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Robert Hytch is appealing the findings of an inquest that determined he was Rachel Antonio's likely killer.

Court upholds findings that Hytch killed Rachel

A SUPREME Court justice has upheld a coroner's findings naming Robert Paul Hytch as Bowen schoolgirl Rachel Antonio's killer.

Today's judgment, delivered by Justice Peter Applegarth, said Hytch had opposed the coroner's findings via two main arguments.

The first was that Coroner David O'Connell had wrongly conducted the inquest under the new coroner's Act instead of the old and that his findings were not in line with the available evidence.

But Justice Applegarth disagreed.

PODCAST: Searching for Rachel Antonio

"The Supreme Court did not accept either argument," he said in his judgement.

"...A reasonable decision maker in the Coroner's position was entitled to reject key aspects of the applicant's evidence and to conclude that the applicant gave deliberately false evidence."

Justice Applegarth said there was substantial evidence of a relationship between Hytch and Rachel.

"Despite the applicant's repeated denials at the inquest that any intimate relationship whatsoever existed between him and Ms Antonio, the evidence of such a relationship was substantial," he said.

"Some who knew or suspected such a relationship existed discouraged the applicant from continuing it."

 

Rachel Antonio with Robert Hytch.
Rachel Antonio with Robert Hytch.


The judgment said that after hearing Hytch had been intimate with a young woman from another state, and that that young woman was pregnant, Rachel devised a plan to stage a pregnancy of her own.

"The evidence is that Ms Antonio then schemed, and wished to confront the applicant with the claim that she too was pregnant.

"There is abundant evidence that Ms Antonio intended to meet the applicant on the evening of Saturday, 25 April, 1998.

"A few days earlier she told a local businessman that she had falsely told her "boyfriend" she was pregnant.

Court has found that there was plenty of evidence that Robert Hytch killed Rachel Antonio and hid her body.

"She said: `I am meeting my boyfriend this weekend. We are going to sort it out then'."

The judgment said Hytch was missing for a period of time the night of April 25 - the same time that Rachel disappeared.

It also noted a small amount of blood, belonging to Rachel, had been found on Hytch's sandals.

Justice Applegarth found Mr O'Connell was open "on the evidence" to delivering a finding that Rachel died at the hands of Hytch.

"The finding was one which a reasonable decision maker could reach," he said.

He said it was reasonable to find that Hytch killed Rachel and that he hid her body.

Coroner David O'Connell found last year that Hytch was involved in a secret relationship with the schoolgirl and had a violent altercation with her that resulted in her death. Hytch, according to the coroner, then hid Rachel's body.

Rachel Antonio disappeared on April 25, 1998.
Rachel Antonio disappeared on April 25, 1998.

Rachel was 15 when she disappeared from the North Queensland town of Bowen on Anzac Day in 1998.

Her mother had dropped her at the cinema at Queens Beach but Rachel never made the movie. Instead, witnesses at the beach told police they spoke to the schoolgirl who said she was waiting for her boyfriend.

Hytch, aged 24 at the time, was the captain of the local lifesaving club where Rachel was a member.

He was found guilty of manslaughter in 1998 but his conviction was set aside and a retrial ordered. A second jury acquitted him.

A coronial inquest held in 2014 and 2015 heard evidence about a diary police had uncovered - but had been unable to present at trial. In it, Rachel had written about her secret relationship with Hytch. She repeated the claims in letters she wrote to a friend in Victoria.

READ: Justice Applegarth's full judgment

The court also heard that Rachel had pretended to be pregnant after hearing Hytch had been with another woman during a lifesaving trip.

In the days before she disappeared, Rachel told friends she planned to confess to Hytch that she had faked the pregnancy after meeting him at the cinema.

"I have found that an intimate relationship existed between Rachel and Mr Robert Hytch for some time during 1997 and 1998," Mr O'Connell said in his findings.

"In his evidence before this inquest, Mr Hytch denied the existence of any such relationship.

"The result is that I believe that Mr Hytch, in denying the nature of this relationship before this inquest, made statements which were deliberately false."

Mr O'Connell referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding a possible charge of perjury.

Rachel Antonio's parents Cheryl and Ian Antonio. Picture: Annette Dew
Rachel Antonio's parents Cheryl and Ian Antonio. Picture: Annette Dew

But Hytch appealed Mr O'Connell's findings and sought a judicial review.

At a hearing in March, Glen Rice QC, for Hytch, argued Mr O'Connell had made an error in holding proceedings under the 2003 Act instead of the 1958 Act which was in use at the time of Rachel's disappearance.

Mr Rice also argued Mr O'Connell had drawn conclusions that weren't there to be drawn based on available evidence.

This included, he said, that Hytch and Rachel met at all on the night she disappeared. He said there was evidence Rachel intended to meet Hytch, but no evidence Hytch was aware of her plans.

"You can't prove they met. You can't go that far," he said.

Hytch’s appeal has been dismissed.
Hytch’s appeal has been dismissed.
Rachel pictured in 1994.
Rachel pictured in 1994.
Forensic officers search the Bowen rubbish dump following The Courier-Mail’s podcast, Searching for Rachel Antonio. Picture: Wesley Monts
Forensic officers search the Bowen rubbish dump following The Courier-Mail’s podcast, Searching for Rachel Antonio. Picture: Wesley Monts