Friday 26 December 2014

Irish backpacker facing jail for hiding stillbirth

Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30

After the statement was read out, Ms Whitaker said that she was “not being truthful” when she gave it.
After the statement was read out, Ms Whitaker said that she was “not being truthful” when she gave it.

An Irish backpacker is facing up to two years in jail after being charged with concealing the body of her still born baby in the Australian outback.

The 25-year-old was travelling with friends in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in May but had not realised that she had fallen pregnant, police said.

The woman is understood to have been travelling with fellow Irish backpackers. However she was alone at home in the remote town of Halls Creek, when she gave birth to the child last May. The town is more than 2,800km northeast of Perth.

The woman turned to her friends for help several days later when she appeared unwell and they questioned her about what was wrong.

Her friends phoned police after she allegedly showed them the baby's body.

The Irishwoman was then accompanied to hospital where staff alerted police. They investigated the incident and charged the backpacker with concealing the birth.

The woman faced court in Kununurra, in the eastern Kimberley area, on May 23.

It is mandatory that all births are reported, as part of the law, even if an infant has died of natural causes.

The case was referred to Perth and she will reappear in court on October 2. The woman could face a maximum penalty of two years in jail if she is found guilty. It has been reported that she remains in Perth while the court case continues.

Speaking to ABC news, Western Australia Criminal Lawyers Association president, Linda Black, said the case is very unusual.

"Most countries around the world have a law requiring births to be reported, no matter what the circumstances. It's a charge that's certainly not unique to Western Australia."

"Without wanting to trivialise the matter, we just can't have people storing dead bodies all over the place without it being brought to the attention of the authorities and dealt with in a proper and formal way, so I think there's a strong public policy behind it."

People in the town where the woman was hospitalised have said they are surprised that the woman has been charged.

One resident said: "The experience of giving birth to a stillborn child in a foreign country must have been very traumatic, especially when it was unexpected."

Ms Black added that police should always use discretion in cases such as this, stating that some thought must be given as to whether or not a criminal charge is appropriate.

Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the young girl on social networking sites.

Concerned Irish well wishers are calling for the girl to be given counselling, rather than charged.

It is understood that the girl's family in Ireland have been notified.

Marie Cregan, a social worker and founder of the stillbirth support group Feileacain, said she was shocked and surprised to hear the woman was charged with a criminal offence:

"Usually a case like this occurs because of shock," she said. "Going into labour and giving birth to a baby who has died is an incredibly traumatic, upsetting and shocking experience.

"I don't think it's for any of us to judge what's happened. I just feel desperately sorry for her," Ms Cregan said.

Sunday Independent

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