A new inquest is to be held into the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain from Ayers Rock in 1980 – and it will, almost certainly, be the final act in a drama that has seen her family fight for decades for recognition that a dingo killed their baby.
The Northern Territory coroner, Elizabeth Morris, decided to reopen the nation's most celebrated murder case after receiving fresh information from Azaria's parents, Lindy and Michael, about dingo attacks on infants. Mrs Chamberlain – who was convicted of murdering her nine-week-old daughter but later exonerated – insisted from the outset that a dingo took her from the family's tent.
Although she and her ex-husband – they divorced in 1991 – were cleared of any responsibility for Azaria's death, the most recent inquest in 1995 returned an open verdict. Since then, the couple have campaigned for a new inquiry, which they hope will establish once and forever that a dingo was responsible. That notion was greeted with widespread scepticism in 1980, and expert witnesses told the Chamberlains' seven-week trial that dingoes did not attack humans. In recent years, however, their solicitor has amassed a file of evidence relating to dingo attacks on children – not least the mauling to death of a nine-year-old boy, Clinton Gage, by two dingoes in 2001.
Michael Chamberlain, who was convicted of being an accessory to murder, told ABC radio ,"It has been 31 years, and now I just hope this will be the ultimate verdict which we've been looking for".
The legal saga has already involved three appeals, three inquests and a royal commission. This latest inquest will open in Darwin in February. The case divided Australians, with many convinced of the Chamberlains' guilt because they displayed little emotion and did not join the search for Azaria's body. There was also hostility because of their devout Seventh Day Adventist beliefs.
An inquest in 1981 concluded that a dingo took Azaria, but a second inquest the following year rejected that finding and recommended that the baby's parents be put on trial. Both were found guilty in 1982, with Mrs Chamberlain jailed for life and her husband given a suspended sentence. In 1986, police searching for a missing tourist in an area full of dingo lairs found Azaria's matinée jacket. Mrs Chamberlain was released, and in both her and her husband's convictions were overturned.Reuse content