Man charged with alleged murder of missing Gold Coast girl after body found in barrel

LATEST @ 11.30 AM | A man accused of the murder of a young Gold Coast girl in the NSW Blue Mountains will remain behind bars after a brief appearance in court this morning.

The 32-year-old was taken into custody at a unit in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills overnight, following a major investigation into the 9-year-old’s disappearance.

His arrest came after police divers yesterday discovered child remains in a barrel near the Colo River, an hour away from where the girl disappeared from a property in Mount Wilson six days ago.

“Unfortunately, this morning, I bring you news we didn’t want to come with,” Acting Commissioner Karen Webb said.

“Five days ago, we started searching for a missing 9-year-old girl. We spent the last five days with hundreds of police and other resources, volunteers, RFS, SES and a number of community members searching for the missing 9-year-old in the Blue Mountains area and other areas.

“Last night police found a barrel near the Colo River and that barrel contains human remains that are consistent with the missing 9-year-old”.

Deputy Commissioner Dave Hudson said detectives made the breakthrough after noticing “a number of anomalies in relation to movement data in the days preceding the reporting of the missing child”.

“Through electronic means, through GPS tracking, through CCTV tracking, we were able to establish certain facts in relation to the vehicle he was driving and those movements and also certain special behaviour which escalated our scrutiny in relation to his involvement or potential involvement,” Deputy Commissioner Hudson said.

Police said phone calls made by the man, who has been identified by police as the fiance of the young girl’s mother, proved crucial.

“Those movements including after a number of telephone conversations with the girl’s mother, to purchase a number of sandbags, 20kg sandbag from a hardware store, to fuel a boat and then try and float that boat on the water at one of the docks in inner Sydney,” Deputy Commissioner Hudson said.

“That was unsuccessful because the boat was inoperable and then tracking that individual back to the location where we commenced the search yesterday afternoon.”

The young girl had been living with her grandparents in Coolangatta on the Gold Coast and was visiting her mother and the mother’s fiance when she disappeared.

“The child’s grandparents have been informed and, as I think you’re aware, those grandparents have custody of the child,” Deputy Commissioner Hudson said.

“They have been informed and, obviously, our thoughts go out to them and all the other remaining family members.”

Police are yet to interview the child’s mother, who remains under health care.

“She has been difficult to approach and contact. She’s under the care of medical supervision,” Deputy Commissioner Hudson said.

“At some stage, hopefully, when those doctors allow, we will be talking further with her.

“At this stage, we keep an open mind to everything. As I said, we investigate. We don’t speculate.”

NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole said it’s a tragic outcome.

“People across this country have been hoping and praying for a good outcome,” he said.

“Today, the news is not what we wanted to hear. This is horrible. This is horrific. This is shocking.

“I know that many people are distressed by what they’re hearing today. I know that cases like this take a toll on our police and I want to say to them we are all grateful and we are all thankful for your efforts”.

The man appeared in court this morning, where he was refused bail to reappear on March 18.

The investigation remains ongoing, with police appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

“There is still a lot to determine… It’s now in the hands of the coroner, the cause of death and a number of other lines of inquiry,” Deputy Commissioner Hudson said.

“The search will remain ongoing to look for any clues to help us identify the cause of the death.

“So I encourage people to come forward with information.

“There are still many elements of this investigation that we have to work through to determine exactly what happened from the time the young girl was reported missing up until last night when those remains were found”.

If you have information for Police, please contact NSW Police on 131 444 or provide information using their online form 24 hours per day. 

You can report also information about crime anonymously to Crime Stoppers by calling 1800 333 000 or via 24 hours per day. Crime Stoppers is a registered charity and community volunteer organisation.

EARLIER @ 8.30 AM | POLICE have confirmed they have located a body during the search for a young Gold Coast girl who disappeared from a property in the New South Wales Blue Mountains.

Police divers made the grim discovery while searching the Colo River for the missing 9-year-old overnight.

“The body of a child was located in a barrel. The body is yet to be formally identified,” NSW Police said.

Following the discovery, detectives attached to Strike Force Buena arrested a 32-year-old man at a unit on Riley Street in Surry Hills around 8.30pm last night.

He was taken to Surry Hills Police Station and charged with murder.

The man was refused bail to appear in Central Local Court today.

Investigations under Strike Force Buena are continuing, with senior police expected to address the media today alongside the Deputy Premier.

More to come.

EARLIER @ 5.30 AM | A man has been charged with murder over the disappearance of a young Gold Coast girl in the New South Wales Blue Mountains.

The 32-year-old was taken into custody by detectives attached to Strike Force Buena at a unit along Riley Street in Surry Hills about 8.30pm last night.

He was taken to Surry Hills Police Station and charged with murder.

It comes following an extensive five-day search for the nine-year-old, who was reported missing from a lavish property in Mt Wilson on Friday.

The man has been refused bail to appear in Central Local Court today.

Detectives are yet to confirm reports human remains have been found.

NSW Police said further information will be provided when available.

Five in hospital after two house fires on Gold Coast

Five people have been taken to hospital after two separate fires on the Gold Coast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Fire crews were called to a blaze at a home on Napper Rd at Parkwood just after 12.30am.

It’s believed the fire started in the kitchen but had been extinguished by the time firefighters arrived.

Three people from the home were taken to the Gold Coast University Hospital, all in stable conditions with smoke inhalation.

Firefighters were called to another blaze just after 4.30am at a home on Hervey St in Pacific Pines.

The blaze started in the garage of the property but did not spread to the rest of the home.

That fire had also been extinguished by the time crews arrived.

Paramedics assessed people at the scene, transporting two teenagers to the Gold Coast University Hospital in stable conditions with smoke inhalation.

PM pledges Australia assistance for Tonga

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to give Tonga every possible support after a devastating tsunami hit the Pacific island nation.

Australia will send a P-8 plane to Tonga on Monday to help assess damage in the country.

The tsunami, caused by an underwater volcano eruption on Saturday, has caused severe damage to communications in Tonga, making it difficult to determine how critical infrastructure has fared.

Mr Morrison said the communication disruption and ash clouds made the situation challenging.

“We’re working to get as much support to Tonga as we possibly can,” he told 2GB on Monday.

“They’re part of our Pacific family, and … like all of those island nations, we’re always there to support and we certainly will be on this occasion.

All Australians and other officials in Tonga have been accounted for.

Defence forces and foreign affairs officials will be working with other countries in the region to provide support.

Mr Morrison has also spoken with his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern.

The P-8 plane is set to reach Tonga by 9am on Monday, and is part of a coordinated response by Australia and New Zealand.

Pacific Minister Zed Seselja said while there were reports of significant property damage in Tonga, there have been no reports of mass casualties.

“There is still very limited, if any, information coming from the outer islands, and so that will be the focus in coming hours,” Senator Seselja told ABC TV.

“We hope that in the next several hours, we’ll have a much better assessment of the damage in those outer islands where communications continue to be cut off.”

Senator Seselja said other support measures were being prepared and ready to go, including a C-130 plane with humanitarian supplies.

HMAS Adelaide, currently in Sydney, is being deployed to Brisbane where it will be loaded with supplies for Tonga.

“We’ve been chatting to our US, New Zealand and French partners and others about how we can get a coordinated response going,” Senator Seselja said.

“There will be further discussions with the Tongan government to determine how we can support the people of Tonga at this very difficult time, but we stand by to do much more.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said there were early reports of substantial ash coverage through the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa along with coastal inundation and damage to infrastructure.

A tsunami warning was issued for parts of Australia’s east coast, but was cancelled on Sunday night.

However, the Bureau of Meteorology has warned of unusual sea level changes along the Queensland, Victorian and Tasmanian coasts.

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Essential workers expanded to boost supply

The definition of essential workers has been expanded to multiple industries, as national cabinet aims to address crippling supply issues across the country.

Changes will see transport, logistics, service station staff, emergency services, correctional workers, energy, water and waste workers all come under the ‘essential workers’ umbrella, under an agreement struck by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders on Thursday.

The changes would allow for those employees to go back to work after being deemed a close contact, provided they receive a negative result from a rapid antigen test.

Food distribution workers, telecommunication, broadcasting, media, education and childcare employees will also be classified as essential staff under the plan.

National cabinet also allowed for international students to work more than the current limit of 20 hours a fortnight, in a bid to ease supply-chain issues.

Spiralling numbers of Omicron cases have placed large swathes of workers out of action from their job due to either contracting COVID-19 or being deemed a close contact.

The prime minister said the situation was a delicate balance of keeping people at work while also protecting the health system.

“We know what we have to … keep our hospitals going, keeping our health system strong and keeping as many people at work,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“The less restrictions you put on people to get them to work, the more pressure that could potentially put on your hospital system.”

Treasury officials told national cabinet that up to 10 per cent of the workforce could be absent from their job due to the virus.

That figure could rise to as high as 15 per cent of the total workforce if schools were unable to open due to the virus.

“That’s the impact of a highly contagious infection and virus,” Mr Morrison said.

“That’s going to have an inevitable impact on the workforce and that has to be managed.”

Concession card holders will able to access free rapid antigen tests from pharmacies from January 24.

The agreement from national cabinet would allow concession holders to have up to 10 free tests over a three-month period, with no more than five per month.

The prime minister also said reinfection from Omicron was a real risk, and blasted so-called ‘COVID parties’, or gatherings designed to get people infected with the virus.

“All this nonsense about COVID parties, it is ridiculous. Reinfection can occur with Omicron,” he said.

“If you think you can go out there and get the virus and get it over with, that’s not how it works.”

The head of the country’s vaccine rollout Lieutenant-General John Frewen said there were 346,000 vaccine doses administered on Wednesday, nearly a one-day record.

Of those, 254,000 were booster shots.

Since the start of the rollout for five to 11-year-olds began on Monday, 142,000 children, 6.2 per cent of the cohort, have received their first dose.

More than 92,264 new infections have been reported in NSW after residents rushed to post positive results from rapid antigen tests since the start of the year.

The dramatic rise in case numbers comes on top of another grim milestone as the state reported a record 22 lives lost in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday.

There were 37,169 new cases and 25 deaths in Victoria.

Queensland posted almost 15,000 new cases, while there were 3669 cases in South Australia, 1020 in the ACT – excluding rapid tests – 550 in the NT and 1100 in Tasmania.

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RAT reporting rules see NSW case numbers soar

New South Wales has seen an explosion in COVID-19 numbers now that residents are required to register their positive results from rapid antigen tests.

The state recorded 92,264 cases in the last 24 hours along with a further 22 deaths.

Of those numbers, 30,877 were positive PCR tests.

New South Wales also reported 61,387 positive rapid antigen tests but 50,729 of those were from positive tests since January 1.

Health officials say many of those cases are likely to be people reporting multiple positive tests over a number of days.

New South Wales has now mandated the online reporting of positive rapid antigen tests with people who fail to comply facing fines of $1000.

The state now has 2383 people being treated in hospital for COVID with 182 patients in ICU.

Meantime, Victoria has recorded a further 37,169 COVID cases along with 25 deaths.

Almost 17,000 of the positive cases reported in the last 24 hours were from rapid antigen tests.

The state has 953 people in hospital with 29 people currently being ventilated.