The circumstances surrounding the death of an Aboriginal teenager in Bowraville in the early '90s have finally been heard in court, in a hearing to determine whether there is evidence for a retrial for the only man accused of her death, and the deaths of two other Aboriginal children.
Colleen Walker, 16, was the first Aboriginal child to go missing on Bowraville mission in 1990. Within months, four-year-old Evelyn Greenup and 16-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux also went missing.
Evelyn and Clinton's bodies were later found in close proximity to each other, but Colleen's body has never been recovered, although her clothes were fished out of the nearby Nambucca River.
A non-Indigenous man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was acquitted over the deaths of both Clinton and Evelyn in two separate trials, but no-one has ever been charged over the death of Colleen, who was declared dead at a coronial inquest in 2004.
Family members of the three victims packed the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in Sydney today for a landmark hearing to determine whether there is evidence to warrant a retrial of the only man suspected of being responsible for their deaths.
They have spent over two decades campaigning for justice for their children, and live with the trauma of their loss every day.
The hearing follows the historic amendments to the double jeopardy principle in NSW in 2006, which allows for a retrial in the case of "fresh and compelling evidence", and which were passed partly with Bowraville in mind. It has taken over a decade to get the families' application back to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The first day of the hearing partly focused on the evidence surrounding Colleen's disappearance, and whether it constituted "fresh and compelling" evidence. It is the first time the circumstances surrounding Colleen's death have been heard in court.
Wendy Abraham, counsel assisting the attorney-general, told the court Colleen was at a party the night before she disappeared. She was last seen in a laneway that ran behind a house, with the accused man walking behind her.
The court heard there was evidence the accused man (the respondent) had "pressured" her to have sex with him.
"At various times during the night, she is seen to be talking to the respondent, and there is evidence capable of establishing that the respondent was putting pressure on her to have sex with him ... there is evidence that would find he had sexual interest in her that night," Abraham told the court.
Abraham told the court Colleen had also been at the accused's caravan weeks earlier, where she had told a friend the accused had "mauled" her through the night, and "she had to keep pulling up her pants".
The court also heard Clinton Speedy-Duroux and Evelyn Greenup had also last been seen at, or after, parties where the respondent had been in attendance.
Abraham told the court there were "similarities between the three murders and circumstances — they are in fact murders — which is important because Colleen was never found. They were committed by one person."
Abraham said there was a "pattern", in that the accused had a sexual interest in Evelyn's mother, and Clinton's girlfriend, and that evidence around Colleen Walker's disappearance could be constituted as "fresh and compelling".
The court also heard of informer evidence, from four people who state the accused allegedly made "admissions of murders" to them — two over Clinton's death, one over Evelyn's, and one may have alluded to the death of Colleen.
She said there was no evidence of collusion between the four, and they did not know of each other.
The mood in the court was sombre. The families of the Bowraville victims have been through two trials, a coronial inquest, numerous protests, and a parliamentary inquiry, and are now waiting for what is seen as one of the last avenues of justice.
The families' application to send the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeal was previously knocked back by three state attorney-generals. But the Bowraville families never stopped fighting.
In 2016 the then NSW attorney-general Gabrielle Upton announced she would be referring it back to the court.
Evelyn Greenup's aunty Michelle Jarrett told the press before the hearing that the families would not give up on justice for their children.
"Our fight won't end here today, but we will continue to fight no matter what."
Clinton Speedy-Duroux's sister-in-law Leonie Duroux said: "This is what we've been dying for. A chance to have all three cases heard together, and hopefully we get the best outcome."
If the hearing is successful, the man could be charged with the murders of the three children, and the case will go to a retrial. If not, the charges will be dropped.
The defence will begin tomorrow.