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36 years on, inquest findings on deaths of Jacinta and Mona Lisa Smith to be delivered

Dechlan Brennan -

The findings on the deaths of two young Indigenous girls in regional New South Wales will be delivered on Tuesday, more than 36 years after they were killed in horrific circumstances. 

On Tuesday, State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan will hand down the historically significant findings on the deaths of Jacinta Rose 'Cindy' Smith, 15, and Mona Lisa Smith, 16, who were found deceased beside the wreckage of a Ute on the Mitchell highway, between Bourke and Enngonia, on the morning of December 6, 1987. 

The findings from Coroner O’Sullivan will come after the inquest held last year heard non-Indigenous man Ian Alexander Grant, then 40, was found by witnesses with his arm draped across the body Cindy, who was partially undressed.

He was later acquitted of driving-related offences during a 1990 criminal trial, with a further charge of interfering with a corpse being dropped on the eve of the trial.

Mr Grant’s defence convinced the jury that he was not driving the vehicle at the time it careened off the road, instead blaming Mona.

The inquest heard lead detective Peter Ehsman believed unequivocally Mr Grant's statement where he said Mona – who had never driven a manual car – was the driver.

Mr Grant died in 2018.

In a statement, the family of Mona and Cindy Smith said: “Mona and Cindy are loved and missed…We are here because no mother should have to suffer in silence. It’s time their stories were told.”

“We want this process to bring peace for Mona and Cindy so that they can rest, and peace for our families and community too.”

December, 1987 article on the death or Mona and Cindy
(Image/SMH archives/Dechlan Brennan)

The NSW State Coroner agreed to reopen the inquest after it had originally begun in November 1988, but was suspended to enable the trial of Mr Grant. Following his acquittal, it remained suspended until 2023.

The inquest looked at the role - if any - systemic racism and cultural bias played in the initial investigation, which the court heard contained a litany of errors.

The errors included the motor vehicle in question not being properly stored, therefore destroying the chain of evidence; the two families not being directly told by the police that the two girls had died, instead receiving the news via other family members; multiple witnesses not being interviewed; the crime scene not adequately recorded and maintained; and Mona's family never being interviewed to ascertain if she could drive a manual vehicle.

Cindy’s mother, Iona Dawn Smith, told the inquest of feeling “hopeless and defeated” when Mr Grant was acquitted during the criminal trial. 

"He got to lie and walk away. This was my baby," she said at the time. 

"I felt like they [the jury] weren't even looking at us as humans, but as Blacks."

During closing submissions, counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer SC told the court evidence pointed to Mr Grant being responsible for the girls’ deaths and urged the coroner to reject the jury's findings from the 1990 trial. 

"In my submission, Mona was not the driver of the vehicle…it's a terrible ­injustice," Dr Dwyer said at the time. 

She also argued "there was racism in the police force at the time" which may have impacted the effectiveness of the flawed investigation and the families were perhaps treated differently because they were Aboriginal.

Counsel for the NSW Police Commissioner, Christine Melis, rejected the notion the inquest had unearthed tangible evidence of systemic racism or cultural bias, but conceded the investigation at the time was "deficient."

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

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