Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Olivia McTaggart, Coroner, having investigated the death of
A female infant
have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into this death as I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any significant information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
I find that :
Monday 17 October 2011 a deceased new born female infant was located in the reserve between Willow Avenue and Hawthorne Drive, Kingston, in Tasmania.
I am not able to determine the identity of the infant.
I am not able to determine the cause of the infant's death.
Between Willow Avenue and Hawthorne Drive at Kingston there is a small reserve of land, owned and maintained by the Kingborough Council. It is surrounded by houses in a suburban area.
At 9.20am on Monday 17 October 2011 maintenance workers employed by the Kingborough Council were working at the reserve when they observed the remains of a deceased infant, beneath leaf litter and amongst trees a few metres from the fence line.
Police were contacted. They attended at approximately 9.40am and an investigation began.
The infant was located in two plastic shopping bags, lightly covered in leaf debris. Forensic examination was conducted of the plastic bags. However no DNA or fingerprints were located.
The infant was taken to the Royal Hobart Hospital where a post mortem was conducted by forensic pathologist, Dr Donald Ritchey. Dr Ritchey identified the remains as those of an infant caucasian girl, along with a disarticulated umbilical cord, placenta and foetal membranes. He was unable to determine if the infant was born alive or stillborn. However in his opinion she was developed sufficiently to have been born alive. In this regard the measurements of the femur and humerus gave an estimated gestational age of 35+/-3 weeks. Dr Ritchey was unable to determine whether the umbilical cord was severed at birth. There was no knot or other ligature on the umbilical cord to suggest medical intervention.
Dr Ritchey noted some trauma to the body, which may have occurred through animal interference or possible contact with a lawn mower, after the infant had been left at the reserve. He was unable to determine the cause of death of the female infant due to advanced decomposition.
A comprehensive police investigation ensued to ascertain the parents of the infant. Initially doorknocks were conducted in the area. Two witnesses were located who stated that they had heard a female screaming in the park on Saturday 15 October 2011. This female has been unable to be identified and there has been no evidence to suggest that this female was involved with the infant.
An appeal to the parents of the infant or any person with information was made through all the local media stations. Police emphasised that they were treating the matter as one of concern for the mother’s safety and wellbeing. Information was forthcoming regarding young females at risk or sightings of young pregnant persons, whether known or not. Each piece of information was investigated by police however none of the information provided led to the identification of either parent, or anyone with knowledge of the matter. The doorknock area was extended with particular attention paid to occupants of interest.
A DNA profile of the infant was taken and entered onto the Tasmanian DNA database for comparison with all recorded profiles. However there was no match. A number of individuals, who were identified throughout the police investigation, provided DNA samples by consent for comparison with the profile of the infant. Again, there was no match. Additionally, a DNA sample taken from the infant was sent to the Cytogenetic Laboratory of the Victorian Clinical Genetic Services Pathology at the Royal Children’s Hospital. A micro array test was requested. This test can provide information regarding the degree of homozygosity of the two profiles, that is, how closely the parents of the donor are related. Unfortunately that testing was unsuccessful due to the degree of decomposition of the DNA material provided.
Police investigators have also used surveillance of the area, intelligence systems and information from all hospitals to assist them. I am satisfied that Tasmania Police has, on my behalf, conducted an extremely thorough investigation over an extended period of time. On 11 September 2013 in a final attempt to identify the mother of the infant, I spoke publicly through media outlets to appeal for the mother to contact the coroner or police. Unfortunately my plea resulted in no new information.
I again urge the mother to contact the Coroner's Office. It is likely that she would be greatly assisted by professional support.
Conclusion and Recommendations :
In conclusion, I am satisfied that there has been careful forensic examination of the infant and scene combined with a most thorough police investigation. Nevertheless I am not able to determine the date or time of death, the identity of the parents, whether the infant was born alive, how long she survived, or the time between the birth and discovery of the body. The evidence of the attached umbilicus and the presence of placental material suggest that the infant survived only a short time after birth, if at all.
With the available evidence it can not be determined if the infant died as a result natural or unnatural causes, or whether the infant was stillborn.
The discovery of the infant girl has had a profound effect upon the community, attending personnel and police officers. I am not aware that there has been any other similar case in Tasmania. It is fortunate that in this State that there are sources of support in the public and private sectors that provide widespread assistance to vulnerable mothers and infants.
I extend my particular appreciation to Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Joel and Detective Sergeant Scott Kregor for their dedicated efforts in leading the investigation.
I recommend that investigating police officers continue the search for the parents of the infant by regularly reviewing all state and national DNA databases.
I recommend that investigating police officers liaise annually with Forensic Science Service Tasmania to ensure the infant’s DNA profile is compared with all new profiles recorded.
I recommend that investigating police officers investigate any new information that may come to light.
DATED: 15 November 2013 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.