Death Of Leigh Leigh

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SpeakersWhelan Mr Paul
BusinessCondolence, Ministerial Statement

Ministerial Statement

Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [2.18]: I desire to make a ministerial statement relating to the tragic death of Leigh Leigh. I am sure that most members of this House are aware of the circumstances surrounding this tragic case. On a spring night in 1989 14-year-old Leigh Leigh went to a birthday party at Stockton Beach near Newcastle. She had a written invitation and permission from her mother, who was told that responsible adults would be attending the party. Tragically, Leigh still had the invitation in her pocket when her body was found the next morning. Between 80 and 100 other young people attended the party that night. According to her friends, Leigh was excited - it was her first real party; it was supposed to be a fun night out with her girlfriends. But within a few short hours she was dead. She had been spat on, kicked and humiliated; she had been sexually assaulted, strangled and sexually assaulted again before being bashed to death with a six-kilogram lump of concrete. Three people were charged with offences against Leigh, but only one person went to gaol for her murder. Last May District Court Judge Moore raised serious doubts that only one offender was involved in Leigh's murder. Judge Moore said:
      . . . the genital injuries to Leigh which I shall not, for reasons of delicacy and distress recount here show that there was very severe, violent and resisted invasion of her body, which was performed by persons which have not been detected.

The gravity of the offences committed against Leigh and others does not match the convictions of those who have been dealt with to date. The Newcastle Legal Centre has worked tirelessly on this case and for the past few months with the assistance of the New South Wales police. Mrs Leigh's lawyers have painstakingly sorted the existing police evidence, and the result is a 300-page report which raises some alarming questions. Two weeks ago I received that report. I was sickened and saddened by what was done to Leigh and the fact that in this case the criminal justice system, at least according to Judge Moore, seems to have failed.

This report lays out material indicating that a number of people other than those charged were involved in serious criminal behaviour on the night that Leigh was killed. It shows that a range of other assaults committed against Leigh by more than 10 other people were not prosecuted. Assaults against other people went undetected. Although young men admitted sexually assaulting other young women, no action was taken by police. It provides convincing evidence that more than one person was involved in Leigh's murder. After reading the report I met with Mr Boersig, Robert Cavanagh and Hilda Armstrong, the Leigh family representatives. They told me that Leigh's mother and sister could not rest until these inhuman crimes were properly investigated.

I believe it would be remiss of me as police Minister to let these questions now raised by responsible people go untested and unanswered. Today I can announce that the management committee of the New South Wales Crime Commission, of which I am a member, has decided that the Crime Commission should review the 1989 police investigation. This is our one opportunity to right the terrible wrongs that occurred on the night that Leigh died. I have taken this unusual step after receiving advice from the Commissioner of Police and the Chairman of the Crime Commission, and in consultation with the Ombudsman. The advice convinced me that an independent inquiry is warranted. The fact is that no matter how much time passes, justice will not be done or be seen to be done while outstanding questions relating to the full circumstances of Leigh's death remain. In this regard, the Newcastle Legal Centre asked me for three things: for an independent review of the original police investigation, for an appropriately qualified lawyer to oversee the review and for Mrs Leigh to be kept informed. Today those three requests have, I believe, been met.

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The New South Wales Crime Commission has the powers needed to get this job done, but it is time for those who know what happened to come forward; it is time to stop the lies and cover-ups and to set the record straight; it is time for the truth to out. I would urge anyone who can assist to speak up, to come forward and tell us what they know in confidence. For that purpose the Crime Commission has established a special hotline. Anyone who knows anything can call the toll-free Crime Commission hotline on 1800 068 515 and confidentially provide information to commission investigators. Every parent's worst nightmare occurred at Stockton Beach in 1989. What happened shames us all; we now have a chance to right the wrong.