Neighbour of man accused of killing toddler son tells court ‘he was a good dad’

·4-min read
Lukasz Czapla is on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh (David Cheskin/PA) (PA Archive)
Lukasz Czapla is on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh (David Cheskin/PA) (PA Archive)

A neighbour of a man who admitted to killing his two-year-old son said he was “a good dad”.

Joanne Gorrie, 27, was called to give evidence at the trial of Lukasz Czapla who has been charged with murdering Julias Czapla at a flat in Muirhouse, Edinburgh, on November 20 or 21 2020.

It is claimed the 41-year-old, from Poland, who was working as an IT technician at Fife College at the time, repeatedly struck the child with a skewer, or similar item.

The murder charge states that he fired an air pistol multiple times and shot his son in the head.

He is also said to have placed a pillow over the boy’s face and “asphyxiated” him, and “previously evinced malice and ill-will towards him”.

Iain McSporran QC, defending, called for a “special defence” which states the accused was suffering from diminished responsibility at the time of his son’s death.

He said Czapla admits to culpable homicide.

At the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Ms Gorrie, who lived in the same block of flats as Czapla at the time, described the accused before a 15-strong jury as “a good dad”.

She said: “Julius was always out on his scooter or his bike and he (Czapla) would always teach him, and always be praising him, he was a good dad.

“I never heard him shouting at him.

“Once, Julius peed himself in the street and Lukasz said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just an accident’.”

She described the toddler as “really bright, he knew both languages” and “a lovely, happy wee boy”.

Speaking about Julias’s mother, Patrycja Szczesniak, she said: “She was just the same.

“They seemed like really nice parents, I wouldn’t have said there were any concerns.”

At this point, Czapla could be seen in the dock, wiping away tears.

The court heard after an eight-year-long relationship, Czapla and Ms Szczesniak split up in what the accused described as a “brutal” experience to consultant psychologist, Dr Deborah Mountain.

Ms Gorrie told told jurors she first heard about the couple splitting in September 2020, about two months before Julius was killed.

McSporran asked Ms Gorrie if the split came as a surprise, to which she replied: “Yes.”

She told the court when she had a conversation with Czapla about why the couple were no longer together, he said “she’s a bitch” and “(the) baby caused problems”.

The court heard after the couple split, Czapla only saw his son at weekends, which made him depressed.

Describing the day of November 20 2020, Ms Gorrie said she heard the parents shouting in Polish before she saw Ms Szczesniak inside Czapla’s flat screaming: “My baby, my baby.”

“Her legs kept giving way, and she was screaming, ‘Please, can you save my baby’,” she added.

Ms Gorrie told jurors that her sister, who was also in the block of flats at the time, “had left the house and was screaming outside on the phone to police”.

Earlier, the court heard from Dr Mountain, who was called to assess Czapla on the evening of November 22 2020. She said Czapla claimed to not remember anything from the evening when his son was killed.

She told the jury: “He (Czapla) told me that he couldn’t remember anything, so my next question was when was the next memory he remembers having and he said it was when he was in his car and he saw police around him.”

The court heard the accused told Dr Mountain that he had intended to take his own life hours before Julius was killed, and had taken an overdose of medication.

He had also consumed alcohol.

Alan Cameron, prosecuting, said to Dr Mountain: “You considered he was fit to appear in court and able to understand the nature of the charges against him?”

She replied: “That’s correct.”

Cameron, reading out a statement from the witness, added: “You have noted that there was no evidence of mental illness?” to which she replied: “No, there was not.”

Dr Mountain told the court Czapla did not appear psychotic and engaged with her, making eye contact.

Cameron said Dr Mountain had described the accused’s depression as of a “minor sort”, to which she replied yes, adding that he was being treated by his GP at the time.

The witness added that there was “no evidence of mental disorder immediately prior to the alleged offence nor immediately after”.

The court heard Czapla failed to go into detail about the events surrounding the death of Julias.

McSporran asked Dr Mountain if this meant there was “a hole” in the information he was able to provide in his psychiatric assessment, to which the witness said yes.

The trial continues on Thursday.

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