Dad's body found next to dead daughter on beach following family separation

A young girl died at the hands of her father because he was trying to “re-establish control” over his separated family before he killed himself on the NSW north coast in 2014.

A coroner has called for changes to how NSW Police respond to reports of a parent failing to return child to their guardian.

The girl was born in 2009 in Queensland and by her second birthday her parents had separated and their contact had become “strained and emotionally difficult”, an inquest heard.

Acting State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan, who released her findings on Tuesday, said it was necessary to understand the “source of the tension” which preceded the father’s actions after he failed to return the girl to her mother on January 9 2014.

She had driven to Pottsville, near the Queensland border, to pick the girl up on January 11. But when she arrived she couldn’t locate the pair and alerted police.

Source: AAP

Police began inquiring and initially classified the case as a “custody dispute” rather than a “missing person”, the inquest heard.

Two days later police and SES air, land and sea searches intensified around the holiday town and on January 28 a search party found the man dead alongside the four-year-old beneath the canopy of a pandanus tree near the beach.

Utility knives, prescription pills and toys were among the items found on their bodies.

Advanced decomposition meant DNA was needed to identify the bodies and made a cause of death impossible to determine, the court heard.

“It is a shocking tragedy that her life was taken.”

Experts theorise the father, who had depression and previously expressed a desire to kill himself and his daughter, had overdosed.

“With respect to (the girl), I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that (the father) caused her death, by some means, possibly by using the drugs he had taken with him to cause her to overdose,” Ms O’Sullivan found

A second tendered to the court from the mother is a “heartbreaking account” of the loss of her daughter.

“She describes (her) so beautifully, and told the court of a child who was pragmatic, quirky in her own adorable way and with a great sense of humour,” Ms O’Sullivan concludes.

“It is a shocking tragedy that her life was taken.”

In coming to her conclusions, the court noted the father’s history of self-harm, deteriorating mental health, anxiety while proceeding through the family court, and erratic and violent tendencies.

The findings cite expert testimony that concluded the girl “was killed by her father prior to him taking his own life as a result of his desire to re-establish control over the family situation”.

Ms O’Sullivan made recommendations that, when a parent fails to return a child subject to a parenting plan or court order they be treated as a missing person by police.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.