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Police dismissed complaints of Indigenous woman fatally bashed by ex-partner, NT inquest finds | Northern Territory

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Police “did nothing to help” an Indigenous woman in the days before she was fatally bashed by her former partner and died in agony, a Northern Territory coronial inquest has found.

According to the findings, the 28-year-old, referred to as Roberta at her family’s request, was subjected to weeks of abuse and violence by Lorenzo Deegan before a punch fractured a rib and ripped her spleen.

She bled to death in silence over several hours lying beside her attacker at a home in Katherine, 320km south of Darwin, in June 2019, the coroner Elisabeth Armitage’s findings say.

The coroner said that, in the days before her death, the mother of three called police multiple times. Roberta said she feared Deegan would kill someone but police did little to intervene, with one officer telling the household to stop calling triple zero.

“What happened to Roberta was tantamount to kidnapping. When she tried to escape [Deegan] in Katherine, he repeatedly found her and took her back to his home,” Armitage said.

“When Roberta finally called the police, they did nothing to help her. To the contrary, the police members were rude to her and dismissed her complaints.”

Deegan tracked his former partner down in the months prior to her death after he was released on parole following a two-year prison stint for seriously assaulting an elderly man.

According to the findings, over several weeks, he repeatedly punched, kicked, physically assaulted and threatened Roberta despite her making several attempts to escape and alert the authorities.

On one occasion Deegan punched Roberta in her face and head three or four times outside a Centrelink office. She fell to the ground and he kicked her twice before being pulled away.

Deegan then picked up a concrete block and raised it above his head saying: “Come here you cunt. I will hit you with a rock.” A bystander took the concrete from him and Deegan hit Roberta another two or three times.

Roberta died two weeks after Deegan found her. The coroner noted it was the seventh time he had assaulted her.

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Armitage said police “failed to follow any of their procedures concerning domestic violence complaints”.

She said police also did not use Deegan’s electronic monitoring device data to find and arrest him despite being told he had been recently released from prison on a suspended sentence.

“They failed to access Lorenzo’s criminal history, failed to appreciate the seriousness of his offending and the likely risk that he posed, and ought to have conducted a more comprehensive investigation of the complaints,” Armitage said.

“Had those matters been properly considered Roberta would likely have been identified as being at serious risk of domestic violence and further steps could and should have been taken with a view to increasing her safety.”

Armitage said that Deegan’s probation and parole officer was oblivious to his drinking, which breached his release conditions.

“The drinking and violence was occurring on some of the very same days community corrections were unsuccessfully attempting to conduct [a random breath test] and on a day when he attended a supervision appointment,” Armitage said.

“Community corrections did not think there was much more that they could have done to discover his non-compliance.”

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The inquest also found Deegan’s parole officer was not notified about Roberta’s calls to police.

Armitage recommended community corrections provide violent offenders with more comprehensive supervision in their first month of release.

She also called for work to enable police, corrections, legal and community service officers to share electronic monitoring device data to be completed as quickly as possible.

Deegan was sentenced in May 2020 to nine years imprisonment after pleading guilty to four assaults and negligent manslaughter.

In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org



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