Australian News

17-month-old girl killed by 4WD on family property in SA

A 17-month-old who died after she was hit by her family’s four-wheel-drive in South Australia is being remembered by her parents as a perfect and gorgeous girl.

The toddler, identified as Anna Seagren, was struck at the rural property on Victor Harbor Rd, Mount Jagged, about 55 kilometres south of Adelaide, at 3.45pm on Friday.

“The toddler was hit by the family 4WD,” police said in a statement on Saturday morning.

“Sadly, despite the efforts of paramedics at the scene, the 17-month-old girl could not be saved.”

Anna’s mum, Jessi, had been driving to pick up her eldest daughter from the bus stop when the tragedy occurred.

“We just didn’t see her come out,” Ms Seagren told Seven News.

“I saw her as soon after I’d made the mistake so I knew she was gone.”

She urged other parents to “slow down, just don’t rush, take that extra minute” and “give them that last cuddle”.

Together with the little girl’s father, Danny Seagren, she said: “She’s going to be so missed.”

RELATED: Heartbreaking footage hours before boy killed in accident

Anna was the youngest of three children, with a brother Jack, 3, and sister Grace, 5.

Ms Seagren told Seven News: “We’ve told the other kids that she’s an angel now.”

“She’s not going to come home … but we can still talk to her and we love her.

“And that we were lucky to be her parents for those 17 months.”

The heartbroken mum described her daughter as “really cheeky, really cuddly and affectionate”.

“She was just a perfect, happy, boisterous, gorgeous girl,” she told The Advertiser.

She said Anna was “a lightning bolt” who loved to bounce on her “little jumpy unicorn” toy.

Her daughter had loved swimming lessons and had been learning to kick her legs.

Major Crash investigators went to the property on Friday and are investigating the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident.

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Collingwood’s Steele Sidebottom to miss AFL finals series due to family reasons

Steele Sidebottom will miss Collingwood’s upcoming AFL finals campaign to remain in Melbourne with his family.

Sidebottom’s partner Alisha gave birth to the couple’s first child — a daughter named Matilda — last week.

The All-Australian midfielder has not played since round 13 after leaving the Magpies’ travel bubble.

Magpies coach Nathan Buckley on Saturday said Sidebottom and his young family had indicated a desire to join the team in Queensland.

But logistical issues around COVID-19 quarantine protocols, combined with the uncertainty of finals fixturing, have since seen them decide to remain in Victoria.

“Steele and Alisha have made a call that is completely understandable and one we wholly support,” Collingwood football manager Geoff Walsh said in a statement.

“Their comfort and security as a family was always the most important consideration.”

An AFL player wheels away in celebration with his fists clenched after kicking a goal.
Sidebottom made nine appearances for the Magpies this season.(AAP: Darren England)

Under current Queensland COVID-19 restrictions, players entering the state must quarantine for 14 days before training with teammates and playing matches.

It meant Sidebottom, the Magpies vice-captain, would have been unlikely to return until at least the second week of finals.

He also would have had to contend with a compromised training program while in quarantine.

The Magpies will play an elimination final in week one but are still waiting for their final ladder position and opponents to be determined.

A win over top side Port Adelaide on Monday night would secure sixth spot for the Magpies, giving them the right to select the venue for a ‘home’ final.

They could slide as low as eighth with a loss to the Power.

Sidebottom only played nine matches for the Magpies this season.

He served a four-match suspension earlier in the season for breaching the AFL’s COVID-19 protocols.


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Seniors could be asked to sell family home under death tax

Baby Boomers could be asked to sell the family home when they die to pay for aged care costs under a new plan to slap an effective death tax on seniors to fund care.

Former Treasurer Peter Costello has urged the Morrison Government to consider an expanded pensioner loans scheme during his appearance today at the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

Under the proposal, seniors would be given the option of taking out a loan secured against the family home, that would then be sold when they died or other assets liquidated.

While some banks already offer reverse home loans, Mr Costello has called for debate on expanding a pensions loans scheme to use the family home as an asset that could be sold when a retiree dies to recover costs.

“I mean, financial products that can allow people to raise accommodation bonds against the family home, which is generally their greatest asset, I think there’s a much more scope for them and I think the Government could assist there,” Mr Costello said.

“The Government has a thing called the Pension Loan Scheme which it says is available. The private sector has what is called a reversible mortgage or equity drawdown mortgages.

“But I do think, you know, this is a classic area where those people that do use residential care and do have assets should be asked to make a contribution and guaranteed a return of their deaths.”

RELATED: Woman screwed by new tax plan

But Mr Costello stressed that informed consent was the key to the proposal so that family members understood the cost would ultimately come out of the estate.

“Even today, if you’re asked to put up an accommodation bond, you can raise that bond with your own house as security,” he said.

“I mean, the point I’d make is that I think people should do it knowingly and in advance and there should be products that allow them to do that during their lifetime. If you come around and try to take their assets after they’ve died, I think you can expect to run into a lot of opposition there.”

Mr Costello urged debate on the option as an extension of reforms he introduced during the Howard Government.

“I felt you were never going to be able to run residential aged care with the ageing of the population off the taxpayer alone and you had to get private money and we introduced what we then called accommodation bonds,” Mr Costello said.

But Australia’s longest serving Treasurer also raised the alarm that the red tape and forms to enter aged care were so complex that even he struggled with them.

“Now, the members of my family I have attempted to fill in these income and assets tests. You all ought to do them,” he said.

“I’m reasonably financially literate. I had a lot of trouble filling it in. I don’t know how a person going into a nursing home would ever be able to fill it in.

“We’re talking about people who might be 80 or 90 years of age. How do they do this? My suspicion is that a lot of them just don’t.”

RELATED: $20k mistake under-35s are making

Former Treasury secretary Ken Henry told the inquiry he still believed that a compulsory tax levy to fund aged care was necessary.

But he echoed Mr Costello’s concern about the complexity of the system.

“My principal source of discomfort is that the system overall is horribly complex and it contains a very high level of uncertainty for people,” Dr Henry said.

“People who are elderly, people who are vulnerable, people who are suffering emotional and psychological stress, many, of course, unfortunately are mentally impaired to some extent, too many have little or inadequate family support and they confront the aged care system knowing nothing about it, knowing that they have no real option but to throw themselves into the system because it’s quite simply impossible for them to continue to look after themselves.

“And they’re bewildered. This system is unsustainable. It’s underfunded, it’s under resourced and it will not be tolerated. In particular, it will not be tolerated by the Baby Boomers themselves when they find themselves in this system.”

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Local News - Victoria

‘Leave my family out of it,’ says emotional Daniel Andrews

On Tuesday, Mr Andrews called the photograph a shameful “low” act and asked the public to refrain from invoking his deceased relatives in political debates.

“I saw that photo, the photo was sent to me by someone,” he said. “I know that farm well.

“The last time I was in that shed was when I carried my father’s coffin out of it.”

Mr Andrews – whose father, Bob, a cattleman, was farewelled in 2016 at the family’s farm in Londrigan, near Wangaratta, following a battle with cancer – said vigorous debate was good for democracy but “decency matters too”.

“Have a different view to me, but leave my family out of it, and particularly the dead members of my family out of it,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Shame, shame on him, shame.”

The online campaign was hosted by Victoria Forward, an online political campaign group with more than 22,000 followers that has agitated against the government’s emergency powers extension and other aspects of its pandemic response.

Online campaign organiser Edward Bourke said the incident was unacceptable.

Online campaign organiser Edward Bourke said the incident was unacceptable. Credit:

Mr Bourke is the administrator of the group. The activist’s LinkedIn account lists him as the managing director of a political consultancy called 470 Bourke.

Following Mr Andrews’ comments, Victoria Forward released a statement on its Facebook page saying it was unaware a participant in the campaign had taken the photo at the sensitive location.

“Victoria Forward is a champion of free speech and political discourse. However, we do not endorse use of personal tragedy for political point-scoring,” the statement said, adding the group had no role in the production of the image.

“Many thousands of Victorians took part in the Give Dan the Boot campaign in a respectful and considered way, and this one intensive action by a rogue third party should not detract from the message those other Victorians sent to Premier Daniel Andrews.

“The Premier may be attempting to use this one, admittedly regrettable image, to distract from the fact Victorians have rejected his leadership and demonstrated in their tens of thousands [at protests].

“Millions are under effective house arrest, hundreds of thousands have lost their job, and Victoria is falling apart. This is what we must focus on.”

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Rich-list family heads to court over dispute with ‘step-child’

Court documents filed this week lay bare the incredibly sensitive and complex family dispute.

“I have been told I was conceived by artificial insemination. However, my father is named as my father on my birth certificate and I am also named as his child on his death certificate,” Ms Smorgon wrote in documents obtained by The Age.

“I believed my father was my biological father until my teenage years. Indeed, my father treated me as if he was my natural father and I was his child. Even after I was told [of my conception method] … my father continued to behave as if he was my natural father and treat me as if I was his child.”

Stephen Smorgon.

Stephen Smorgon.

Her submission also claims that she believes her brother Stephen Smorgon was conceived by the same method.

Ms Smorgon declined to speak to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald when contacted this week. A representative for ES Group Operations, as trustee of the 18 companies Ms Smorgon is suing, and the Smorgon family said the family was “currently considering our position” on the lawsuit.

Samantha Smorgon as an adult.

Samantha Smorgon as an adult.

“As we only received the summons in the past few days we are unable to make any comment on the matter at this stage,” the spokesman said.

Court and company documents reveal that Stephen is a director of a number of the family trusts including the Escor Group, which his grandfather Eric Smorgon founded with his father Robert and uncle Jack, in 1995. If Ms Smorgon is successful in her bid for access to the accounts and other information including tax returns and balance sheets, it would be the first time in almost two decades that light was shone on the vast wealth believed to be held in the trusts.

Springing from a single North Carlton butcher shop founded by great grandfather Naum (Norman) Smorgon in 1928, the Smorgon family companies grew under four brothers including Eric and Victor Smorgon into Australia’s largest privately owned entity.

At the same time, the family rose to prominence in Melbourne as major benefactors across the arts, civics and cultural institutions, including the National Gallery of Victoria where a portrait of Victor’s wife Loti by Andy Warhol is now one of the best-known works in the collection.

The late Robert Smorgon, Samantha's father, with step-mother Vicky.

The late Robert Smorgon, Samantha’s father, with step-mother Vicky.Credit:Facebook

Smorgon Consolidated Industries operated across a number of industries but was best known in later years for Smorgon Steel, which was sold to OneSteel in 2005 for $2.5 billion. The consolidated business was split in 1995 into several entities, allowing each of the brothers to exercise more control on behalf of their own families.

Victor Smorgon retained the Victor Smorgon Group, which included pallet manufacturer Vicfam Plastics, Smorgon Fuels and General Pants Co., while Eric Smorgon founded the Escor Group, which originally specialised in cosmetics but now spans multiple industries including private investments and property.

“My father was part of a large corporate and trust structure, of the Smorgon Family Group, of which he would benefit,” Ms Smorgon wrote in the court documents. She claims she has not received any income or distributions from the trusts.

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Australian News

Family couldn’t farewell dying mother due to Qld border restrictions

A grieving family has been left heartbroken after a desperate attempt to farewell their dying mother failed because Queensland’s health authorities took “days” to process their “urgent” border application.

Now they’re fighting for their right to organise and attend the funeral.

Glenn Lyons and his wife Kelly are mourning the death of his 83-year-old mother Marion who died on Wednesday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Her condition deteriorated rapidly on Sunday and the family, who reside in coronavirus-free ACT, urgently applied for a border exemption to enter the sunny state.

But their desperate attempt to catch Marion’s final breath laid in the hands of Queensland authorities.

“Every minute was a minute we didn’t think she’d be alive,” Kelly, Marion’s daughter-in-law, told NCA NewsWire.

She filed a complaint with the Queensland government after submitting an application explaining her husband’s “mother was dying and not expected to survive much longer”.

“I followed up about midday (Monday) and spoke with someone who said they would flag the application as urgent and I could expect a call from health authorities later in the day,” Kelly said.

She passed on the same advice to her sister-in-law Kerrie and her husband Wayne Lyons — Marion’s son.

“Neither of us received a return call on Monday,” Kelly said.

Kelly was driving on Tuesday morning when she missed four calls from a “No Caller” ID, which a voice message confirmed to be Queensland Health, but the person did not leave a return number.

She then began the familiar process of calling the COVID-19 hotline and explaining her situation to another employee.

To make matters more heartbreaking, Kelly said Kerrie was told she would not be granted permission to enter Queensland unless a doctor could provide evidence that their mother was on her deathbed.

“She was incredibly upset at this tepid response and told them that at no time did any person stipulate this,” Kelly said.

By Wednesday morning, the family’s application still hadn’t been processed.

Kelly explained Wayne and Kerrie travelled to the Queensland border where they planned to wait for their application to come through.

When it finally did on Wednesday evening, there was one small fault, which meant the couple were turned away at the border.

“It had air travel listed instead of road travel, so he (Wayne) was turned away. Their mum died an hour later. It’s really disgusting,” Kelly said.

“The thing that has really upset us is that (the border measures are) immoral. It’s inconsistent.”

Wayne, who is a contractor and would lose 14 days’ income if he were to enter Queensland and quarantine, was forced to make the devastating decision to turnaround and return to his south Sydney home with wife Kerrie.

The couple will watch Marion’s funeral via livestream.

“His main purpose was to see his mum before she died and say his goodbyes,” Kelly said.

“Losing 14 days of work and paying thousands ($3710) for mandatory hotel quarantine was just so incredibly stressful for him.”

Kelly and Glenn’s permits arrived on Wednesday afternoon. They stated they could visit Glenn’s mother in her aged care home but there was no mention of being able to organise or attend her funeral, which came as a shock to the pair.

Current health guidelines state that leaving hotel quarantine to attend a funeral is not allowed as it exposes a person to various other individuals.

“Firstly, I told them she was dying so it’s not a case of popping into the aged care home for a coffee,” she said.

“So that was baffling that they didn’t include anything on the provision for arranging a funeral, which is my husband’s job.”

Now Kelly is once again playing the waiting game. She and Glenn need permits to arrive before their flight on Friday evening to Queensland, where they will quarantine while organising Marion’s funeral, but whether they can attend remains highly unlikely.

“We have no idea if we will be able to organise the funeral directly,” she said.

Glenn described his mother, who lived on Norfolk Island until her ill health forced her to the mainland, as a “kind, caring, adventurous and shy”.

In addition to her two sons Glenn and Wayne, she had a daughter, who would prefer not to be named.

“Marion definitely loved and lived the island way,” Kelly said.

“She was the most beautiful soul, very gentle and just a beautiful person inside and out.”

Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young has refused to budge on the state’s tough stance on quarantine and funerals.

She said there had already been several coronavirus clusters related to funerals in Sydney and she did not want to see that happen in Queensland.

“They’re a very, very risky environment for spread of the virus because of the nature of the service and what happens,” she said.

“I don’t want to see Queenslanders dying from COVID-19 that I could have prevented.”

NCA NewsWire has contacted Queensland Health for comment on the individual case.

Kelly opened up about her family’s heartbreak as a 26-year-old woman from Canberra begged the Queensland Premier to allow her to attend her father’s funeral.

Sarah Caisip applied for an exemption in August to visit her ill father Bernard Prendergast in Brisbane but it took almost three weeks to get approved and he sadly died of liver cancer two days before her flight.

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$200,00 raised for family in one night

The Australian public raised more than $200,000 in a matter of hours on Thursday night for a family whose four children are desperate to see their dying father.

Mark Keans, 39, has terminal cancer and is currently at his home in Brisbane. His last wish is to see his kids, who live in New South Wales.

The family made headlines on Thursday after the Queensland government refused its repeated pleas for a border exemption, sparking outrage across the country.

Mr Keans was told he would have to choose just one of the four children to see him.

There was some better news for them in the evening, as the state government relented and said all of them could drive across the border. But that came with a major catch – they would have to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine and pay a whopping $16,000 in fees.

After that fortnight in quarantine, the children would be dressed in full PPE before being taken to see their father.

“My wife turned around and says, ‘So what, you’re expecting us to pay more money to visit him than what it’s going to cost to bury him?’” the children’s grandfather, Bruce Langborne, told Seven News.

“We understand and sympathise that this is a very difficult time, and there are challenges,” a spokesperson for Queensland Health told Seven.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we need to protect our communities, especially the most vulnerable members.

“We understand the health directions in place are strict, but they are designed to protect Queenslanders.”

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A few hours later, something astonishing happened.

A GoFundMe page set up for the family, with a goal of raising $30,000, was set up in the evening. Before midnight, having been featured on Sky News, it had blown away that target and passed $200,000 – including a $1000 donation from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Honestly, the last two days have been the biggest shock,” Mr Keans’ sister Tamara Langborne said in an interview with Sky News host Paul Murray.

“We went from being nobodies to being so heard that I don’t know how I feel. It’s astounding.”

Murray asked how her brother was coping with the situation.

“He’s struggling. His major wish when he got diagnosed was that he just wanted his kids. And since the day he was diagnosed, we’d just been fighting and fighting, and we just weren’t getting heard.

“I think that made it a lot worse, because it didn’t look like anything was going to happen. It was the impossible. But we’re starting to get a voice, and it’s reassuring.”

Murray urged his viewers to donate to the GoFundMe page. When it passed $100,000, he got Ms Langborne back on air to share the good news.

“If you are able to get to Queensland, you will well and truly be able to pay for hotel quarantine and anything else you need for the next little while,” he said.

“I honestly checked like, five minutes ago and it was at a thousand, and now it’s at over $100,000,” she said, clearly overjoyed.

“I am so thankful. Thank you everyone, so much. It honestly means so much to us. Thank you.”

“On a night when we had our hearts broken, thank you. Thank you for doing what you just did. That is magnificent,” Murray told his audience.

The comments from donors on the GoFundMe page were full of compassion for the family, and contempt for the Queensland government.

“I donated because we, unlike the Queensland Premier, are compassionate people who do not want to see Mark’s children suffer for the rest of their days by being unable to visit their dying father. Truly unaustralian and shameful behaviour by the state government,” said Damien Dakin.

“These children need to see their dad at this tragic time, without a huge financial burden hanging over the family. This whole situation is insane and the politicians and bureaucrats responsible need a huge great kick in the backside,” Kim Bax said.

“This story has really touched me and I hope there are many others out there that have the compassion and humanity to help this family, unlike our supposed state leaders,” said Matthew Shedden.

Mr Keans is not expected to survive beyond Christmas.

He had previously been asked to choose which of his children to see as only one of four will be able to cross the border to Queensland where he is stuck.

Mr Morrison was asked to intervene in the tragic case which sparked outrage over coronavirus border closures in Queensland that have been the subject of pain for many families.

Earlier, Mr Langborne, said the kids “desperately want to see him”.

“They told us we were being selfish – and we weren’t taking into consideration the other cancer patients,” Mr Langborne told 7News.

“I have no idea how you pick and choose which child goes.

“We’re bashing our heads against brick walls.”

RELATED: Bizarre detail in quarantine CCTV

Outspoken Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has become the latest vocal critic of Queensland’s hard border closure.

Speaking to Today this morning, she hit out at Ms Palaszczuk’s decision to deny the family a border exemption.

“I think this is just being cruel now. There is no compassion in this whatsoever,” Senator Lambie said.

“I don‘t know what Palaszczuk is trying to prove…it seems that they let people through their borders to suit them.

“They’re not coming from a hot spot, what is the problem? Look at the faces of those kids for goodness sake, this has gone way too far.”

Mr Langborne said his family had refused to choose which child could go and visit their father.

“We’ve said none,” he said.

“Basically, we could not pick one over any of the others. It’s impossible. Every one of them deserves it… It’s easier to pick the adults, which adults to go and not to go but it wouldn’t be the children.”

Today host Karl Stefanovic added there needed to be a better system in place.

“When you have a family choosing which child should say goodbye to their father, their dad, it’s gone too far. Just too far,” he said.

“Grant the exemption. The Premier is not heartless. She needs to streamline the system while protecting Queenslanders.

“There is a medium. Find it. Let these kids say goodbye and let a dying man say goodbye.”

Ms Palaszczuk recently said she was unable to visit her dying uncle.

“My uncle was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and I couldn’t go and visit him in the hospital,” she said.

The issue was raised by Opposition leader Deb Frecklington in Queensland parliament, who said the family “may have had more luck if they were in the AFL or crew on a superyacht.”

However the Premier was having none of it, saying: “If Queenslanders had listened to the LNP when they asked for the borders to be opened 64 times, we may have been in the situation of Victoria.”

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard also said he felt “supreme anger, at the Queensland Premier’s decision, which in my view is nothing more base loopy politics. I’m appalled.”

It comes as Newcastle man revealed he doesn’t know when he will be able to see his newborn daughter due to harsh restrictions.

Fly-in-fly-out worker Chris Bennett, who is based in Wangi Wangi, welcomed his first child, Adalyn, with his partner Laura Goff seven weeks ago.

After spending six weeks at home, Mr Bennett, 27, had to go back to work in the mines at Moranbah in North Queensland and has spent the last two weeks in quarantine in a Brisbane hotel, where the mandatory cost is $2800.

“Every day I get up and I listen to the TV to see if they’ve given a date yet (to reopen the border) or allowed any extra exemptions,” Ms Goff, 29, told the Newcastle Herald.

“They’ve just let a whole football code go over the border and stay in a hotel, with their wives having cocktails with each other not social distancing at the swim-up bar, and Chris is in quarantine and I’m trying to take photos and videos of our baby smiling for the first time so he is not missing out.

“I feel like there is an easier way than making an Australian pay $2800 for quarantine (to cross a state border).”

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‘Circus family’ speaks about false charges of child abuse, torture

Trapped in isolation inside Sydney’s Silverwater prison, Clarissa Meredith could hear the guards taunting her.

“The lights were on full blast 24/7. You couldn’t sleep. It was freezing. And you can hear the guards talking about you,” she said.

“They just said, ‘You’re going to be raped in here. You’re going to be bashed.’”

Clarissa is one of seven family members who were falsely accused of abusing and torturing children from their circus school in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

The Cook family spent months in prison after being charged with a combined 127 offences in 2018. All of those charges were dropped in February of this year.

On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, the family spoke out publicly for the first time.

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RELATED: Blue Mountains ‘circus family’ breaks silence

Theresa Cook-Williams, 60, her brother Paul, 54, her daughters Yyani, 35, and Clarissa, 25, and their relatives Lachie and Lucy all appeared on the program.

Host Tara Brown was scathing towards NSW Police, saying the accusations against the Cooks were “too ludicrous to believe”.

“There wasn’t a shred of credible evidence to back up the accusations,” Brown said.

“Now, having destroyed the lives of innocent people, you’d think police would be big enough to apologise for their incompetence. They’re not.”

60 Minutes asked Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and Police Minister David Elliot for interviews. Both men declined.

NSW Police gave the program a statement Brown described as “extraordinarily defiant”.

“There’s no apology,” she told viewers.

The family’s nightmare started at dawn on Friday, September 1 in 2017, when police – including the heavily armed Riot Squad – raided their property.

“There was this bang and they just, one by one, just came through the door screaming, ‘Police, police!’” said Clarissa.

“I distinctly remember the footsteps. They were running up the stairs, and they were, ‘Get your hands up and get down on the floor!’ And they dragged me from the bed. I was semi-naked,” said Paul.

Lachie said he walked towards the police with his hands up, confused, and they responded by throwing him to the ground, pinning him there, and warning they’d shoot him if he moved.

“Then they stripsearched me. And they kept saying, ‘You know why we’re here, you know why we’re here.’ And I had no idea,” he said.

Police didn’t arrest anyone that morning. They were merely there to execute a search warrant.

“At that point, you thought, ‘This is all going to go away?’” Brown asked Paul.

“Yeah. It’s ridiculous. Ridiculous,” he replied.

For the next five months, the family was kept under surveillance.

Brown asked Therese how she reacted when she was told the claims against her family related to a child sex crime.

“I thought they’d made a mistake. They were at the wrong place,” Therese said.

“They got the addressed mixed (up) – I didn’t know, I just. Because I knew we had not done anything.”

After the dawn raid, Therese texted someone she knew to tell her what had happened. She was shocked to learn the accusations were coming from that woman and her husband.

Therese and her family members were accused of abusing the couple’s children.

“The person that you contacted to warn – to say that the police might come – was in fact the person who had made the accusations to police against you,” Brown said.

“Yes,” Therese confirmed.

“I just thought, this can’t be real.”

The rest of the Cooks were equally bewildered.

“It hurt I suppose, because I had known the mother of the children my whole life. And I just didn’t think that she could think that of all of us. It just, I guess, cut pretty deep,” said Lachie.

One of the monstrous allegations involved Therese supposedly biting into a child’s penis while Paul filmed it.

“How could the police believe that?” Brown asked the family’s lawyer, Bryan Wrench.

“There’s expert evidence from their expert who described that incident as implausible, and an expert who described the incident as impossible. They chose to ignore it,” he said.

“It was almost deliberately ignoring the evidence that was available, that showed our clients did not do this.”

As the investigation progressed, police interviewed the two alleged victims more than 20 times. And they resorted to undercover tactics in an attempt to gather evidence.

A junior police officer who had recently had an intimate relationship with Clarissa was enlisted to pretend he wanted to rekindle their romance. He invited her on a date – and showed up wearing a wire.

“I think a month had passed, also, without any contact between me and him. And then out of nowhere, I get this text. ‘Can we start seeing each other again?’” Clarissa said.

“And so we did meet up. We did. We hugged and kissed and everything.

“And I just thought, ‘It will be fine. The police would not stoop to this level of getting a cop who used to date me to interrogate me. That wouldn’t happen. No way.”

It did happen. The young officer questioned her about the allegations. She told him she had been falsely accused.

“I liked him. I did like him and I trusted him,” she said.

“It’s just an extra layer of betrayal.”

Finally, on February 5 of 2018, the police swooped in. They arrested Paul, Therese, Lachie and Clarissa. Yyani and Lucy, who were living together in Sydney at the time, were also arrested a short time later.

“I said, ‘We’re innocent.’ One of the detectives said, ‘We need to believe the children.’ I just said, ‘We’re innocent.’ I just kept saying, ‘We’re innocent,’” said Therese.

“I remember crying myself to sleep in the cell. It was overwhelming and terrifying,” Lachie said.

“I hadn’t felt dread like that before in my life, and I was so afraid.”

Like Clarissa, Paul told 60 Minutes how he was taunted by the prison guards.

“I was in an empty courtyard. It was away from the other cells. And one of the officers said to me, ‘You’re an animal. You’re just an animal, you are, and you belong in a cage, and that’s where I’m taking you now. Get in there. And this is the sound that I love, the locking of the door,’” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Wrench and his colleagues were going through a police brief of the evidence in the case, which was thousands of pages long.

“Not one piece of evidence that said our clients were guilty,” Mr Wrench said.

“There was just nothing there.”

Virtually the entire case was based on the 27 interviews, across three years, that police conducted with the alleged victims.

It eventually emerged that one of the children told his mother he’d been lying all along – a fact she withheld from police.

60 Minutes obtained quotes from one of the mother’s police interviews, discussing that subject.

“He suddenly came up to me and said to me, ‘Mum, I’m really sorry, I’ve been lying about the whole thing. Nobody hurt me, I’ve been lying to you,’” she said.

“So can you explain why it’s not in notes for the police?” an officer asked her.

“I took it out because I think I thought – I didn’t want anybody questioning whether he was telling the truth about everything, I guess,” she responded.

“Anyway, eventually he told me the truth again, after about two hours reading reassuring scriptures from the Bible, and cuddles and patience and love.”

“It’s like she’s going to each of the kids and coercing them into saying stuff to her,” Yyani told the program.

“And not leaving them alone until they’ve told her something that someone’s done to them.”

A Supreme Court judge would eventually describe some of the alleged abuse as “bizarre, implausible and in some cases physically impossible”.

On February 14 this year, all charges against the Cooks were withdrawn. The magistrate said there was no evidence to support them.

“This is probably one of the greatest miscarriages of justice this state has seen,” Mr Wrench said that day.

Speaking to 60 Minutes, he said the family was considering making a civil claim to “redress the pain and the suffering” inflicted upon it. He slammed NSW Police.

“They’ve said nothing to the family. They haven’t even apologised for their actions,” Mr Wrench said.

“There’s one word we’re looking for, and it’s sorry. And to date, it’s been two years, and we haven’t heard those words.

“The public has a right to expect that police will investigate both sides of the story, and if they did that, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

“Every report of child abuse is investigated with the same tenacity, and where there is evidence of criminal behaviour, we will place people before a court,” a NSW Police spokesman told the program.

“Whether the DPP – or the court – has a different opinion is why we have a judicial system; so that every alleged victim can have their chance to tell their story and innocence or guilt can be determined within our state’s legal framework.

“All alleged victims of crime – including children – deserve the opportunity to have their matters investigated without prejudice.”

Each of the family members told Brown they were dealing with the trauma of their experience in their own way.

“I don’t think I’m broken. I think I’m different. I want to be resilient. I don’t know how my life will be. I still get scared – very, very scared,” Therese said.

“It’s not easy, but it’s just one step in front of the other, and just try to focus on the positive.

“Because I don’t want to turn into a bitter old grumpy lady. I’ll probably be a grumpy old lady, but’s the bitter angry I want to skip. That’s all.”

“I’m really angry because it’s so hard to recover from something like this. And I just think if you don’t need evidence to put someone behind bars – and that’s terrifying. That is absolutely terrifying,” Clarissa said.

“Of course it will have an impact. You know, your reputation’s been destroyed,” added Paul.

“Some people say your life’s been destroyed. But I refuse to believe that.”

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Australian News

NSW family denied entry into Queensland to visit dying grandmother

A 101-year-old grandmother in Queensland could die alone, with her family unable to reach her from the other side of the border.

Freda Aughton’s daughter and granddaughter travelled 1000km towards Queensland only to be turned away by border guards — even though they had an exemption.

The border brouhaha comes just days after the death of an unborn baby in NSW after conflicting information about whether the mother would be allowed to head to Brisbane for surgery.

RELATED: Follow our live coronavirus updates here

RELATED: QLD border rule leaves man homeless

Ms Aughton was born during the Spanish flu 100 years ago, and now it appears she could pass away in the current pandemic with no-one by her side.

“It would mean the world to her if they could just come through the border and see her,” Ms Aughton‘s granddaughter, Mikkayla Smith, told 9 News.

When the family arrived at the border from the NSW central west with their exemption in hand, they were told the rules had changed that morning.

“Really frustrating when we got to the border because our passes were no longer valid,” granddaughter Sharon Star said.

“We try not to get caught up in it because we just break down and cry – we just really want to get that chance to say our goodbyes,” she added to 9 News.

Since the border closed earlier this month, a number of people have tried to illegally cross, causing a clamp down from authorities.

Four people from Byron Bay, NSW, bought their own private yacht to sail into Queensland.

However, they were soon picked up by Queensland authorities and slapped with a $4000 fine each.

Two teenage girls also managed to hop the NSW border into Queensland by train after lying on official documents.

Their actions have prompted heavier security at train stations between the two states.

But Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young assured Australians that people would be let into the state if they had a legitimate reason.

“It very clearly says anyone can come across the border in an emergency,” she said.

Ms Aughton’s family are holding out hope.

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Local News - Victoria

Lockdown stresses creating first time family violence, experts say

The seasoned detective wants those experiencing heightened tensions in the home to know that if they leave home after the 8pm curfew to seek help or to cool off, they won’t be fined for breaching the restrictions.

“What we’re starting to see is an increase in what we call COVID family violence, so it’s come about because of the lockdowns and it’s purely based around that financial stress, the unemployment, the uncertainty about where they are going in their futures,” he said.

Detective Senior Sergeant Rodney Maroney leads the southern-metro domestic violence team.

Detective Senior Sergeant Rodney Maroney leads the southern-metro domestic violence team.Credit:Justin McManus

“It’s caused some families we’ve never seen before, suddenly becoming involved in situations of family violence.

“I think one aspect of that is under the stage four lockdowns, people feel like they are trapped in their homes, but when it comes to family violence, you are allowed to go out and cool off.


“You are allowed to go out and seek assistance.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Maroney’s team, which covers suburbs including St Kilda, Prahran, Malvern and South Melbourne, each manage more than 25 known, high-risk perpetrators at any one time.

Speaking exclusively to The Age about his work, Detective Senior Sergeant Maroney said it’s the feeling of hopelessness when meeting a victim of family violence for the first time in a hospital bed that motivates him and his team to keep doing more.

“There is nothing worse from a family violence unit perspective when we see a case and it’s at a really high level, so there has been a serious assault or an affected family member is in hospital, and that’s really the first time we’ve heard of it. Because we know there is a history of family violence there to lead up to that,” he said.

“Those verbal domestic disputes might just be that at the start but … when we see that escalation we know we need to intervene immediately.

“We’re never going to give up, we’re never going to walk away.”

Senior Sergeant Maroney said it was important to remember domestic abuse impacted a wide variety of demographics. His team has seen a notable number of elder abuse cases and family violence within LGBTI relationships.

“We’ve come a long way in our understanding and knowledge of family violence that it’s not just about assault and damage, there’s all this power and control that can go on behind the scenes,” he said.

“Family violence doesn’t discriminate and neither do we.

“Have we removed people from $10 million-plus homes? Absolutely.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Rodney Maroney with the team who are  keeping victims of family violence safe during the pandemic.

Detective Senior Sergeant Rodney Maroney with the team who are keeping victims of family violence safe during the pandemic.Credit:Justin McManus

In April, family violence experts said calls for help had plunged amid fears victims were unable to safely call for help while they are stuck at home with their abusers due to lockdown restrictions.

Police revealed they were preparing for a new wave of first-time victims to surface – many of them children – in what they predicted would likely be a tragic consequence of Australia’s COVID-19 measures.

On Thursday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced an expansion of the Orange Door Network’s family violence hubs, a key recommendation of the royal commission into family violence, with new centres to open in Box Hill, Wangaratta, Melbourne’s south, Wimmera South-West and outer Gippsland.

He said no one would be penalised for going and getting the care that they needed, regardless of the curfew or other restrictions.

Premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media on Thursday to announce new funding for Orange Door.

Premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media on Thursday to announce new funding for Orange Door.Credit:Jason South

“I just wanted to make the point that despite … the stage four lockdown in metropolitan Melbourne … it is always appropriate that if you felt that you needed to leave home for your safety, [you could],” Mr Andrews said.

“If there was a family violence issue, no matter how that manifests in your home, then of course you are able [to leave].

Rita Butera, chief executive of Victoria’s family violence crisis centre Safe Steps, said her service had also begun to see a spike in calls during the second half of stage four lockdown.

Ms Butera said many callers were phoning for advice regarding elder abuse as children and grandchildren moved in due to the pandemic. Others were increasingly calling to report concerns about their neighbours for the first time, she said.

“Abuse is never OK and everyone has the right to feel safe in their homes,” she said.

“We are here to help 24 hours a day.”

For assistance call Safe Steps on 1800 015 188 or the national domestic violence helpline 1800 RESPECT. In case of emergency call 000.

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