A 'mega-flawed' police investigation into unsolved death of a First Nations boy


Image: The boy, known as "K" Raggett for cultual reasons. Source: ABC Four Corners

Geoff Thompson and Karen Michelmore ABC News 25 February 2013

Several possible suspects were identified by police in 2010, and the case has been referred to a cold case investigation unit.

Thompson says the boy's family is still no closer to finding out what happened to him.

"You can't really point this at any particular person, but all along the way the system failed," Thompson said.

"Now this family tragically still doesn't have answers, and that is not a nice place for them to be in."

The ABC's 'Four Corners' Television program says suspects in the suspicious death of an eight-year-old Northern Territory boy are still living in his town of Borroloola.

The boy, known as "K" Raggett, went missing in October 2007.

A search took place involving members of the NT police and local community members, and two days later his shirtless body was found in a muddy creek less than a kilometre from where he lived.

Police rapidly concluded that his death was an accident - that K had wandered off alone, fallen down a steep creek bank, hit his head and drowned.

But how they reached this conclusion is still not entirely clear.

Several years later a coronial inquest found that evidence strongly suggested foul play, concluding it seemed one or more persons were involved, and a crime "may have been committed".

The inquest found officers had overlooked evidence suggesting foul play, including large rocks in the boy's shorts that were weighing him down.

Police admitted after the inquest that their investigation was flawed and said they would conduct a new one, treating the death as suspicious.

Four Corners has investigated the case and reporter Geoff Thompson says if K did go to the waterhole with an another person, it is highly likely he knew them.


Image: The waterhole near Borroloola where K's body was found. Source: NT Police via ABC News

"It was almost certainly someone that this young boy knew," he said.

Several possible suspects were identified by police in 2010, and the case has been referred to a cold case investigation unit.

Thompson says the boy's family is still no closer to finding out what happened to him.

"You can't really point this at any particular person, but all along the way the system failed," Thompson said.

"Now this family tragically still doesn't have answers, and that is not a nice place for them to be in."

The boy's guardian, Cliff Taylor, says he is angry at the lack of public attention given to the case and that his death was also largely ignored by the media at the time.

"When a certain person goes missing somewhere else there are big articles, there are big news things about it. There was nothing on him," Mr Taylor said.

"That's what makes me angry, there was nothing. And yet, I feel sorry for other people who lose their kids and that, but they have that spotlight about trying to find this certain kid."

"K"'s story: a boy killed, inept police and still no answers

Rory Callinan Sydney Morning Herald 21 April 2012

A year after the coroner damned police for their incompetence, the 2007 death appears no nearer being solved.

The body of the boy was found in a waterhole at Borroloola. Plate-sized rocks were found in his pockets.

Borroloola Location - Northern Territory
Borroloola, reported as a fishing town 954 kilometres south-east of Darwin - View Larger Map

When the body of an Aboriginal boy, "K" Raggett, was found in a shallow waterhole near a remote Northern Territory town, police immediately declared his death an accident.

It didn't matter that the eight-year-old's trousers were found stuffed with dinner-plate sized rocks which had kept his body concealed for two days in the thigh-deep billabong. Or that suspicious relatives found the tracks of "K" and an adult leading to the waterhole.

And he had two lacerations to the top and back of his head as though someone had struck him from behind, not to mention the fact he was notoriously "shy of water".

The case was written off as just another file for the coroner - a file which police then took three years to complete.


An unlived life ... K...... Raggett, 8 years old
Image: Sydney Moring Herald

Last year, the Territory's Coroner, Greg Cavanagh, exposed these and other blunders by officers investigating "K"'s 2007 death at Borroloola, a fishing town 954 kilometres south-east of Darwin.

His findings revealed how police had "irrationally" focused on trying to substantiate the death as accidental despite the inexplicable presence of the rocks in the boy's trousers.

No proper searches had been made around the scene. There had been inadequate briefings to senior officers, evidence destroyed and ignored and police failure to provide reports to the coroner in a timely period. DNA evidence from "K"'s body was destroyed in the meantime.

When Mr Cavanagh aired his findings in March last year, Northern Territory Police issued a apology to "K"'s family.

"The community is entitled to expect better from their police force and on this occasion they didn't receive what they should have got," major crime division's Superintendent Kristopher Evans said.

And Mr Cavanagh referred his findings to the Commissioner of Police with a view that a crime "may have been committed". But just over a year later there is still little sign of any justice for "K" and his family.

The Herald has learnt that since police apologised, several of the boy's close relatives say they have not had any contact with officers and are not being given any insight into the progress of the investigation.

No taskforce has been established and the NT police have refused to say how many detectives are working the case.

A suspect singled out in the coroner's report has not been charged and locals doubt that he is the best fit for the crime.

Meanwhile, the Herald has been told of an alleged paedophile still roaming Borroloola despite allegations about an unrelated child sex attack made against him months earlier.

"It's like they have shoved it onto the bottom shelf again," says an emotional Cliff Taylor, who is married to "K"'s aunt Adrianne Raggett and was the boy's guardian.

Mr Taylor, a respected local health clinic worker who with his wife is caring for 10 children, almost broke down when he recounted how he had been told nothing about the investigation.

"We can't get any peace until they have caught the person," he said from his home in Borroloola. "My kids are everything to me. If they wake up and have a smile on their face then I'm happy. This has affected me and it's affected them and it's affected my wife."

Mr Cavanagh's report identified several locals as being under suspicion but one in particular was highlighted.

"K" body was found in a waterhole at Borroloola. Plate-sized rocks were found in his pockets.

Image: Sydney Moring Herald

The coroner suppressed the man's name in the findings, saying this individual was, at the time of the inquest, facing unrelated child sex charges.

Mr Cavanagh said this man had been connected to the case in 2009. He said this had occurred after the man's DNA had been found to be a match to DNA found on a XXXX beer can located at the waterhole.

The Herald understands the suspect claims he discarded the beer can when he helped in the search for "K". The man also admitted he had owned a red shirt similar in style to one found near the waterhole but that he lost it some time before. The suspect has since been jailed for the unrelated sexual assaults.

One of the man's relatives said last week he has an alibi for the day of "K"'s death. The relative said the individual was stuck in a remote community on the day of "K"'s death and there were witnesses who could back this up. However these witnesses have since died.

The Herald has also obtained a copy of the sentencing remarks for the man's conviction on the unrelated sex assault charges.

The remarks show he confessed to an unrelated sex assault but then said that he himself had been sexually abused by a paedophile.

A community source told the Herald that this other suspected paedophile remains in the community and is also the subject of other unrelated allegations of sex abuse dating back years.

Asked about this situation NT police this week told the Herald that a person had been arrested in July last year in connection with "historical child sex abuse". But a police spokeswoman said she was unable to say if and when the individual was likely to face court.

With regard to the "K" case, the spokeswoman would only say that the investigation was ongoing. She said that for operational reasons police were unable to say who was being interviewed.

The spokeswoman also said the officer in charge of "K"'s case had been in regular contact with the family.

However earlier this month "K"'s biological mother, Valerie O'Keefe, said she had not spoken once to the officer in charge of the case since the inquest in March last year.

"I would like to know what's going on," she said from Tennant Creek, where she was contactable by mobile phone.

Meanwhile, Mr Taylor said last week "K"'s family were contemplating legal action against the police. He said he had had little contact with the police and when they had contacted the family it had been either on "K"'s birthday or on the anniversary of his death, which had made things worse.

"It's so hard because he was such a lovely kid," he said.

The family may be waiting a long time for any results.

On Thursday, NT police were again criticised over a 2010 investigation into an unrelated murder of a teacher who had his throat cut at Katherine.

Mr Cavanagh found police failed to have the right unit investigate the crime, did not get a blood splatter analysis done, failed to undertake up to 20 follow-up tasks and did not appoint a crime scene manager.