• Adeline Yvette Wilson-Rigney and her two children, Amber Rose, 6 and Korey Mitchell, 5 were murdered in 2016. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
An Adelaide inquest has heard that a lack of resources stopped the state's child protection body from acting before an Aboriginal mother and her two children were murdered.
Douglas Smith

12 Jun 2021 - 8:37 AM  UPDATED 12 Jun 2021 - 8:40 AM

CW: The following article contains images of the deceased and details some may find distressing.

A coronial inquest has heard that understaffing stopped South Australia's body for child protection from intervening before the murders of two Indigenous children and their mother in Adelaide five years ago.

Adeline Yvette Wilson-Rigney and her two children, 6-year-old Amber Rose and 5-year-old Korey Mitchell were murdered by Ms Rigney's boyfriend Steven Graham Peet in Hillier, in the capital's northern suburbs in May 2016. 

Peet pleaded guilty to the triple murder and was handed a mandatory life sentence with a 36-year non-parole period.

The inquest is examining the circumstances surrounding the children's deaths and the involvement of the Department of Child Protection, formerly known as Families SA.

The inquest heard that in the preceding two years before the killings, Families SA received multiple warnings regarding the children's welfare but did not investigate.

It also heard that Families SA had put a ‘closed no action’ status on the family's file, due to a lack of resources throughout Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

Department of Child Protection senior officer Ann-Marie Scanlon gave evidence on Thursday, telling the court she received an email from the SA Family Court a month before the murders requesting information on the welfare of the children.

However, Ms Scanlon said she could not recall the specifics of what the court was requesting.

“I thought at that point it was about identifying the children and confirming an address," she said.

"Ideally, we would have had an investigative response, [but], at the time, we didn't have a notification open, we had the request from the family court." 

At the time of their deaths, the Department worked on a tiering system, ranging in severity from tier one to tier three. 

Under the system, no action would be taken by the Department unless a situation was deemed tier one. Multiple reports made about the same child or young person could be given more serious consideration. 

Ms Scanlon told the court she was aware the Elizabeth suburb office did not at that time have the capacity to investigate the concerns raised about the welfare of the two children. 

The SA Family Court had sent the request to the DCP after reports Amber was "persistently" missing school, and that her mother was leaving both Amber and her brother Korey with unknown men.  

Giving evidence on Wednesday, former Department worker Avril Hale, who managed the Elizabeth office, said understaffing resulted in her team having to pick and choose which families they could help. 

“We were holding far more cases than we could (handle),” Ms Hale told the court. 

“We were only responding to tier one notifications because that's all we could handle.

“We would look at which ones were more dire than the other ones."  

Ms Hale also said a decision to close an investigation one year before the murders was made because the concerns for Amber and Korey were classed as tier two.

She also added that her office did not have the resources to make any further inquiries, despite multiple notifications being made to the DCP about the welfare of the children.   

Two years before the murders, the Department had removed Ms Rigney’s third and eldest child from her care after reports of physical abuse. Amber and Korey however remained with their mother. 

“At that stage, the wheels were just starting to fall off,” Ms Hale said.  

"[But] there wasn't enough that met the threshold to intervene with regard to the young children."

The court also heard there was just one Principal Aboriginal Consultant who worked for Families SA in covering a large region of Adelaide which included hundreds of Indigenous families. 

“It’s a big task, a big job – the Principal Aboriginal Consultant is under enormous pressure,” Ms Hale said.

Grandparents outraged

The grandparents of the two murdered children, Janet Wells and Steven Egberts, spoke to NITV News outside of court on Friday, and said they were "outraged" that the Department did not do more to connect them with their grandchildren.

“I was outraged, the Department should have engaged with us to get our opinion to where this all should’ve gone - If they [DCP] weren’t prepared to do the work themselves,” said Mr Egberts. 

“I don’t understand why they didn’t want to engage with us.”

When Ms Rigney's eldest child was removed in 2014, Mr Egberts and Ms Wells said the Department should have given them all three of the children until she was stable enough to receive them back. 

“Initially we hoped there would be a reunification process which would allow Adeline to get the help she needed, then we could have progressed from there - and it would see all the children united - but that didn’t happen,” he said. 

“Despite their own laws, laws that they hold the public accountable for, they refuse to accept those laws for themselves."

Ms Wells believes the two children were let down by the system.

“It's hard because the children were in danger - I just feel that Amber and Korey were not chosen to be safe,” she said. 

The inquest continues.

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