Foul play cannot be ruled out in the death of a girl who was believed to have died by suicide in a remote community, and the matter should be referred back to police, the Northern Territory coroner’s court has heard.
- The inquest heard there is “sufficient evidence” to believe an offence was involved in Keturah Cheralyn Mamarika’s death
- The 16-year-old was found dead and with injuries from a suspected sexual assault in 2016
- NT Police admitted the investigations into the deaths of three girls in separate remote communities were “inadequate”
Warning: This story contains details which may be distressing for some readers.
In his closing remarks to the inquest into the apparent suicides of three teenagers in separate remote communities, counsel assisting the coroner Kelvin Currie said the circumstances of Keturah Cheralyn Mamarika’s death “remain most unclear and highly suspicious”.
The 16-year-old was found dead and with “significant vaginal injuries” at her mother’s home at Umbakumba on Groote Eylandt in 2016.
The inquest this week heard the police investigations into the three girls’ deaths and possible assaults were rushed and “inadequate” and Mr Currie urged coroner Greg Cavanagh to refer all three files back to police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“In two of the cases [the cause of death] appears on the balance of probabilities to have been self-inflicted,” Mr Currie told the court.
“However, in the case of Cheralyn Mamarika I submit that there is not sufficient evidence to rule out third-party involvement.
“In my submission there is sufficient evidence for you to be of the belief that an offence has been committed in connection with the death.”
Family members gave permission for the inquest to use the full names of Cheralyn, 15-year-old Layla Leering — referred to by some relatives as Gulum — and 17-year-old Fionica James.
The inquest heard the girls’ deaths were examined together because of similarities in their cases, including the flawed investigations.
In his appearance at the inquest on Thursday, NT Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Anticich apologised to the girls’ families for the “inadequate” investigations into their deaths but said he did not believe any third parties were involved.
The coroner’s office used the inquest to compel Cheralyn’s sister Jesselyn Mamarika and brother-in-law Alex Ngalmi to answer questions about the morning her body was found, but they both said were not at the home at the time it is believed Cheralyn died.
The inquest heard there was evidence Cheralyn was raped around two hours before her body was found.
In his closing address, Mr Currie repeated criticisms of the police investigation, saying the forensic examination of items at the scene were botched, little time was spent investigating the scene and officers did not properly check a claim that the key to the locked room Cheralyn was found in was long missing.
In Fionica’s case, Mr Currie said an emergency call-taker violated protocol by failing to escalate her after-hours call for help when her boyfriend was allegedly violently threatening her family if she did not return to his house.
He said she took “the only course she thought was available to her” and returned to him, and denied calling police when officers spoke to them together the next day.
He said an “over-run” child protection office did not respond to Layla’s swerve into youth offending and said schools seemed “unable to tolerate her”.
‘Now there is nothing’
Earlier on Friday, the inquest heard emotional statements from family members who had sat through mea culpa’s from police and the government agencies who admitted failing the girls before their deaths.
Layla’s sister Jasmin Jingles told the inquest her little sister should be remembered as a “loving, strong, beautiful young lady”, who was now a missing piece of her family.
In a statement sent from her hospital bed, the teenager’s aunt, Betty Laurie, described anguish at the lack of support when her niece, whom she calls Gulum after death, was expelled from multiple schools.
Fionica’s grandfather, Andrew Dowadi, said he blamed himself for being unable to stop his grand-daughter’s death.
But he also described his struggles with government agencies and services he said had not worked effectively with communities in west Arnhem Land.
He said he could not understand why suicide threats and attempts by Fionica in the years before her death did not result in support from mental health services.
“We need those things because we are trying as hard as we could to help protect Fionica, but it was not enough.”
The court heard the coroner’s public focus on the girls’ deaths and those of three other children, who are the subjects of another inquest scheduled for next month, prompted the formation earlier this year of a new “multi-agency taskforce” to fix long-standing and well-known child protection problems.
Territory Families executive Jeanette Kerr told the inquest the plan was to set up smaller teams in at least 24 remote communities that would share information about families at risk.
The coroner will hand down his findings and recommendations at a later date.