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Calling for justice for Mona Lisa and Cindy

The Smith families gathering in Adelaide Street on Monday before marching to the Bourke Court House. Photo TWH

Graphic evidence has been produced at Bourke Court this week as NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan inquires into the deaths of two teenage girls on the Mitchell Highway north of Bourke in 1987.

The inquiry is examining whether incompetence, systemic racism or cultural bias were factors in the failure of police and the courts to provide justice to the families of the girls almost 36 years ago.

15-year-old Jacinta Rose ‘Cindy’ Smith and her cousin 16-year-old Mona Lisa Smith were found at 4am on 6 December 1987, about 63 kms north of Bourke on the Mitchell Highway after dying in the horrific road accident and many questions remain for their families.

40-year-old Alexander Ian Grant was found at the site of the accident with his arm over Cindy, who was naked from the waist down.

Grant was later acquitted of drink driving, causing the deaths of Mona Lisa and Cindy, and another charge of sexually interfering with Cindy’s body was withdrawn by the Department of Public Prosecutions before the trial.

The inquest, which began on Monday, has opened old wounds for the families of the two young Aboriginal cousins – Jacinta Rose Smith and Mona Lisa Smith – whose deaths have remained largely unexplained for almost 36 years.

Presiding over the hearing, the NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said that she hoped some of the many questions could be answered.

Opening the hearing the Coroner also acknowledged the strength and perseverance of the families in getting ‘this process’ underway.

Council assisting the Coroner, Peggy Dwyer SC, told the hearing that there is still much grief and anguish at the passing of the girls, who had so much to look forward to in their lives.

“We also acknowledge the dedication and commitment of Mona and Cindy’s family, who have advocated tirelessly, and successfully, for the resumption of an inquest into their deaths,” Dr Dwyer said.

“We are conscious that in the almost 36 years since the passing of Mona and Cindy, there has been much speculation and innuendo within the community about what in fact happened on 6 December 1987; that has no doubt increased the grief, trauma, and pain for the Smith families.

“Ultimately, we are hopeful that through this process, some answers and understanding will come about the circumstances in which Mona and Cindy died.”

Dr Dwyer described several failures during the initial police investigation.

They included inadequate gathering and retention of evidence from the crime scene, a failure to impound and forensically examine the ute involved in the crash and inadequate interviewing of the first witnesses at the scene.

Dr Dwyer also pointed to other shortcomings including the failure of police to notify the parents of Cindy and Mona Lisa about their deaths and the inability of authorities to produce a transcript of Mr Grant’s District Court trial.

The inquest was also told that forensic specimens taken from Cindy to establish whether she was sexually assaulted were no longer available.

Among the key issues outlined by Dr Dwyer was ‘whether there was any evidence of systemic racism or cultural bias in the conduct of the initial police investigation’.

“That issue will certainly be explored with the relevant witnesses during these proceedings,” Dr Dwyer said. […]

Read more in the printed edition of The Western Herald.

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