Coroner's Court of Western Australia

Inquest into the Death of Petronella ALBERT

Inquest into the Death of Petronella ALBERT

Delivered on :16 November 2017

Delivered at : Perth

Finding of : Deputy State Coroner

Recommendations :N/A

Orders/Rules : N/A

Suppression Order : N/A

Summary : The deceased disappeared from in and around Broome on or about 29 April 1999, although the precise date and time are unclear due to the conflicting evidence surrounding her last sighting. Her disappearance was first reported to police on 3 May 1999 and at that stage she was treated as a missing person.  She was 22 years of age.  It was established beyond all reasonable doubt the deceased was no longer alive.

The Deputy State Coroner conducted an inquest to investigate the suspected death, but noted that one of the major difficulties was clarifying the information around the deceased’s death in 2017 as time had elapsed which seriously affected accurate recall of events and quite significantly the loss of the Broome Detectives file of any investigations made in 1999, apparently due to water damage. The inquest heard from a number of witnesses who had provided information at the time the deceased went missing, or shortly thereafter, and were aware of the fact they could no longer recall the detail they had previously provided.  The Deputy State Coroner noted that it was quite possible there was information on the file which is now irrecoverable, but which could have been significant.

The deceased was involved in an on and off, volatile relationship with a man by the name of Jason Cook. Information provided to the court was consistent that Mr Cook and the deceased frequently argued, although there are differences as to the dominant person in the relationship.  The Court heard the deceased and Mr Cook both drank frequently and their relationship as a result could become violent on both sides.  The deceased’s mother advised the Court that the deceased could hold her own in a fight and she was a good fighter.  It was clear from the evidence that Mr Cook drank a fair amount in 1999.

Mr Cook reported the deceased missing to the police on 3 May 1999. The lifestyle of the deceased in April 1999 made it fairly difficult to be certain of where she was actually sleeping at any one time or whether she considered herself to be in a stable relationship with Mr Cook.

In the week surrounding the deceased’s disappearance she was sighted firstly at the Pearlers Bar, and then later at the Nippon Inn with someone believed to be Geoffrey Nicholls. There is an entry in the missing persons investigation running sheets on 25 June 1999 that WAPol received information Mr Nicholls may be of interest in the disappearance of the deceased and the note indicated Mr Nicholls was seen with the deceased at the Nippon Inn on either 4 or 5 May 1999, although the accounts could not be confirmed at that time.

The Deputy State Coroner was satisfied the deceased was a 22 year old Aboriginal female, who was well known and liked in and around Broome until May 1999. The Deputy State Coroner was satisfied following an evening at the Nippon Inn nightclub the deceased disappeared, although the Deputy State Coroner was unable to determine precisely when or how.  She may have been with Mr Nicholls at the time of her disappearance.  The Deputy State Coroner noted there was other evidence to support that implication but it was tenuous and could not establish the fact beyond a reasonable doubt.  It also supported an implication something happened one night involving an assault by Mr Nicholls on an aboriginal female which Mr Nicholls believed may be evidenced by something to do with a car he was using around the time of the deceased’s disappearance.  The circumstantial evidence relating to Mr Nicholls was in the timeframe of the deceased’s disappearance and her relationship with people in and around Broome would indicate she must have met an untimely end.  Mr Nicholls died in South Australia in 2001 and it is not possible to take this matter any further.

The Deputy State Coroner was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt the deceased was dead and that she disappeared sometime after a night at the Nippon Inn nightclub in late April or early May 1999. It is likely she was in the company of somebody at the time of her disappearance.  The Deputy State Coroner was satisfied foul play was involved, but whether that be due to concealment of her death and/or the physical causing of her death was impossible to determine given the length of time since her disappearance.

 The Deputy State Coroner made an open finding into the manner and cause of the deceased’s death.

 Catch Words : Suspicious death : Established beyond all reasonable doubt.

Last updated: 30-Apr-2019

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