MEDIA RELEASE: MONA AND CINDY SMITH INQUEST – HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS ANSWER UNRESOLVED QUESTIONS DECADES TOO LATE

Handing down her findings at the local court house in Bourke, State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan found that the concerns raised by the family with respect to investigative failures and systemic racism were entirely justified and correct.

On 6 December 1987, 16-year-old Murrawarri and Kunja girl Mona Lisa (‘Mona’) Smith, and her cousin, 15-year-old Wangkumara girl Jacinta Rose ‘Cindy’ Smith were found deceased on a lonely stretch of highway near Bourke, western New South Wales. A middle-aged non-Indigenous male was seen with his arm draped across the bare chest of Cindy, 15, who was nearly naked

For 36 years the family have been fighting for accountability and for answers to the questions that remain surrounding the circumstances of their deaths. The National Justice Project fought alongside the girls’ family to push for a fresh coronial inquest.

Today State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan noted that the initial police investigation suffered from ‘very serious deficiencies’ which had a major impact on any future criminal proceedings, and that racial bias within the NSW Police Force at the time did impede the investigation.

“The uncomfortable truth, to my mind, is that had two white teenage girls died in the same circumstances, I cannot conceive of their being such a manifestly deficient police investigation into the circumstances” (Findings at 315)

The Coroner found:

  • The initial police investigation was ‘inexplicably deficient’
  • The historic concerns of the family were entirely vindicated.
  • Alexander Grant sexually assaulted Cindy after she had died.
  • Alexander Grant was driving the car at the time of crash.
  • The concerns of the family were repeatedly dismissed.
  • Racial bias within the NSWPF at the time of the girls’ deaths did impact the investigation

The Coroner recommended the development of guidelines for a review of investigations by the NSW Police Force where there is an application for a fresh or further inquest.

In response to a recommendation from the National Justice Project on behalf of the family to consider reform of the Crimes Act, Her Honour proposed to write to the Attorney General to draw attention to the issue of escaping prosecution due to the precise time of a victim’s death being uncertain. 

Her Honour also recognised the unrelenting and admirable advocacy of the family to fight for justice for their girls.

Dawn, Cindy’s mother, says:

“We want to be able to hold someone accountable for what we have heard. The findings were good, but the pain and the hurt are still with us and always will be. That will never go away. I hope that other families in our position won’t ever go through the same thing [that] we did for 36 years. We hope that there is change in the way the police force treats Aboriginal families who have had loved ones who they have lost or have been killed.”

Kerrie, Cindy’s sister, says:

“It hurts that we will never see anyone held accountable for assaulting our sister, who was a child. The police would have treated the sexual assault of a white child differently. We don’t want any other family to go through that. The Coroner recognised today that everything we said went wrong, was correct.

We hope that the police and others take away from this inquest how important it is to listen to Aboriginal people and Aboriginal families, particularly when we are talking about our children and our experiences. If only we had been listened to 36 years ago, we wouldn’t be fighting now, and we could have seen someone held accountable.”

Fiona, Mona’s sister, says:

“It brings me great peace to finally have recognition that the police didn’t do their job and that my sister Mona wasn’t driving that car.”

June Smith, Mona’s mother, says:

“For the fellas in the police that did the wrong thing, they shouldn’t be in the police force. If you don’t like Blackfellas, why they come out here? We all bleed the same. We are proud to be black. For cops to treat us different because of racism is wrong.

If it was two white girls it would have been different.”

The National Justice Project acted for

  • Dawn Smith, mother of Jacinta Rose ‘Cindy’ Smith, supported by her daughter, Kerrie Smith
  • June Smith, mother of Mona Lisa ‘Mona’ Smith, supported by her daughter, Fiona Smith

Ariane Dozer, Solicitor said: “Working with the family to advocate for Mona and Cindy has been an immense honour. To finally have this story told is important and the Findings are significant. But sadly, the reality is the catastrophic failures of the investigation since 1987 will continue to prevent any true form of justice.”

For further questions please contact: Sashka Wickramasinghe, Media and Office Coordinator, on (02) 9514 4440 or info@justice.org.au

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