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"Never dealt with one as bad as this" : Investigator slams Bourke detectives in Indigenous girls coronial inquest

Dechlan Brennan -

The following article contains names and images of people who have died, as well as graphic and disturbing details.

The second day of a Coronial Inquest into the horrific deaths of Aboriginal girls Jacinta Rose 'Cindy' Smith and her cousin Mona Lisa Smith, has heard the officer in charge of the accident investigation squad offer a critical assessment of the detectives who initially investigated the crash, claiming many of the vital aspects of the initial investigation "hadn't been done."

The inquest on Tuesday largely centred on the behaviour of Bourke investigators. The court heard from both former Detective Sergeant Raymond Godkin of the NSW Police Accident Investigation Unit in Parramatta and former Constable Sir Kenneth McKenzie, both of whom implied Ian Alexander Grant was culpable for the accident by being behind the wheel of the car.

Mr Godkin, one of the founding members of the accident investigation squad in Sydney, told the court he believed the inquest wouldn't have been needed if the investigation was done better at the time.

Former Officers criticise Bourke Detectives

Appearing via video link, Mr Godkin outlined how he came to be involved in the investigation.

He said he'd come across the accident on his desk the day after the two girls had died. The information he initially read was that a young girl - Mona Lisa - had been driving. Mr Godkin said he thought it was "very strange" that the owner, Mr Grant, was in the vehicle but not behind the wheel at the time.

"It just seemed like an odd thing," he said.

Two months later, and after having a conversation with Sir Kenneth - who was among the first officers on the scene - whilst he was in the area, Mr Godkin told his superior officer that Sir McKenzie had mentioned the investigation by Bourke detectives "wasn't right."

He said he was told by his boss to "do something about it."

Mr Godkin was highly critical of the Bourke officers' behaviour, telling the court when he arrived, "I didn't get a very good reception at all."

"I've said it many times, I never got any cooperation from any of the officers at Bourke."

He said the head of the Bourke station told him to leave town, arguing the Bourke detectives had already completed their investigation.

"As far as I am concerned you can hop in the car and piss off back to Sydney, because my detectives did this job and I am content with what they did," Mr Godkin recounted him saying.

When asked about the investigation "failures," including not taking fingerprints from the scene, allowing the motor vehicle to be sold, and no blood sample being taken from Mr Grant, Mr Godkin hypothesised that if the job had been done "properly," it was likely the current coronial inquest wouldn't be taking place.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Peggy Dwyer SC, asked Mr Godkin if he regretted not being involved in the case earlier.

"I regret that to this day," he said.

"I have dealt with over 500 road accidents, and I have never dealt with one as bad as this."

Witnesses doubt Grant's claim he wasn't driving

Mr Grant told detectives he'd not been driving the manual Ute at the time of the accident. The inability to ascertain who was driving the vehicle led to him being found not guilty of drink driving causing death during the criminal trial in 1990.

Mr Godkin said everything he had learnt from his investigations - including speaking directly to the family - was that Mona Lisa was unable to drive a manual, leading him to not believe Mr Grant.

"I didn't believe anything he was telling me," he said.

"I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that the girl…could not drive that vehicle.

"They are not an easy vehicle to drive…you'd be constantly using the gears with a manual shift, for a person who has never driven a manual vehicle…it was impossible."

During his testimony, Sir Kenneth agreed.

"I've never lost that view," he said when asked if he believed Grant was driving.

He said he believed the girls, from the way they were positioned when he arrived, couldn't have been in the cab of the Ute, and instead must have been in the back tray.

Heated testimony

Sir Kenneth told the inquest Mr Grant changed his story about who was driving the car after being told both the girls were deceased.

He said he passed this information on to former Bourke Detective Sergeant of Police, Peter Ehsman, who arrived at the scene a couple of hours later to take over the investigation.

The inquiry, which is examining whether systemic racism or cultural and/or racial bias were factors in the police investigation, has focused on the behaviour - in part - of the Bourke detectives.

Sir Kenneth argued he felt compelled to write in his notebook later that Grant wasn't the driver, despite his misgivings, saying he was repeating the investigatory outcome from Mr Ehsman that Mr Grant wasn't the driver.

In a heated line of questioning, Stephen Russell, acting on behalf of Mr Ehsman, challenged the truthfulness of Sir Kenneth's testimony.

"It was a complete lie, wasn't it?" Mr Russell asked, of which Sir Kenneth said it wasn't, replying he was only doing what he was instructed to do.

"In those days you would do what you're told, not what you thought," he said.

Sir Kenneth said Mr Russell was trying to protect Mr Ehsman, rather than the family of the two girls, which resulted in a loud cheer being heard from the gallery.

Interfering with the Body

When Dr Dwyer inquired about a statement from Mr Grant where he suggested Cindy had got out of the vehicle, started undressing and propositioned him, Mr Godkin shook his head.

"It was a dreadful statement to make, and I didn't believe it."

Of the charge of interfering with a corpse being 'no billed' on the eve of the trial, Mr Godkin said he was "still astounded" to this day the charge had been dropped.

He told the inquest that he was certain Mr Grant had interfered with Cindy, saying "I had no doubt about it then" and that nothing had changed in the 36 years.

Sir Kenneth said the investigation was "substandard."

"I was trying to do the right thing at the time, but my attempts were suppressed," he said.

"All I am concerned about is getting justice for the family."

Expert Witness

In another testimony, expert witness Dr Katherine Brown told the court photographs of Cindy identified her shirt pulled up revealing her breasts, and her pants at her ankles.

She said if the removal of clothing had come from the body being carried or dragged (as claimed by Mr Grant) the clothing would all be bunched up in the same area. This was not the case.

"The photograph demonstrates the pants are down around her ankles and would be unlikely to end up around her ankles in any other way than someone pulling them down."

In response to claims by Mr Grant later, when he said Cindy had removed her own clothes and propositioned him, Dr Brown said this seemed doubtful.

"It's very unlikely this young girl was conscious, and certainly if she was at all conscious, it's highly unlikely she would have been considering any form of interaction. She would have been incapable of walking."

The inquiry continues.

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