Warnings on dead toddler went unheeded


REPEATED warnings that Mildura toddler Joedan Andrews was in danger were made to Victoria’s child protection services, but the family’s file was closed two months before Joedan’s death, an inquest was told yesterday.
Joedan’s grandmother, Veronica Andrews, had reported that her daughter, Sarah Andrews, often went “walkabout” and left two-year-old Joedan with her.
She told authorities that Sarah frequently screamed at Joedan, punched him and left him unattended in order to buy drugs, the inquest heard yesterday.
Joedan was reported missing by his mother on December 15, 2002, shortly after they moved to the troubled Namatjira Avenue Aboriginal “mission” on the outskirts of the small NSW town of Dareton. A month later, police discovered partial remains later identified as Joedan’s. No one has been charged over his death.
In his opening address to the inquest yesterday, counsel assisting the coroner, Stephen Rushton, SC, said Victoria’s Department of Human Services initially assessed the notifications about Joedan as serious and considered that if the complaints were true, it was highly likely Joedan would be harmed.
There was “an investigation of sorts” between April and August 2002, Mr Rushton said. But the department closed the file on the basis that no significant risk could be identified.
“Someone in the department seems to have formed the view that it was a malicious complaint . . . and evidence suggests (this view) was inconsistent with reports being received from others at the time which corroborated what Veronica Andrews had said,” Mr Rushton told Wentworth Court.
The file also showed only one notification from Veronica Andrews when in fact she had made several, including one only two months before Joedan’s death, Mr Rushton said. On December 6, 2002, another person contacted the department, expressing concern that Joedan might be exposed to life-threatening physical harm, Mr Rushton said.
Shortly before Joedan’s death, Sarah Andrews and her son had moved in with her new boyfriend, Colin Moore jnr. She told police Joedan was asleep when she went to bed but was missing when she woke up.
Mr Rushton described Moore as a man with a long history of violent criminal offences, including domestic violence. He said the couple had an unstable relationship marred by drug and alcohol abuse and that Moore – who sat in the court’s dock at the inquest yesterday – was now on remand for soliciting an undercover police officer to murder Sarah Andrews in 2007.
Mr Rushton yesterday pleaded for Aborigines in Namatjira Avenue to tell the truth about the events of that night.
“This is not a case where any decent human being could conceal what they know. We are dealing with the death and disposal of a beautiful baby boy . . . This is not a matter where it would be appropriate for the local Aboriginal community to look at what occurred as an ‘our mob versus their mob’ issue,” he said.
“The local community needs closure on this tragedy . . . Joedan demands it.”
Mr Rushton told the court that police had found bloodstains in four rooms of the Namatjira Avenue house where Joedan had been on the night he died. They had also found a lounge chair at a nearby tip that was soaked with fluids believed to be from a body.
The few bones that had been identified as Joedan’s had fractures in them, suggesting he had been subjected to trauma at or around the time of his death, Mr Rushton said.
Forensic evidence suggested that his body had been cut into several parts before it was disposed of. Mr Rushton said it was unlikely Joedan’s remains would ever be fully recovered. Mr Rushton said that the night before Joedan was reported missing, Moore and Sarah Andrews had attended different parties at which alcohol and cannabis were consumed, and that Moore had later been seen driving aggressively with Joedan seated unrestrained on his mother’s lap in the front passenger seat of the car.
The last independent sighting of Joedan was about 11 o’clock that night, when Sarah took him from one party to another at Namatjira Avenue.
Mr Rushton said two scenarios were under consideration. First, that there had been a collision in the car that injured the unrestrained Joedan so badly that he died; second, that at some stage that night, he was killed inside the Namatjira Avenue house.
NSW state deputy coroner Malcolm MacPherson yesterday travelled to Dareton and viewed the two houses at which parties had been held, and the nearby tip area. The inquest continues.

First published in The Age.