Malaysian coroner Maimoonah Aid has ruled that no third party was involved in the death of Franco-Irish teenager Nóra Quoirin. She said it was “more probable than not” that Nóra died by misadventure.
“After hearing all the relevant evidence, I rule that there was no one involved in the death of Nóra Anne. It is more probable than not that she died by misadventure, i.e she had gone out of the Sora House on her own and subsequently got lost in the abandoned palm oil plantation,” Maimoonah Aid said today (Monday) in Seremban in proceedings that were conducted via Zoom.
The coroner said that for her to speculate and make presumptions about Nóra’s actions and the possible involvement of a third party without any proven facts would be a breach of her duty.
She ruled out homicide, natural death, and suicide. She also decided against recording an open verdict, which the Quoirins had requested in their submissions.
The Quoirin family said they were “utterly disappointed” by the coroner’s verdict.
“We witnessed 80 slides presented to the court today, none of which engaged with who Nóra really was – neither her personality nor her intellectual abilities,” the family said in a statement released via LBT Global (formerly the Lucie Blackman Trust).
“The verdict focused exclusively on physical evidence and physical mobility – which we believe presents a very incomplete/select theory on how Nóra came about her death.”
Nóra’s mother Meabh said: “We will still fight for Nóra’s story to be heard.”
The Quoirins’ lawyer, S. Sakthy Vell, said they had the right to apply for a revision of the coroner’s verdict at a high court if they so wished.
Nóra, aged 15, disappeared from a holiday chalet in the Malaysian jungle on the night of August 3/4, 2019. Her naked body was found next to a stream about two kilometres from the Dusun resort ten days later.
After a ten-hour postmortem on Nóra’s body, Malaysian police said there was no evidence of foul play. They said the cause of death was upper gastrointestinal bleeding due to a duodenal ulcer complicated with perforation and the bleeding was most likely caused by prolonged hunger and stress.
The inquest into Nóra’s death began on August 24 last year and ended on December 10. A total of 48 witnesses gave evidence over 24 days. Evidence was given via video conferencing and the proceedings were live streamed to the public. Evidence given by Nóra’s siblings was given in private.
Nóra’s parents, who watched today’s proceedings online from London, remain convinced that their daughter was abducted. They say she would never have wandered off alone into the jungle and wouldn’t even go out of her front door at home by herself.
Maimoonah Aid said it was impossible to determine with any certainty how Nóra’s death came about. She said there were no suspicious circumstances prior to the teenager’s disappearance and there was no ransom request.
When recapping evidence given during the inquest, the coroner played video of testimony given by Nóra’s mother and by the head teacher at the school Nóra attended, who spoke about the teenager’s difficulty in participating in certain activities, including physical education.
Nóra had learning and physical disabilities and attended a school for children with special needs. She was born with holoprosencephaly, a rare congenital condition in which there is incomplete separation of the right and left hemispheres or the brain is smaller than normal, which is what happened with Nóra.
“In the four years that I knew Nóra, I didn’t once and see her running in the playground … she was able to run, but she was fearful of falling and she did sometimes fall when she tried to run,” the head teacher of the Garratt Park School in the London borough of Wandsworth, Michael Reeves, had told the inquest.
Maimoonah Aid said that when Nóra went missing she was wearing underwear, but, when she was found, she was completely naked. A search was conducted for her underwear, but nothing was found and this was one of the aspects of the case that remained unexplained, the coroner said, “and which may lend support to the proposition that a sexual assault took place”.
The coroner said, however, that pathologists found no proof of sexual assault or evidence of a struggle.
“There is no evidence of violence sexual assault. However, all pathologists were consistent in stating that there was no way that they could discount the possibly that Nóra Anne had been the victim of a sexual assault at some time in the days between her going missing and her death,” Maimoonah Aid said.
“The chances of recovering significant forensic evidence from Nóra is limited by a number of factors. The first factor is the passage of time. Nóra Anne was missing for ten days.
“If she was assaulted on day one there would be very little possibility of finding any evidence of that ten days later.”
The coroner added: “One possible theory is that Nóra Anne was led away from Sora House by the intervention of a third party. She could easily have been assaulted in the first few days that she went missing. If she was then released into the jungle, any DNA evidence would be likely to be lost.
“Nóra Anne’s body was left for several days open to the elements and immersed in a stream. It is highly unlikely in such circumstances that DNA evidence would be found under the nails as they were immersed in water. Similarly, it is unlikely that an examination would find any evidence of semen or other bodily fluids, hair, or fiber transfer.”
Maimoonah Aid noted the severity of the duodenal ulcer from which Nóra was found to be suffering and the many perforations discovered during the postmortem. Normally, she said, pathologists would expect to see one or perhaps two perforations, not the number found in Nóra’s case.
“So there must be something more than the normal stress; it is safe to assume this is tremendous stress,” the coroner said.
Maimoonah Aid noted that Nóra would have been jet-lagged and tired after her journey from London and her level of tiredness has increased during the day of the family’s arrival in Malaysia.
She suggested that the teenager may have woken up in the middle of the night and gone to search for her parents, who were sleeping in the downstairs bedroom. She might then have accidentally pushed open the living room window, which had a broken latch and was closed when the Quoirins went to bed on August 3, but was open the following morning.
When giving her testimony, Meabh Quoirin said that Nóra would have been incapable of pushing open, and climbing out of, the window. Nóra’s father also said he did not believe that Nóra could have climbed out of the window alone.
Maimoonah Aid recalled the evidence given during the inquest that one of the fingerprints taken from the window was that of Meabh Quoirin, but there was no match from the police database or from witnesses in the case of three other fingerprints that were suitable for comparison. “This means that the police were not able to use this evidence to identify a suspect,” the coroner said.
She said it had not been possible to obtain Nóra’s fingerprints, so there was no way of confirming whether or not they were present on the window.
It could be reasonably inferred that Nóra was not constantly on the move, Maimoonah Aid said, and the reason that she could not be found “would be the nature of the jungle, which could lead to the possibility of overlooking the body in the undergrowth”.
The Quoirins said they still believed an open verdict was the only appropriate one.
“Throughout the testimonies presented in this case, layers of (professional) evidence have confirmed what we always believed – that Nóra was abducted,” they said.
The coroner made mention several times of her inability to rule on certain points because she didn’t know Nóra enough, the Quoirins added.
“It is indeed our view that to know Nóra would be to know that she was simply incapable of hiding in undergrowth, climbing out a window, and/or making her way out of a fenced resort in the darkness unclothed (all of which were presented today as probable theories).
“Once again we see that justice struggles to support the most vulnerable in society – only engaging with special needs at a surface level and not at the level that truly reflects children like Nóra.
“We believe we have fought not just for Nóra but in honour of all the special needs children in this world who deserve our most committed support and the most careful application of justice. This is Nóra’s unique legacy and we will never let it go.”
The Quoirins added: “Today is a significant day in the fight for justice for our beloved Nóra. Our legal team has worked tirelessly, against all odds, to bring the truth to light in a case previously declared as NFA (no further action).
“We have fought for this inquest because, while the medical cause of Nóra’s death was never in question, it was crucial to establish, insofar as is possible, how Nóra came about her death. We wanted to truly understand the full extent of Malaysian police SAR and criminal missions, but also to ensure Nóra’s story was fully expressed.”
The Quoirins say the layers of evidence that indicate that Nóra was abducted include:
– An opened window, with unidentified foreign prints found on the outside, that has not been and cannot be explained by any other means.
– The fact that hundreds of volunteers and significant numbers of highly trained personnel searched the surrounding area relentlessly, including where Nóra was found, on the day of or immediately preceding the day of her death and found no signs of human life.
– Professionally trained canines were unable to follow Nóra’s scent.
– Lost DNA evidence, including that which was lost because of the time lapse between Nóra’s death and her being found, her exposure to the elements, and the fact that she was found in water.
– The lack of major physical damage to Nóra’s body despite her inability to handle terrain as complex as the Seremban jungle, and Nóra’s total fear of leaving any familiar adult or surroundings.
Nóra’s parents say she had neither the cognitive nor physical means to leave the chalet via the living room window. They also say it is possible that Nóra was sexual assaulted (excepting violent assault) and that her highly submissive nature ruled out any signs of a struggle.
Giving his testimony via a video link from the family’s London home. on November 12, Nóra’s father, Sebastien dismissed the idea that Nóra would have been on the move alone through the jungle. She didn’t have any survival instinct, he said.
“Given the fact that she was not clothed – she was only wearing underwear; she didn’t have any shoes – I could not understand or imagine first of all how she could get out of the resort and then venture into the jungle.”
Sebastien said he didn’t believe Nóra would have had the stamina or the strength to be on the move for seven days.
“Nóra would not know what to eat; she would have been seriously dehydrated. I think after a couple of days, if she had been on her own in the jungle, she probably would have been extremely weak and incapable of being very mobile,” he said.
Nóra’s parents told the inquest that they heard muffled noises in the chalet the night she went missing.
Sebastien said he heard “some muffled noise” during the night that seem to be coming from the chalet, but he didn’t feel concern so didn’t get out of bed to investigate. He said he couldn’t describe exactly what the noise was as he was half asleep and only semi-conscious.
“I could feel it was close but I cannot accurately describe exactly where it came from and what the nature of that noise was,” he said.
When giving her testimony, also by video link, on November 11, Meabh said she had heard whispering voices on the night that Nóra disappeared, and they seemed different to the voices she had heard coming from outside the chalet earlier on.
She said she distinctly remembered being aware of “muffled sounds” in the chalet. “It almost felt very close and like there was some movement, possibly things being moved around,” she said.
“It sounded like there was a conversation happening, but in very whispered voice. I couldn’t distinctly make out speech or anything like that.”
Meabh said she was in between sleeping and being awake so didn’t react beyond being aware of the sounds, and simply went back to sleep. “It caused me no alarm because I wasn’t fully conscious,” she said.
Sebastien said that when he identified Nóra’s body, he saw that her feet were dirty, but not particularly damaged. This, he said, was not compatible with someone walking barefoot through the jungle for seven days, which is what the police suggested had happened.
Maebh said that Nóra was a highly submissive child, who never struggled. “If someone tried to hit Nóra or push her she would let them do it. She wouldn’t try to fight back or resist in any way,” she said.
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