left them in his care. The children had been placed on the at-risk register as a direct result of her relationship with Armstrong.

It was previously disclosed paramedics were called to Armstrong’s address on August 8 last year where Ali was found unresponsive.

He claimed Ali’s baby brother hit her with a toy, causing her to fall and strike her head on the fireplace, but paramedics became concerned and contacted police and Social Services.

Dempsey initially claimed she went to Armstrong’s house to return a bank card and only left the children with him while she retraced her steps looking for a lost dummy.

In fact, she had prearranged to leave the children with him while she travelled to Belfast to purchase a pram.

A post-mortem revealed Ali’s head trauma was most likely non-accidental, with injuries so extensive the pathologist couldn’t say how many times there was impact.

The pair were remanded in custody after their first appearance in court although Dempsey was later granted bail at the High Court.

That proved problematic as an address couldn’t be found and she was eventually permitted to leave prison to register with the Housing Executive.

Accommodation was sourced but within days, Dempsey was returned to custody after breaching bail conditions.

Previously the court learned two specialist pathology reports are awaited, one of which was due in May and the other in July.

At the most recent sitting, a prosecuting lawyer explained the May deadline could not be met and, “One report is required to feed into the other. There is progress, but there are 13 cases to be reported on before this matter in date order. An exact date cannot be provided as all cases vary. A backlog is still being worked through due to challenging times together with a high volume of cases. The estimated time for reports is six to eight months from date of receipt.”

Judge Magill said: “We could be looking at a very long time and both accused are in custody. There needs to be a full update on when forensics will be ready.

“I don’t know how complex this case is, but the forensics situation is becoming very worrisome. I’m concerned about the forensics situation generally, such as how long it takes for even simple things like drug or firearm analysis.”

Defence for Armstrong said: “My concern is we are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the date of the alleged incident.”

However, he conceded the reports required are: “Quite bespoke, as they deal with the death of a two-year-old child, which are much more intricate.”

Meanwhile Dempsey’s lawyer advised she is intending to apply for compassionate bail imminently.

Judge Magill adjourned the case for detailed update on July 15.

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