This is an expanded version of my article in The Irish Times.
Update: the application for revision of the verdict was filed on February 5.
The parents of Franco-Irish teenager Nóra Quoirin are seeking a high court revision of the inquest verdict recorded by a Malaysian coroner.
Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin have instructed their lawyers to file for a revision, which would be carried out by a judge in Seremban, the city where the inquest took place.
“A high court judge would be appointed to reconsider all of the evidence that was previously presented during the inquest,” Meabh said. “No new documentation, evidence, or witness statements can be introduced at this point.”
Maimoonah Aid ruled on January 4 that no third party was involved in Nóra’s death.
“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,” the coroner said.
The Quoirin family said they were “utterly disappointed” with the coroner’s verdict. Maimoonah Aid ruled out homicide, natural death, and suicide. She also decided against recording an open verdict, which the Quoirins requested in their submissions.
Physical proof of what happened to Nóra is lacking, the Quoirins say, so no one can be certain about any of the theories put forward.
“An open verdict is the only logical conclusion anyone could come to,” Sebastien said. “It would be a recognition that we cannot know all the answers.
“An open verdict would also go some way to recognising who Nóra actually was, and what she was, and wasn’t, capable of.”
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. Nóra’s parents remain convinced that she was abducted.
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.
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.
The Quoirins say they learned numerous things during the inquest that bolster the theory that Nóra was abducted.
“The area of jungle searched was relatively small and a large number of highly trained people were involved in that search,” Meabh said. “The area where Nóra was eventually found was, over a ten-day period, searched four times before Nóra died.
“Highly trained personnel were present in the exact spot where Nóra was found just 24 hours before she died, and no trace of human life and activity was discovered at any point.”
Pathologists dated Nóra’s death as two or three days, and not more than four days, before her body was found.
It was suggested during the inquest that Nóra’s body could have been overlooked in undergrowth, but, the Quoirins say, the area where she was found was quite open.
“There wasn’t a great deal of undergrowth in that particular plantation area,” Meabh said.
“Also, Nóra didn’t ever hide; she didn’t know what that meant. She couldn’t play hide and seek. She just didn’t know what that was.
“On those four occasions when the area where she was found was searched, people were calling out her name. It’s impossible to imagine that she was in that area and wouldn’t have heard them, or that she wouldn’t have been seen.”
All this, the Quoirins say, supports the theory that Nóra was abducted and her body was placed at the spot where it was found by a group of hikers who had volunteered to join the search.
“Nóra also had a very severe ulcer and would have been very weak, so she definitely wasn’t moving across large distances,” Sebastien said.
Also, the Quoirins say, it would have been virtually impossible for Nóra to have made it off the resort premises by herself.
“Nóra never wandered off,” Meabh said. “She always looked to an adult before making any decision. She would never go past a clear boundary like a fence or a gate.
“She would never have left the Dusun resort by the back gate. It would have been very difficult for her to even reach that gate as she would have needed to go through the steepest part of the resort, and to find it in the pitch black would have been impossible.
“Also, none of the sniffer dogs could trace her scent there. And to get from the back gate to the area where she was eventually found is literally impossible.”
None of the detection dogs used in the search for Nóra ever picked up her scent.
The only other possible route by which Nóra might have left the resort was through some broken fencing at the front of the resort, but this would also have been impossible, the Quoirins say.
“It was lacerated fencing,” Meabh said, “and on the other side there was a sheer drop.”
The Quoirins are also certain that Nóra did not leave the Sora House chalet via the lounge window, which had a broken latch and was found open on the morning of August 4.
“Nóra’s fingerprints weren’t found on the window. We know, and the head teacher at her school testified to this, that it was impossible physically, and from a coordination point of view, for her to climb out of that window, not least in the middle of the night,” Meabh said.
The Quoirins faced linguistic and cultural barriers from the start of the investigation into their daughter’s disappearance.
Much has been made in the media of the fact that CCTV footage shows the teenager walking unaided through Malaysia’s international airport, pulling her luggage, and there has been confusion about whether Nóra could or couldn’t walk and what precisely the Quoirins told the police.
“We never told the police that Nóra could not walk more than 20 feet unaided,” Meabh said. “On the contrary, on the first day we told officers, and made official statements, about Nóra going with us on a 30-minute walk.
“What we said was that Nóra would not walk more than 20 feet from her family. Nóra never went out of our front door alone. She never left a family member to go anywhere by herself. We were trying to convey her nature.”
For the Quoirins, the “non-physical” evidence, for instance about Nora’s cognitive abilities, is extremely important.
The inquest revolved largely around the lack of physical evidence, such as no signs on Nóra’s body of a struggle and no evidence of anyone else’s DNA, they say.
“A lot of evidence was presented about who Nóra was, her character, her personality, and her traits and tendencies, but we feel that these things were not well understood and therefore were not well integrated into the inquest findings,” Meabh said.
“There was a great deal of evidence that was presented at the inquest that we feel the high court needs to look at again, examining the context within which Nóra really led her life and was able to operate.”
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