This is an expanded version of my article in The Irish Times
A high court judge in Malaysia has overturned the decision made by the coroner in the inquest into the death of Franco-Irish teenager Nóra Quoirin and declared an open verdict.
This is the verdict that was requested by Nóra’s parents, Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin.
Meabh said the Quoirins couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. “We are really happy that, finally, someone in a position of real authority in Malaysia has been able to convey publicly for all to hear who Nóra truly was,” she said.
“We feel that we’ve received a semblance of justice today, and we’re very proud to have got this far.”
She said the new ruling was a very important part of the family’s healing process.
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 in the state of Negeri Sembilan ten days later. Nóra’s parents remain convinced that she was abducted.
Justice Azizul Azmi Adnan, sitting in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, yesterday (Wednesday) said it not probable that Nóra left the chalet by herself, navigated challenging terrain, and evaded detection for six days during an extensive search and rescue operation.
He said he had every confidence that the coroner sought to take care in undertaking her inquiry, but she was in error, he said, to record a verdict of misadventure.
The judge said that the balance and coordination issues Nóra faced, together with the fact that she tired easily established, in his view, that it would have been unlikely that her death was the result of misadventure.
He said: “I am of the view that the verdict of misadventure ought to be vacated in the interests of justice and substituted with an open verdict as there was no credible evidence to support any other verdict.”
Justice Adnan gave his verdict after Meabh and Sebastien Quoirin applied for a revision of the coroner’s decision.
The Quoirins say they need time to consider what further options they might have and whether there might be any further police investigation, given the new verdict.
“There are some troubling facts that emerged from the inquest and we are still left with more questions than answers, but I think Malaysia will assume that the case is now closed,” Meabh said. “We now need to think about how we proceed as a family.”
The coroner, Maimoonah Aid, had ruled on January 4 that no third party was involved in Nóra’s death. She said it was “more probable than not” that Nóra died by misadventure.
Justice Adnan said Nóra would either have to have clambered over broken fencing or squeezed between gaps in a gate. This would not have been impossible, he said, but it would have been very difficult for someone with Nóra’s physical difficulties.
It was also likely to have been dark, the judge said, which would have made the track doubly challenging.
Once out of the resort, Nóra would then have to have crossed rocky stream beds and go up and down steep slopes, the judge said. It would have been extremely unlikely, he said, for Nóra to have been able to navigate such terrain barefoot.
He also said that Nóra was a shy and retiring child who was uncurious and unadventurous and who was strongly attached emotionally to her parents.
“She was also uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. She was not a rambunctious urchin who has to be constantly held in check from exploring every nook and cranny of her environment,” he said.
The Quoirins say evidence supports the theory that Nóra’s body was placed at the spot where a group of hikers who had volunteered to join the search found it.
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 is believed to have died three days before her body was found.
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.
Her parents say she would never have wandered out of the Dusun chalet by herself.
Justice Adnan expressed his condolences to the Quoirin family. “You had come to Malaysia in order to have a family vacation, but regrettably were struck by a tragedy, the enormity of which many of us cannot even begin to comprehend,” he said.
“We have not been able to assist you in finding the answers that you may have been seeking. But I hope that these proceedings would have assisted you in some way in the long road towards healing.”
Given the ‘Movement Control Order’ restrictions because of Covid-19 the high court proceedings were conducted online and were streamed live.
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