Australia

Cheryl Grimmer case: Murder charge dropped as court rules evidence inadmissible

Flowers left at the site where Cheryl Grimmer went missing. Source: AAP

The NSW trial of a man accused of murdering Cheryl Grimmer almost 50 years ago will not proceed, after a judge has ruled his 1971 interview was inadmissible

The man accused of murdering NSW toddler Cheryl Grimmer almost five decades ago has walked free from court after the charge was dropped - a decision which outraged her brother.

It followed a judge's ruling that his 1971 police interview - during which the then 17-year-old confessed to murdering the little girl - was inadmissible and could not be used at his trial which was due to start in May.

"Am I angry? I'm past that. Do I want revenge? You betcha," Ricki Grimmer told Network Ten on Friday.

Ricki Grimmer
Ricki Grimmer, (centre), along with brothers Stephen, (left), and Paul, (right) address the media in a file photo from 2016.
AAP

"Police tell you 200 per cent they've got the right person sitting behind bars. He's going to walk out.

"You let a three-year-old's murderer go free - twice.

"He walked in and gives you a full confession and you let him walk away? The laws were different back then - he'd probably have been tried and convicted - now he hides behind a technicality.

"I don't know how this can happen. Someone's got to be accountable for this."

Cheryl Grimmer
The shower block at Fairy Meadow Beach where Cheryl Grimmer went missing.
AAP

In finding the police interview was inadmissible, Justice Robert Allan Hulme noted: "The Crown accepts that its case cannot succeed without it."

Prosecutors later withdrew the charge because there was insufficient evidence for the case to proceed in the NSW Supreme Court without the interview.

The man, who cannot be named as he was underage at the time, was arrested in Victoria in March 2017 and pleaded not guilty in September 2018 to murdering the three-year-old.

Cheryl vanished from outside a shower block while with her mother and three older brothers at Fairy Meadow Beach in Wollongong on January 12 in 1970.

The former accused was 15 when Cheryl disappeared and 17 when he was interviewed by police for one hour and 40 minutes in April 1971.

"He told the detectives that he intended to have sexual intercourse with her; he did not because she started to scream as soon as he took a gag off her; so he then strangled her, she stopped breathing and he thought she was dead," the judge said.

"He said he then 'panicked and covered her up with bushes and run for it'".

Justice Hulme said no parent, adult or legal practitioner was present at any stage of the police interview

At the time, there was no mandatory requirement, legislative or otherwise, or even a guideline by way of police instruction, for an adult support person to be present during the interview.

He referred to evidence of records and reports on the teenager from 1970-71 about his interaction with the juvenile justice system.

"I hasten to add that any criminal behaviour was of a relative minor kind (e.g. petty theft) and that what seemed to be more concerning was the accused's frequent absconding from homes and from detention facilities."

The judge also heard evidence from two psychiatrists, who agreed the teenager had a very disturbed mental state at the time and was acting out in various ways.

They also said he had a low average intelligence, was immature and more vulnerable than the average 17-year-old as a result of his disturbed upbringing, difficult relationship with his parents, history of running away form home, moving countries, low intellect and limited education.

He described the interview as "somewhat troubling", noting a caution was only given during, not at the start of, the interview when the teenager started confessing.

Further, the interview was held in a juvenile detention facility where he was being held against his will.

 

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