A Queensland schoolgirl was most likely choked to death by her foster father after his son confessed to having sex with her, an inquest has found.
Coroner Jane Bentley rejected convicted sex offender Rick Thorburn’s claims he had accidentally suffocated Tiahleigh Palmer and found she most likely died from deliberate choking or asphyxiation.
Bentley said: “I find that Richard Thorburn deliberately killed Tiahleigh, he did so at the residence of the Thorburn family between 7:30 and 9:30pm on the 29th October 2015.”
Trent Thorburn, Richard’s son, confessed to the family that he’d had sex with Tiahleigh, though the father insisted he had no recollection of being told this information by his wife on the day Tiahleigh died.
The bright and bubbly 12-year-old had complained of stomach pains at a dance class and boasted of a ‘secret’ which could see her kicked out of the family’s house.
Richard feared she was pregnant as a result of his son’s actions and this fear resulted in an act of evil which would come to shock Australia for years.
Richard told the inquest that he was "coerced into pleading guilty" to multiple charges of sexual assault for offences which did not relate to Tiahleigh.
The reality is that no one knows fully what happened to Tiahleigh in her final moments, except that she was not safe with foster parents who were supposed to look after her.
Kate McMahon, counsel assisting the coroner, said: "“(Thorburn) has pleaded guilty to her murder but has never given an account, either on oath or otherwise, as to how he killed her.”
Tiahleigh's body was discovered along the banks of a Gold Coast River and was so decomposed on discovery that detectives could not determine a conclusive cause of death.
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The Thurdoch family swore a vow of secrecy about the events surrounding Tiahleigh's death in an attempt to bury their actions and fabricated a lie that she had gone missing from school.
In the inquest, Richard insisted the death was accidental during an argument with Tiahleigh.
He told the inquest: ”I followed her down the driveway to the front gate, which is about 200 metres, and I decided I would bring her back to the house. I got my arm around her and tried to walk her back.
"She started screaming and swearing at me and I told her to stop because our neighbour was close to our driveway and it was very late at night. It got worse so I put my hand over her mouth and kept going.
"When we got to the veranda I let her go and she fell to the ground. I picked her up and put her on the seat she fell to the side again. She didn't respond to me when I spoke to her.
"Her eyes were closed and I didn't think she was breathing. I must have accidentally suffocated her with my hand over her mouth and holding her so tightly around her waist.”
In 2017 Richard Thorburn pleaded guilty to Tiahleigh's murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
His son Trent was convicted of incest and the rest of the family, Julene and Joshua, were convicted for aiding the elaborate cover-up.
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