Two Queensland women who allegedly conspired together to help move young children across state borders without the court’s permission are standing trial.
A 50-year-old woman and a 61-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, each pleaded not guilty to conspire to defeat justice in the Brisbane District Court on Monday.
Prosecutor Mark Dean KC told the jury the two women were allegedly involved in a group of co-conspirators, some of whom are yet to stand trial, that worked together to help accommodate women battling the Family Court Circuit over custody issues involving children.
It’s alleged the 50-year-old woman had abducted her five-year-old twin daughters, who cannot be named for legal reasons, from a Townsville primary school in April 2014 before taking them across state borders.
Her daughters had been in the sole custody of their father at the time of the abduction.
Mr Dean said there had previously been allegations the father had sexually abused the girls but this was unsubstantiated.
“By the time of their abduction, the alleged sexual abuse of the children had been investigated by Queensland Police Service and had been unfounded,” Mr Dean said.
“It had been raised in Family Court proceedings and despite that, orders were made in respect of custody and parental responsibility (of the father).”
Mr Dean said it was the prosecution case that the 50-year-old had “planned the abduction of the girls for the purpose of defeating the orders” with other people.
The jury heard in the weeks after the abduction, the girls and their mother travelled thousands of kilometres to Gingin in Western Australia before arriving back on the east coast in Grafton, NSW.
It is not alleged the 61-year-old woman helped in the abduction of the twins.
“It’s a long way from Gingin to Grafton. They were transported through remote part of Australia,” Mr Dean said.
The jury heard that over the next four years, the woman and the girls were helped by the co-accused and a man who allegedly provided financial and medical support.
“From time to time during that period the children were relocated and they resided in various addresses throughout regional NSW,” Mr Dean said.
He said the woman had changed her name and appearance, as well as changing the children’s names and appearances.
The girls were also homeschooled during this time.
Mr Dean said during the time the girls were missing, a social media page titled “Free Missing Twins” was created “by supporters” of the woman.
He said it was set up to create a “favourable public impression” of the woman and the unsubstantiated allegations against the girls’ father.
The jury heard the 50-year-old woman was arrested four years after the abduction in May 2018 after she was spotted at a medical centre in Taree, NSW.
“The children were taken into the care of the investigating police and returned to their father where they remain,” Mr Dean said.
The jury heard in the months before the 50-year-old woman was arrested, she had helped the 61-year-old woman find accommodation the older woman took her grandson from Queensland.
Mr Dean said the 61-year-old grandmother had custody of the child but was in a legal dispute with the boy’s father over custody.
The jury heard the boy’s father had applied to the Family Court to have custody of his son during school holidays and a trial had been ordered in August 2018.
The 61-year-old woman had allegedly conspired with others to take her grandson from Townsville to northern NSW in March 2018, and was helped by the 50-year-old woman and the other co-accused to find accommodation.
She was arrested by investigating officers in May 2018 at a train station west of Port Macquarie.
Mr Dean said both women allegedly perverted the course of justice by interfering in court proceedings before the Family Court by removing the three children involved.
He said by keeping the children from their respective fathers, the woman had allegedly contravened any potential proceedings yet to be heard before the Family Court.
The jury heard both women would be arguing they each had a reasonable response to remove the children in sudden or extreme circumstances, and of self defence of the three children.
Defence barrister Laura Reece, who is representing the 50-year-old woman, told the jury her client didn’t dispute she took her children.
“What may become clear to you is that this case doesn’t really hinges on what (the mother) did but why she did so,” Ms Reece said.
“What was her belief, what was it based on, was it a reasonable belief and was it reasonable for her to do what she did.
“I guess it’s the central question.
“When you consider the evidence a mother of two children who listened to her children when they told her things and provided concern.
“She was very concerned about medical conditions the twins were suffering in 20103.
“What options were left, what appropriate course of action was left in a woman of her position?”
Meanwhile, the 61-year-old grandmother’s defence barrister, Patrick Wilson, told the jury while there were similarities between both women’s reasoning for taking the children, his client had custody of her grandson.
“There’s some real significant differences, we’re talking about a few months rather than a few years,” Mr Wilson said.
He said while there had been allegations of abuse of the boy, the case before the Family Court was not due back before August 2018.
“The nature of the ongoing court proceedings, during the period that (my client) was away from Townsville, it’ll become clear there were no steps contemplated to be taken by the court at the time,” Mr Wilson said.
Meanwhile, the father of the twins gave evidence on Monday, telling the jury he’d contacted police when he realised his children weren’t at their school despite dropping them off in the morning.
The father, who can’t be legally identified, said he’d consulted a doctor after he noticed a rash on both of his daughters genitalia after they returned from holiday in 2011.
He said there had been allegations that he’d sexually abused his daughters.
“The police told me that issues had been raised by the mother in relation to the children, (police had) spoken to the children a number of times and they’d been satisfied nothing had occurred,” the father said.
“There was ongoing calls from police after they’d interviewed the children at school or at other settings.
“Further issues had been raised with them, they’d spoken to the children and found again they were unsubstantiated and the police had no concern.”
The trial continues.