Top cop apologises to teenage suicide victims
NT Police assistant commissioner Nick Anticich has personally apologised to the families of three teenage girls for the botched investigation of their apparent suicides while maintaining they were not victims of foul play.
Mr Anticich made the mea culpa yesterday while giving evidence on day two of a Coronial inquest into the deaths of Cheralyn Mamarika, 16, Layla "Gulum" Leering, 15, and Fionica James, 17, who each took their own lives in mysterious circumstances in remote NT communities in 2016 and 2017.
"I'm sorry that we failed to ascertain the truth surrounding the deaths of these young women and I'm sorry that that truth will forever linger with those survivors and their relatives," he said.
"As a police force we should have done better for the community we serve.
"We failed to ascertain the truth and I think that's a pain they will bear forever more."
But Mr Anticich made it clear his apology was for NT Police's failure to provide closure to the girls' families, rather than for failing to arrest any suspect in their killing.
He said while the inquest had heard "evidence of potentially other criminality" surrounding the deaths, he had only ever seen one suspected suicide in similar circumstances during decades in law enforcement that may have potentially involved foul play.
But Mr Anticich assured Coroner Greg Cavanagh he was "very confident" that police investigating similar incidents today would keep a more open mind and make more effort to get to the bottom of what happened.
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Territory Families northern region executive director Karen Broadfoot was next to take the stand, conceding the department's interactions with Fionica in particular involved a series of "missed opportunities".
The inquest heard Fionica first came to the department's attention in 2013 when she tested positive for an STI aged just 13.
A reported domestic violence incident between her parents would follow as well as further notifications of a possible sexual relationship with an adult male who was reportedly seen stabbing her with scissors.
The inquest heard two of Fionica's family members were said to have beaten her with a buffalo bone to discourage her from seeing the man, who would later be jailed for effectively keeping her as a sex slave.
By 2014 a departmental staffer warned Fionica was "at risk of suicide" and a referral was made to an outreach service but they never made contact and her family reported she had in fact later attempted suicide.
Ms Broadfoot said that represented a "significant missed opportunity to act to protect Fionica".
"What should have happened is everybody should have come together and there should have been a family meeting about it and there should have been a conversation with Fionica about it," she said.
But Ms Broadfoot said lessons had since been learned and the department would now take a more holistic approach if its staff encountered a similar situation.
"After being here for so long it is very exciting to be working in a space where we're genuinely starting to work with communities as opposed to perhaps just talking about working with communities," she said.
The inquest continues today.*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467
Originally published as Top cop apologises to teenage suicide victims, rules out foul play