Justice Trevor Morling

The Morling Report

(as described in the report of Coroner Lowndes following the third coroner's inquest
into the death of Azaria Chamberlain)

May 22, 1987

The Morling Report systematically dealt with an enormous body of evidence, which was grouped under the following headings:

  • The evidence at the trial
  • The case put to the jury by the prosecution
  • Blood in the car - lay evidence
  • Blood tests - nature and difficulties
  • Blood in the car - scientific findings
  • Blood in the tent
  • Staining on Azaria's clothing
  • The damage to Azaria's clothing
  • Soil and vegetable matter on the clothing
  • Further matters affecting the clothing
  • Other significant evidence, including inter alia the dingo theory
  • Evidence of Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain
  • Scientific evidence standards

The Commissioner identified two strands in the Crown case. The first strand related to evidence from which the jury were invited to conclude that Mrs. Chamberlain murdered her daughter. The second strand in the Crown case comprised the evidence from which the jury were invited to reject the dingo theory. The Commissioner accepted that much of the evidence was relevant to both strands in the Crown case r and acknowledged that the jury had to consider the whole of the evidence in reaching their verdict.

In answer to the question, "Are there any doubts as to the Chamberlain's guilt?” the Commissioner stated as follows:

"In my opinion this question must be answered in the affirmative. I do not think any jury could properly convict them on the evidence as it now appears.

I have referred in earlier chapters to the evidence at the trial and to the significant new evidence that is before the Commission. It is apparent from what I have already written in this chapter that the effect of the new evidence is to greatly weaken the case presented against the Chamberlains at the trial.

The jury must have disbelieved Mrs. Chamberlain's story about the dingo. No doubt, in concluding that her story was a fabrication they had regard to all the evidence in the case, as they were entitled to do. Some of the most damaging of that evidence has been shown to be either wrong or highly suspect. Other important parts of it have been shown to be open to serious questions. The effect on her credit of her inability to explain the presence of blood in the car and how the alleged spray of blood came to be on the plate under the dash cannot be known with certainty, but was probably disastrous. If the jury accepted imprint of a hand in blood on the jumpsuit it must have regarded her story as unbelievable and not worthy of consideration.

I have referred elsewhere to the unsatisfactory features in Mrs. Chamberlain's account of having seen a dingo at the tent and I do not underestimate their importance. It can fairly be said that there are inconsistencies and improbabilities in her story and in the various versions she has given of it. However, as I point out in Chapter 15, there are possible explanations for many of the apparently unsatisfactory features of her evidence.

On the other hand the obstacles to the acceptance of the Crown's case are both numerous and formidable. Almost every facet of its case is beset by serious difficulties. Some of these must now be mentioned.

The Crown is unable to suggest a motive or explanation for the alleged murder. The undisputed evidence is that Mrs. Chamberlain was an exemplary mother and was delighted at Azaria's birth. She did not suffer from any form of mental illness nor had she ever been violent to any of her children. She had spent the day with her family on 17 August and had not: exhibited any sign of abnormal behavior or of irritation with Azaria. She was not stressed when she took Azaria to the tent for her expressed purpose of putting her to bed.

If Mrs. Chamberlain left the barbecue with the intention of killing Azaria it is astonishing that she took Aidan with her. It would have been easy for her to have left him at the barbecue with his father. Having taken Aidan with her, it is even more astonishing that she would have murdered Azaria, on the Crown case, a few feet from where he was awaiting her return to the tent. It was a great coincidence that Mrs. Lowe not only thought she heard Azaria cry, but also thought she heard Mr. Chamberlain or Aidan say that he had heard the same cry. It is surprising that Mrs. Chamberlain did not attempt to bolster her story by saying that she also heard the cry.

If Mrs. Chamberlain did not intend to murder Azaria when she left the barbecue, it is difficult to understand why, for no apparent reason; she should have formed that intention almost immediately after she left it. There is nothing in the evidence, which could account for the formation of such a sudden intention.

It seems improbable that Mrs. Chamberlain, having murdered Azaria in the car or elsewhere, would have returned to the tent with so much blood on her person or clothing that some of it dripped on to the articles upon which it was found in the tent. Unless she did, there is no explanation, except the dingo story, for the blood found in the tent. Such conduct on her part seems inconsistent with her donning the tracksuit pants (as the Crown alleges) so as to avoid telltale signs of blood.

It is extraordinary that the persons present at the barbecue area at the time of and immediately after Azaria's disappearance accepted Mrs. Chamberlain's story and noticed nothing about her appearance or conduct suggesting that she had suddenly killed her daughter, and nothing about Mr. Chamberlain's conduct suggesting that he knew that she had done so. She must have been a consummate actress if, having killed her daughter, she was able to appear; calm and unconcerned when she returned to the barbecue a few minutes after the murder.

The short period during which Mrs. Chamberlain was absent from the barbecue made it only barely possible that she could have committed the crime alleged against her. On the Crown case, in the 5-10 minutes she was proved to have been absent from the barbecue she must have-

  • Returned to the tent;
  • Done whatever was necessary to ensure that Aidan did not follow her;
  • Donned her tracksuit pants;
  • Taken Azaria to the car;
  • Possessed herself of a murder weapon;
  • Cut Azaria's throat;
  • Allowed sufficient time for Azaria to die;
  • Secreted the body
  • Done at least some cleaning-up of blood in the car;
  • Removed her tracksuit pants;
  • Obtained a can of baked beans for Aidan;
  • Returned to the tent;
  • Entered the tent and done whatever was necessary for several articles in it to be spotted with blood;
  • Collected Aidan; and
  • Returned to the barbecue.

The length of time, which, on the Crown case, must have elapsed between Azaria’s throat being cut and her death, is of some importance. It seems probable that if Mrs. Chamberlain murdered the child she would not have returned to the tent before she was satisfied the child was dead. If both Azaria's carotid arteries were severed it probably would have taken about 2-3 minutes for her to have died. The minimum time would have been half a minute. It would have taken much longer, up to 20 minutes, for her to have died if her jugular vein and not her carotid arteries, were severed. The blood staining on the jumpsuit indicates, according to all the experts, an absence of arterial bleeding.

Young though he was, it is very difficult to accept that Aidan did not notice that his mother took Azaria away from the tent and returned without her and did not comment on that fact when his sister was found to be missing.

It was indeed fortuitous that a dog or dingo should have been heard to growl and a dingo should have been seen not far from the tent very shortly before Azaria disappeared, and that on the night of 17 August canine tracks should have been found hard up against the tent.

It is surprising that, if Mrs. Chamberlain had blood on her clothing, nobody noticed it in the hours after Azaria's disappearance. If Azaria's body was left in the car after the alleged murder, it was foolhardy for Mrs. Chamberlain, in the presence of the Demaines and their dog, to open the car door and give the dog the scent of Azaria's clothing. The risks involved in the Chamberlains burying and disinterring Azaria when there were so many people who might have observed them were enormous. It is difficult to explain how the variety of plant material found on Azaria's clothing could have got there if she had been murdered. It seems improbable that, the murder having been so cleverly accomplished and concealed, the clothing would have been so left as to invite suspicion.

If Mrs. Chamberlain told her husband that she had killed Azaria, it was extraordinary conduct on his part to leave his two sons, the younger of whom was aged only 3 years, in her sole custody on 18 August.

Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain's conduct at Ayers Rock on 18 August was strange whether or not Azaria had been murdered. Their conduct upon their return to Mount Isa is inexplicable if she had murdered Azaria. For instance, it is almost incredible that she should have told people there was blood on her shoes if she had murdered her daughter. Further, it was bravado of a high order for Mr. Chamberlain to tell the police at Cooranbong that they had taken possession of the wrong camera bag if Azaria's body had been secreted in the one which he then produced.

The Crown has no direct evidence of the Chamberlains' guilt to overcome the cumulative effect of all these formidable obstacles. Even so, their guilt would be established if, in spite of so many considerations pointing to their innocence, the conclusion was reached that it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that a dingo did not take the baby. In the light of all the evidence before the Commission, I am of the opinion that such a conclusion cannot be reached.

I shall state in summary form the effect of the evidence that leads me to hold this opinion. In doing so, it will be necessary to recapitulate some of the matters to which I have already referred in order to give a complete picture of the material (save for the Chamberlains' own testimony) which is directly relevant to this part of the Crown's case. It is also necessary to keep in mind that, under ordinary circumstance, it would be highly unlikely that a dingo would enter a tent, take a baby from it, carry it several kilometers to a den and there consume the body leaving the clothing in a position similar to that in which Azaria's clothing was found. But the question of Mrs. Chamberlain's guilt or innocence is to be determined on the evidence and against the background of the circumstances, as they existed at Ayers Rock in August 1980. It is not to be determined on the basis of preconceptions as to the likelihood of unusual animal behavior.

Before August 1980 dingoes in the Ayers Rock area frequented the camping area. At that time there were many dingoes in the area, some 18-25 of which were known to visit the camping area. A number of attacks were made by dingoes on children in the months preceding Azaria's disappearance. In none of these did any child suffer serious injury.

About twenty minutes before Azaria disappeared Mr. Haby saw and photographed a dingo, which walked towards the Chamberlains' tent. A few minutes before the alarm was raised the Wests heard a dog growl.

On the night of 17 August dog tracks were observed on the southern side of and very close to the Chamberlains' tent. The same night Mr. Roft and Mr. Minyintiri, both experienced trackers and familiar with dingo behavior, saw tracks of a dog carrying a load, which they believed to be Azaria. It was within the bounds of reasonable possibility that a dingo might have attacked a baby and carried it away for consumption as food. A dingo would have been capable of carrying Azaria's body to the place where the clothing was found. If a dingo had taken Azaria it is likely that, on occasions, it would have put the load down and dragged it.

Hairs, which were either dog or dingo hairs, were found in the tent and on Azaria's jumpsuit. The Chamberlains had not owned a dog for some years prior to August 1980.

The quantity and distribution of the sand found on Azaria's clothing might have been the result of it being dragged through sand. The sand could have come from many places in the Ayers Rock region. The sand and plant fragments on the clothing are consistent with Azaria's body being carried and dragged by a dingo from the tent to the place where it was found. It is unlikely that, if the clothing had been taken from the Chamberlains' car, buried, disinterred, and later placed where it was found it would have collected the quantity and variety of plant material found upon it.

It would have been very difficult for a dingo to have removed Azaria from her clothing without causing more damage than was observed on it. However, it would have been possible for it to have done so. Mr. Roff, the chief ranger at Ayers Rock and a man of great experience, thought that the arrangement of the clothing when discovered was consistent with dingo activity. Other dingo experts disagreed. I think it is likely that a dingo would have left the clothing more scattered, but it might not have done.

The blood found in the tent was at least as consistent with dingo involvement in Azaria's disappearance as it was with her murder in the car. The pattern of blood staining on the clothing does not establish that the child's throat was cut with a blade.

The absence of saliva on Azaria's jumpsuit, which was not conclusively proved at the trial, is made more explicable by the finding of the matinee jacket, which would have partially covered it. The fact that no debris from the baby's body was found on the jumpsuit is also made more explicable by the finding of the jacket.

There is a great conflict of expert opinion as to whether the damage to the clothing could have been caused by a dingo. It has not been shown beyond reasonable doubt that it could not have been. There were marks on plastic fragments of the nappy similar to marks made by a dingo on another nappy used for testing purposes. However, there was no blood on the nappy.

There was a dingo's den about thirty meters from the place where the clothing was found. There is no evidence that the existence of the den was known to the Chamberlains or, for that matter. to anybody else and in fact it was unknown to the chief ranger and his deputy.

It is impossible in the above summary to capture the whole effect of the voluminous evidence given on the matters, which bear upon the dingo hypothesis, but, taken in its entirety, it falls far short of proving that Azaria was not taken by a dingo. Indeed, the evidence affords considerable support for the view that a dingo may have taken her. To examine the evidence to see whether it has been proved that a dingo took Azaria would be to make the fundamental error of reversing the onus of proof and requiring Mrs. Chamberlain to prove her innocence.

I am far from being persuaded that Mrs. Chamberlain's account of having seen a dingo near the tent was false or that Mr. Chamberlain falsely denied that he knew his wife had murdered his daughter. That is not to say that I accept that all their evidence is accurate. Some of it plainly is not, since parts of it are inconsistent with other parts. But if a dingo took her child, the events of the night of 17 August must have been emotionally devastating to Mrs. Chamberlain. Her ability to give a reliable account of the tragedy may have been badly affected by her distress. The inconsistencies in her evidence may have been caused by her confusion of mind. Where her evidence conflicts with the Lowes' account of what she said and did in the few seconds after she commenced to run back to the tent, it may be the Lowes' recollection, not her, that is at fault. The belief that people might unjustly accuse her of making up the dingo story might have led her, even subconsciously, to embellish her account of what happened, and this may explain some of its improbabilities. Her failure to see Azaria in the dingo's mouth is explicable if, as is quite possible, there were two dingoes, not one. These considerations afford at least as convincing an explanation for the apparently unsatisfactory parts of her evidence as does the Crown's claim that she was lying to conceal her part in the alleged murder. Having seen Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain in the witness box, I am not convinced that either of them was lying.

In reaching the conclusion that there is a reasonable doubt as to the Chamberlains' guilt I have found it unnecessary to consider the possibility of human intervention (other than by the Chamberlains) in the time between Azaria's disappearance and the finding of her clothes. It is difficult, but not impossible, to imagine circumstances in which such intervention could have occurred. It is not inconceivable that an owner of a domestic dog intervened to cover-up its involvement in the tragedy or that some tourist, acting irrationally, interfered with the clothes before they were later discovered by others. There is not the slightest evidence to support either of these hypotheses but the possibility of human intervention is another factor, which must be taken into account in considering whether the evidence establishes the Chamberlains' guilt beyond reasonable doubt. It was so recognized in some of the judgments given on the appeal to the High Court.” 
--Justice Trevor Morling

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