A MAN who confessed to murdering a three-year-old girl almost five decades ago has walked free from court after his police interview was ruled inadmissible.
The man was arrested in Victoria in March 2017 and charged over what was the longest running cold case in Australia – the murder of NSW toddler Cheryl Grimmer.
The three-year-old girl was abducted from outside a toilet block while with her family and murdered at Fairy Meadow Beach in Wollongong on January 12, in 1970.
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The man accused of killing the toddler, however, cannot be named because he was just 15-years-old at the time the horrific crime was committed.
And, despite confessing to murdering the girl in a police interview at the age of 17 in 1971, the man pleaded not-guilty in September last year and walked free from court on Friday.
In his 1971 interview, Justice Robert Allan Hulme said the teen confessed to taking the toddler because “he intended to have sexual intercourse with her”.
“He told the detectives that he intended to have sexual intercourse with her,” the judge said.
“…(but) he did not because she started to scream as soon as he took a gag off her; so he then strangled her, she stopped breathing and he thought she was dead.
“He said he then ‘panicked and covered her up with bushes and run for it'”.
But, while noting the 1 hr 40 min interview was crucial to the prosecution’s case, Justice Hulme on Friday ruled it couldn’t be used because it had been conducted without a parent, adult or legal practitioner present.
The judge also noted a caution was only given to the teen after he had started confessing, and not beforehand, and said the interview was conducted while the boy was being held against his will in a juvenile detention facility.
At the time, adults were not required to be present during police interviews with children.
#BREAKING: The trial of a man accused of murdering missing toddler Cheryl Grimmer almost 50 years ago will not go ahead, after a judge ruled that his 1971 police interview was inadmissible. #9News pic.twitter.com/kjwm3jTzmV
— 9News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) February 15, 2019
In finding the police interview inadmissible, Justice Hulmes also noted two psychiatrists had agreed the teenager had a disturbed mental state at the time.
Together they claimed the teen had a disturbed upbringing, citing a difficult relationship with his parents, a history of running away from home, moving countries, and having only a limited education.
Left without any evidence to take to the case to trial in the Supreme Court, the Department of Public Prosecutions had no choice but to withdraw their murder charge against the man on Friday.
The trial was due to begin in March.
The decision outraged Cheryl Grimmer’s brother, Ricki, who let his feelings known outside court.
“Am I angry? I’m past that,” Ricki Grimmer told media on Friday. “Do I want revenge? You betcha!”
“Police tell you 200 per cent they’ve got the right person sitting behind bars. He’s going to walk out.
“You let a three-year-old’s murderer go free – twice.
“He walked in and gives you a full confession and you let him walk away? The laws were different back then – he’d probably have been tried and convicted – now he hides behind a technicality.
“I don’t know how this can happen. Someone’s got to be accountable for this.”