Findings into death of murdered schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer handed down

A coroner has ruled Tiahleigh Palmer was deliberately killed by her foster father, Richard Thorburn, and died by either asphyxiation or choking.

Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley handed down her findings in just three minutes today, concluding that the exact cause of the 12-year-old’s death could not be conclusively determined, but that Thorburn had “no remorse” for his offending.

Tiahleigh’s death sent shockwaves around the country when her body was found on the banks of a Gold Coast river in November 2015, several days after she was reported missing. Her body was so badly decomposed that a cause of death could not be established in the autopsy.

Tiahleigh was placed into foster care alongside her siblings after her Kiwi mum Cyndi Palmer went to authorities with fears for her children’s future due to a severe domestic violence situation she was in.

Tiahleigh’s mother later spiralled into drug addiction and homelessness as the reality of life without her children set in.

Thorburn was jailed for life in 2018 after confessing to murdering the girl on October 29, 2015, but until last week had never revealed how he had killed her.

On the first day of the inquest, Thorburn tearfully told the court he may have “accidentally” smothered Tiahleigh during an argument at the family’s Chambers Flat home.

But just moments later he told the court to “go f**k themselves” in an explosive outburst when his confession was picked apart.

In a handwritten letter tendered to the court, Thorburn wrote that he did not remember the night he murdered her, but recorded phone calls between him and his wife suggested a deliberate plan to claim a lack of memory in order to frustrate the inquest.

Julene Thorburn was not accused of attempting to mislead the court.

Bentley said she did not accept that Thorburn had no memory of the incident.

“His claimed amnesia is inconsistent with opinions of prison psychologists, observations of employees, and phone calls between him and his wife that are evidence in this inquest,” she wrote.

On the night she was killed, her foster brother Trent revealed to his mother he’d had sex with Tiahleigh a week before.

The girl had complained of stomach pains and there were fears she was pregnant.

During the inquest, Thorburn spoke for the first time about what happened the night he killed her. He claimed Tiahleigh packed a bag and was walking down the driveway when she began screaming and swearing at him.

He claimed he grabbed her around the waist and put his hand over her mouth, as he dragged her back into the house. He told the inquest by the time they were back at the house she had stopped responding.

Thorburn said he “could not remember” if he had tried to resuscitate Tiahleigh.

Bentley concluded Tiahleigh and Trent had been in a sexual relationship at the time of her death, and that Thorburn “may have killed Tiahleigh because he was concerned that she would disclose her relationship with Trent,” she wrote.

She also said there was a possibility Thorburn had also been engaging in a sexual relationship with Tiahleigh.

“When he found out that she had disclosed sexual activity with Trent, he was concerned his own behaviour with her would be revealed,” she said.

“In considering this possibility, I note that Richard Thorburn had a predilection for young girls.

“I also take into account that Tiahleigh was found clad only in a pair of torn underpants and Mr Thorburn, being the only person who could explain why that was and what happened to her clothes, refused to do so.

“I accept Mr Thorburn’s barrister’s submission that the circumstantial evidence is insufficient to allow me to draw that conclusion.

“The most probable reason that Mr Thorburn killed Tiahleigh was the reason that he gave to his family – he killed her to cover up the fact that Trent had been abusing her and in an effort to protect Trent from being convicted of incest and imprisoned.

“I find that Mr Thorburn is completely without remorse … It is clear that he perceives himself as being unfairly dealt with and victimised by the media and public opinion, as does Ms Thorburn.”

When handing down her findings on Friday, Deputy State Coroner Bentley described Tiahleigh as a girl who loved hip hop dancing, cheerleading, animals and horse riding.

“She was described as a ‘delightful girl’ and a ‘child people fell in love with’ by those who knew her,” she said.

“Despite being subjected to neglect, abuse, abandonment and adversity, Tiahleigh remained a kind and gentle girl.”

In her published findings, Deputy State Coroner Bentley said the case planning for Tiahleigh was not focused on what was in the girl’s best interests and her right to have stability and permanency.

“Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the department’s involvement with Tiahleigh was the lack of concern or action when it was known she was missing,” she wrote.

“It is inconceivable that the disappearance of any little girl, who was not in care, would be treated in such a dismissive manner.

“It is also of significant concern that it took the department some five days to decide who could release a photo of Tiahleigh to the police for publication. “

The only “respectful” recommendation she handed down was that “if and when Richard Thorburn applies for release on parole, the Parole Board Queensland take into account these findings, particularly in relation to Mr Thorburn’s lack of remorse for killing Tiahleigh and his lack of co-operation with this inquest.”

NCA NewsWire

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