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New appeal for mother of murdered Baby Carrie to come forward
Carrie's grave at Knockbreda Cemetery. Photograph by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

In March 2002, the body of a newborn baby girl was found in Carryduff. She had been murdered. Over 16 years later, key people involved in her case say they still hope someone will come forward and explain what happened to the child known as Carrie. KATHRYN TORNEY reports.

Danielle Clifton is shocked to be contacted about the Baby Carrie case, but she hasn’t forgotten her.

Now aged 27 and a mother of two, Danielle was one of five children aged 10 and 11-years-old who found Carrie’s body.

Shortly after her birth and with the umbilical cord which had bound her to her mother for nine months still hanging from her body, the baby girl was stabbed multiple times. She died from brutal blows to her head which fractured her skull.

It’s believed she was buried soon after in a garden or flowerbed and, weeks later, her body was removed and placed in a bin bag at the Duck Walk behind Lough Moss Leisure Centre in Carryduff.

Danielle and her four friends saw something – it turned out to be the umbilical cord – hanging out from a bin bag lying in undergrowth on the ground. One of the boys shook the plastic bag with his shoe, then 10-year-old Danielle opened it.

“I knew straight away it was a baby,” she told The Detail. “Some of the others thought it was a doll but I knew from how real the features were. Now that I am a mother myself, I just think how could anybody do that? It could have been someone I know who did it. That’s bone-chilling to think about.

“If anyone has even the tiniest bit of information they think might help or if they heard something, please just come forward with it.”

As well as tracking down Danielle, The Detail has also spoken to the lead detective on the case, reviewed old newspaper cuttings and archive documents, examined papers relating to the inquest and had access to the police press records on the first two years of the murder investigation. This shows the long-term strategy employed by the police to keep Carrie in the hearts and minds of the public.

After being questioned about the case, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said that the investigation remains open. It has issued a new appeal for information on Carrie’s death and pledged to follow any “credible investigative lines of enquiry”.

The PSNI has confirmed that Carrie's death is one of 23 homicides recorded in Northern Ireland over the last twenty years where the victim was aged two or under. This includes cases of murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Twenty-three young lives brought to a violent end before they really got started.

These deaths will include three-month-old Cárágh Walsh from west Belfast who died from “violent shaking” in 2014. And 18-month-old Clodagh and nine-month-old baby James who were killed along with their three older siblings and mother when their father, convicted sex offender Arthur McElhill, set fire to the family home in Omagh in 2007.

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Remembering Carrie
How Carrie may have looked if she had lived. Image created for BBC Crimewatch.

What makes Carrie’s case stand out is her anonymity. She had no name, no family demanding justice, no back story. And all that still stands. Her true identity remains unknown and the killer has never been found.

Former PSNI detective chief superintendent Roy McComb, now a deputy director at the National Crime Agency, was appointed to lead the police investigation a few days after Baby Carrie’s body was discovered. It was him who gave her a name – chosen because of the town she was found in.

“In the absence of a mum or dad or aunt or uncle we acted in her best interests. We gave her the dignity of a name and a resting place and an identity.”

He said that Carrie’s birth could have followed a one night stand, rape, incest or a boyfriend and girlfriend who fell out, and he stressed: “I never blamed Carrie’s mother. I never said she was the one to kill her. I always thought there was another pair of hands.”

It is one of the few regrets from his policing career that he wasn’t able to bring the murderer to justice and he has a message today for Carrie’s mother: “I never accused you of any crime. It’s never too late to pick up the phone and say I am her mum and this is her story.”

The Coroners’ Office has released documents relating to Baby Carrie’s inquest which took place in February 2003 – witness statements, the pathologist’s report and the findings.

The post-mortem examination confirmed that Carrie had been born alive, she weighed 2,945g (6lb 8oz) and had “a good growth of darkish hair”.

The autopsy report provides details of wounds “consistent with having been made by a bladed weapon such as a knife” – seven on the scalp, one to the centre of her forehead, one on the right side of her chest, another on the outer side of the right hip, a stab wound on the left thigh and an incision just above the knee. Around 13cm of umbilical cord was still attached to her abdomen. Its free end was ragged and had not been tied. There was soil on her body. Her stomach was empty.

Coroner John Leckey’s verdict includes: “Death was due to a severe head injury caused either by blows to the head with a hard, blunt object or by the head having being struck against a hard surface. Also, there was evidence of multiple stab wounds.”

The then state pathologist Professor Jack Crane wrote of the stab wounds: “Their nature indicates some degree of hesitation”.

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"It doesn't feel like 16 years ago"
Danielle Clifton - photograph by Kelvin Boyce, Press Eye

The case has had a deep impact on Danielle Clifton’s life. She has kept newspaper cuttings, the appeal poster, the funeral order of service and other documents - all folded up many years ago and placed carefully in a folder by her mum. She also has a video containing TV coverage of the case.

Her younger self can be seen in photographs among the newspaper articles. She is taking yellow roses to the place where Carrie was found, standing behind the gravestone on the day of the funeral and, in another, wiping tears from her eyes.

Danielle’s memories of the day they found Carrie and the months which followed are vivid. She recalls that the leisure centre staff didn’t believe them at first, she watched as the area was cordoned off and later she and the other children all made statements and their fingerprints were taken. “We were shocked, but hysterically shocked, like: ‘Is this real?’”

Five months after the gruesome discovery, Danielle and three of the other children carried pink roses and walked slowly behind the coffin of the child named Carrie.

“It doesn’t feel like it was 16 years ago. I definitely wanted to go to the funeral and I will never forget that day. Even though I was only ten, I realised that she was there on her own and she didn’t have anybody.”

It was Danielle’s first funeral and she described it as “scary” and “sad”.

“We all got picked up in a grey, blacked out van and taken down to the church. They told us to put our coats over our heads on the way in. We sat with our parents and teachers from our school sat behind us.”

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Carrie's final resting place
Photograph by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

Danielle has been back to Carrie’s grave at Knockbreda Cemetery quite a few times. It’s hard but she goes when she can.

It’s unmistakenly the final resting place of a child. As well as red roses, there are teddy bears and ornaments of animals and angels standing watch at the base of the headstone. The inscription reads: ‘Baby Carrie. Known only unto God.’ No date. No personal references. No other family members listed.

Danielle said: “When I go there it takes me back to the day of the funeral and the day we found her. When I am at the grave, I can picture everyone being there and the photographers standing on the wall trying to get pictures.

“I am glad we found her. We were children and we were curious, so we opened the bag. If we hadn’t, it may just have been lifted and thrown away. She was a human being and it is better that people know she existed. What happened to her was so brutal.”

The impact has been long-lasting. When Danielle’s daughter was born in 2012, she found it initially a little harder to bond with her than with her son two years earlier. “When I saw her, I just saw Carrie and that was really upsetting.”

Carrie would be the same age as Danielle’s sister if she had lived. She might have been into make up and going out with her friends but never got that chance.

“Now that I am a mother myself, I just think how could anybody do that? It could have been someone I know who did it. That’s bone-chilling to think about. I was also afraid that whoever did it might do it again or they may have gone on to have more children. The thought of that frightens me. Or are the parents living normal lives now? There are never ending questions.”

Danielle doesn’t know what she would say to Carrie’s mother if she could speak to her.

“I don’t know what kind of situation she was in or if she even was in a situation or if she did it. She could have been ill or pushed to do it. I don’t know what her mental state was like or what kind of relationship she was in. It may have been the father who did it.

“If anyone has even the tiniest bit of information they think might help or if they heard something, please just come forward with it. It’s 16 years on but we have to have hope that someone can help us to get justice for Baby Carrie. Having hope helps me carry all of this a bit lighter because it is heavy on my heart.”

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The police investigation
Photograph by Kelvin Boyce, Press Eye

In the two years after Carrie’s murder, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) issued multiple appeals for the mother to come forward, the DNA of around 1,300 local women aged between 13 and 45 was tested and over 1,900 people were interviewed by officers. The case featured on BBC’s Crimewatch programme and included an image of what Carrie might have looked like as an older baby. Rosebud lips, dark hair.

It was considered likely that the disposal site suggested a degree of local knowledge of Carryduff. The police contacted GPs, maternity units, midwives, social services, community psychiatric nurses, hospitals, secondary schools, educational welfare officers, the Samaritans, Nexus, NSPCC, Brook Advisory Clinic and Childline. Enquiries were also undertaken throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Roy McComb, then detective chief inspector with the PSNI, led the police investigation. He lived in Carryduff when he was a young boy and had kicked stones and built damns around the rivers near the Duck Walk. This was personal.

“We had an unidentified baby with no background at all,” he told The Detail. “Normally within a very short period of time of a murder someone steps forward and says that was my mother, brother, husband or sister and here is their story. You have someone asking for, or sometimes demanding, justice. But no one was speaking for this baby and no one was saying they knew who she was and wanted to find out how she died. She didn’t have a name, so we gave her one.

“This was a newborn healthy baby girl with no underlying medical conditions. She was the most defenceless and innocent of all victims. If there is a scale of innocence, this was at the top of the scale.”

The funeral was an interdenominational service and Carrie’s small, white coffin was carried in the arms of detective sergeant Lindsay McNair. This was a deliberate move.

Roy McComb said: “That was to say to people if we do not know who the mum is, then for this funeral Lindsay will be the surrogate. I did not want to be the one to do that or to have the undertakers carry the coffin. I wanted someone to be there as the mum. I tried to draw someone out to say ‘She is not the mum. I am the mum.’

“We also asked for the children’s support to be part of the funeral. We were just desperate to draw out mum and say ‘Come and talk to us. We are not making any judgements. These are the children that found your daughter. They are walking behind her coffin and Lindsay is carrying the coffin. You are not.’”

The Detail has been given access to the police press material covering the first two years of the murder investigation. This records Carrie’s body being found, the post-mortem examination results, a poster campaign, revisiting the scene where her body was found, a public meeting, the DNA testing, giving public thanks to the local community, a Christmas appeal, the funeral, the case featuring on BBC Crimewatch and the second anniversary of her death.

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"This was a baby that was predetermined to die"

The voluntary DNA sampling focused on women living in the area because the police knew Carrie’s mum was there right to the bitter end.

Roy McComb said: “Carrie was born and immediately murdered. Her umbilical cord was roughly cut and her lungs were still immature so her life was in moments. It is not unfeasible that the dad knows nothing about it. It could have involved a one night stand, rape, incest or a boyfriend and girlfriend who fell out. We did not know and could not know if the dad was there. To tie a dad into Carryduff was much more speculative so we focused on the DNA of women.

“I never blamed Carrie’s mother. I never said she was the one to kill her. I always thought there was another pair of hands. I am assuming that Baby Carrie was born through natural birth and the physical endurance of birth and then immediately killing the baby so violently seems completely counter intuitive. But do mothers kill children? Yes, they do. I did not accuse mum. I did not rule her out or in.

“This was a baby that was almost predetermined to die. I ask people to pause at this point. She was carried for nine months and at some point, and I do not know if it was at the early or later stages, Carrie was predetermined to die. Here was a perfectly formed baby who could have gone to a loving home. At the point of birth, someone said that this baby had to die. The abject cruelty of that has stayed with me.”

Around 10 to 12 women were directly approached and ruled out from being Carrie’s mother. These were not just speculative approaches – they are described as “refined and intelligence led”.

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A message for Carrie's mother
Photograph by Kelvin Boyce

Roy McComb has a message for Carrie’s mother:

“I never accused you of any crime. I didn’t know. I want to listen to your story. I want to know how you carried a full-term baby and then your baby was killed. Your daughter would now be 16 and would probably just be starting her AS levels and would be at school. She would be a teenager and bringing into your family and the world all the pleasures and challenges that a 16-year-old can bring. You would have 16 years of memories, Christmases, birthdays and trips to the beach. When you close your eyes at night, do you think of Baby Carrie? You may have known her by a different name. It’s never too late to pick up the phone and say I am her mum and this is her story.”

He thinks it’s possible she could come forward. He’s an optimist.

“I think that people who have carried baggage are better to offload it. There are lots of examples of people who for years have kept their secrets hidden and then couldn’t live with the burden of it.”

Why does all of this matter more than 16 years on?

“It always matters,” he said. “If anything, it matters as much now as it did in 2002. It is a life that could have been fulsome. This could have been a 16-year-old girl who would have become a young woman. She could have been a law enforcement officer, a scientist, she could have found a cure for something. There may be brothers and sisters she hasn’t known. It does matter now. She should be no more forgotten than any other victims whose lives have been taken. There are victims out there that have a voice because their family members are there but who speaks for Baby Carrie? We tried to give her an identity and existence.”

The PSNI has appealed again for information.

PSNI superintendent Ian Harrison said: “Just over 16 years has passed since the murder of baby Carrie. Despite the length of time that has passed, we remain committed to bringing to justice those responsible for her tragic death and would appeal to anyone with any information which may assist our inquiries to contact us.

“Where credible investigative lines of enquiry are identified, capable of progressing the investigation into her death, we will follow them.”

Anyone with any information which could assist the PSNI with its investigation into Carrie’s murder is asked to telephone the police on 101. Information can also be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

  • Click here to read the timeline of the first two years of the police murder investigation.
  • Photography by Kelvin Boyce and Jonathan Porter, Press Eye.
  • Archive material: Danielle Clifton.
  • The PSNI homicide data can be accessed at this link - PSNI data.xls
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