‘Crimes committed’ in mysterious remote deaths: Coroner
THE murky circumstances surrounding the deaths of three teenage girls in remote NT communities should be referred back to police for the prosecution of possible murder, rape and assault charges, an inquest has heard.
A Coronial inquiry into the deaths of Cheralyn Mamarika, 16, Layla "Gulum" Leering, 15, and Fionica James, 17, concluded on Friday with deputy Coroner, Kelvin Currie, submitting there was enough evidence to support a belief offences had been committed in relation to each of the three tragedies.
Mr Currie said the evidence showed Cheralyn was raped between 6.30am and 7am on the morning of November 22, 2016 when her sister and brother-in-law told the inquest they had left about an hour earlier than usual at about 7am.
Two hours later, she was found dead in a locked room, the key to which Cheralyn's sister told police had been missing for a year before her death, as a result of which Mr Currie said "police assumed her death was self-inflicted".
"However little time was spent investigating the scene," he said.
"The lock on the door was not examined to see if a key had been utilised in it in recent times. There was little investigation as to whether the key was in fact missing. In fact, a key sitting on the floor in the room was not examined."
After police left, Mr Currie said Cheralyn's extended family cleaned the entire house, including with bleach and high pressure hoses and window louvres removed in gaining access to the room were taken to the dump and burnt.
"The circumstances of Cheralyn's death remain most unclear and highly suspicious," he said.
Layla was the next girl to lose her life and was found dead under a tree in Bulla by then 15-year-old Adrian Davey in 2017.
The inquest heard Layla had fresh injuries to her genital area and back and Mr Davey initially concealed the fact he'd had sex with her until he was matched with DNA found on her body.
Mr Davey at first told police the pair had had sex on his bed but admitted under questioning at the inquest it was "on the ground".
"At some time (after 9.30pm) she was likely raped by a young male who lived in the same house as her," Mr Currie said.
"She was found in the early hours of the morning by that same male who was worried about her harming herself."
Fionica was also found dead by her own hand later that same month in Maningrida after a recent series of presentations to the local health clinic Mr Currie said "should have raised the suspicions of the staff".
In late December, her boyfriend Alvester Gurruwiwi, threatened "war" on her family late one night but when Fionica's calls to police proved fruitless, Mr Currie said she "took the only course she thought was available to her and returned to Alvester".
But shortly after Alvester left the house in the morning, Fionica "slipped out, walked down to the bush and likely (killed) herself" before being found with an unexplained injury to her face.
Meanwhile, Layla and Fionica's families aired their grief and frustration at the loss of girls let down by the police and government agencies who were supposed to protect them.
Layla's older sister, Jasmine Jingles, spoke of her pride in the girl who's birth was celebrated with songs and dancing and who brought joy and laughter to their grandparents.
"Our family is like a puzzle and now the picture will never be complete because you are the piece that will always be missing," she said.
"I will be your voice today, make sure you know you are loved, cherished and you will always be in our hearts."
Fionica's grandfather Andrew Dowadi remembered a smart, happy girl who loved to play football and volleyball and "was good at it too".
But Mr Dowadi said things changed for Fionica when she became a teenager and she "started keeping her life inside herself".
"She was a big girl and she was starting to drift away from us," he said.
"We wish we had more help from government departments and service providers. That definitely should have been there. We need those things because we were trying as hard as we could to help Fionica but it was not enough because we are just grandparents trying to look after a big family."
On Thursday, NT Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Aticich personally apologised to the grieving families but speaking outside court as the inquest came to a close, Layla's mother Justine Jingles, said "sorry isn't good enough".
"It won't replace all the hurt and the pain that we've had in the past and that will go on for the rest of our lives," she said.
Ms Jingles said she hoped police would now press charges against her daughter's alleged rapist.
"The person who abused her is not in prison because of the coppers, they didn't do their investigation properly," she said.
"They had to hold a Coroner's inquest to find out the truth for my daughter and now my mind can rest.
"I feel like she's here with us and she's going to come home with me tonight."
Territory Families deputy chief executive Jeanette Kerr also gave evidence and issued her own apology to the girls' families, saying a new multi-agency task force had now been established as a result of the deaths.
Ms Kerr said the group comprising senior bureaucrats from departments including her own as well as health and education would help ensure other at risk youths did not fall through the cracks.
She said the group, which started meeting in May, would oversee smaller multi-agency teams across at least 24 remote communities that would tackle "thematic issues" such as domestic violence and substance abuse.
"For example in the case of Layla, where children were vandalising the school and breaking into the school and the shops - that would have been an ideal opportunity for a community based response (rather than just a police response)," she said.
Coroner Greg Cavanagh will hand down his findings at a date to be fixed.
*For 24-hour domestic violence, rape and sex assault support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467.
Originally published as 'Crimes committed' in mysterious remote suicides, deputy coroner