Sunday 24 September 2017

After 32 years, coroner rules dingo killed baby

Jonathan Pearlman in Sydney

Lindy Chamberlain has finally received a ruling from an Australian coroner that a dingo killed her baby, ending a "terrifying" 32-year ordeal that divided the country.

The Northern Territory coroner's verdict officially put an end to decades of speculation about the fate of Azaria Chamberlain, a nine-week-old baby snatched from a tent at a campsite near Ayers Rock in 1980.

Azaria's disappearance prompted legal battles, the film 'A Cry in The Dark' starring Meryl Streep, an opera and fierce divisions across the country, with many refusing to believe the family's insistence that a dingo stole the baby.

Holding back tears, Elizabeth Morris, the Northern Territory deputy coroner, confirmed that "a dingo or dingoes" attacked Azaria and dragged her away.

Applause

In a ruling that drew applause from spectators in the packed court, she said the evidence "excludes all other reasonable possibilities".

"Azaria Chamberlain died at Uluru (Ayers Rock) on August 17, 1980 and the cause of her death was as the result of being taken by a dingo," Mrs Morris told Mrs Chamberlain, who has remarried since the tragedy and is now known as Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton.

"Please accept my sincere sympathy on the loss and death of your special and loved daughter and sister, Azaria."

The finding, which came a day after what would have been Azaria's 32nd birthday, capped one of the most dramatic cases in Australian legal history.

The saga has involved four inquests, a trial, two appeals and a royal commission.

Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted of murder in 1982 and spent three years in jail.

The life sentence -- and a suspended sentence for her husband Michael as an accessory -- prompted a community campaign and both convictions were quashed in 1988.

Although Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton had proved her innocence, a series of inquests had failed to establish the cause of the baby's death.

Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton and her former husband hugged before the hearing.

"The truth is out," Mr Chamberlain said afterwards.

Not all Australians appeared to accept the ruling.

Frank Morris, a policeman who was at Ayers Rock the night Azaria vanished, said he still believed the first coroner's finding that there was some human intervention. He said he was not trying to blame the parents, but thought someone played a part in removing Azaria's clothes.

"We don't know who. That is the $64,000 question," he said.

The new finding was based on fresh evidence about hundreds of unprovoked dingo attacks on children in the country. The coroner heard that, since the last inquest in 1995, which left open the cause of death, there had been 239 attacks on children.

The Chamberlain case caused hysteria in Australia and the steadfast refusal of many to believe the mother's famous claim on discovering Azaria's disappearance: "A dingo's got my baby."

The suspicions appeared to have been prompted by the couple's outsider status (they were New Zealanders and both belonged to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church).

The case was also hindered by sloppy police work and controversial evidence.

Outside court yesterday, Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton said she was "relieved and delighted to be at the end of this saga". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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