The father convicted of killing his seven-year-old daughter, whose “mummified” body was found lying in her own faeces with bull ants crawling out of her mouth, has launched a bid to walk free from jail.
The father in the nation’s most appalling child starvation case of a girl who can only be identified as “Ebony” is applying for parole after serving just 12 years in prison.
News.com.au has learned the father was known as aggressive and threatening to agencies and professionals who tried to intervene before he and the child’s mother killed Ebony.
Known as SW and BW, both parents have been incarcerated since their arrest in 2007 at Port Kembla, two weeks after Ebony was found dead in shocking circumstances, 400km away at their Hawks Nest home on the NSW mid-north coast.
The father has now applied for release from prison after serving little more than a quarter of the sentence of the child’s mother.
Ebony’s mother was convicted of murder and the father was convicted of manslaughter after he argued in court she was solely responsible for Ebony’s welfare.
The mother, SW, argued he was violent, controlling and completely dominated her, and both were heavy prescription drug addicts.
SW was originally given a life sentence, which was quashed by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal and reduced to a maximum 40 years.
The father BW’s appeal to have his maximum 16-year sentence for manslaughter reduced was also rejected.
But he is now likely to be released on parole because he is considered “unlikely to reoffend”, the trial judge said in 2009.
The NSW State Parole Authority is holding a private meeting with BW to decide whether to grant his release.
At their joint 2009 trial, SW described her then husband as physically abusive and intimidating, but she was not entirely believed.
SW said she could not leave the house without BW’s permission, that he beat her and threw her across the room, and had forced her into sadomasochistic sex with paying clients.
BW’s case at trial was that he was not guilty of anything, that SW had made him tell lies, and that he had been so under the influence of valium — at the time he was popping 25 pills a day — that he hadn’t noticed Ebony starving to death.
Suffering from autism, Ebony was known — before being starved into submission — to smash things and compulsively touch objects while running round a room babbling.
Eight weeks before Ebony died, SW and BW moved from their Sydney home to a house at Hawks Nest on the NSW central coast where Ebony was imprisoned in a putrid bedroom, which “doubled as her toilet”, the judge found.
Ebony died on November 3, 2007, in her room where she lived behind a door tied with rope to prevent her coming out, without toys or personal items.
The forensic pathologist attending BW and SW’s house on the day in question found “a little child dead … in an extreme degree of emaciation … wasted and dehydrated … looked almost like a mummy”.
Dr Kasinathan Nadesan described Ebony’s clothing and bedding as heavily stained, possibly from a combination of vomit, faeces and other bodily fluids.
Ebony’s body was a “skin-covered skeleton” when she died aged seven years and seven months, lying in a squalid room with a strong stench of urine and faeces. She weighed just 9kg.
The child was filthy and so wasted from malnourishment that she could not have sat up, stood or even held up the weight of her own head for weeks before her final death.
At their joint trial, the father blamed everything on the mother, SW, saying he had no part in Ebony’s care.
The trial judge accepted the submission by BW’s lawyer that he “did not see Ebony once she had reached the point where it would have been obvious that she would probably die”.
The couple were both heavy users of Valium, Panadeine Forte and Panamas. SW testified she was “zonked out” and, like her husband, had been taking drugs in large quantities for years.
She also told prison psychiatrists that BW controlled her to the point that within two years of meeting him at the age of 17, and becoming pregnant with their first child, she was cut off from her own parents.
SW did not work and remained on welfare for her entire marriage.
BW left school in year 11, worked briefly for his father and has been on a disability pension since then and a valium addict since the age of 18.
Ebony was born in 2000 and the family moved to the Sydney suburb of Matraville.
Ebony was diagnosed with autism and BW and SW struggled to deal with her hyperactive and sometimes destructive behaviour.
Agencies, the medical profession, Disability Services Australia, the NSW Department of Education, public housing and others tried to intervene.
However by the age of six, Ebony had received little if any schooling.
News.com.au understands that BW refused to answer phone calls or return messages and SW consistently failed to keep appointments.
BW threatened Department of Education staff and at least one agency required police protection to visit the family home.
A neighbour would testify at the parents’ trial she saw Ebony outside the Matraville home only once, in about May 2006, looking like a “healthy, chubby looking girl”.
Otherwise, the neighbour only saw Ebony in her bedroom, for lengthy periods of time with the door closed.
A frequent visitor to the neighbour’s home also saw Ebony through her bedroom window.
The woman described Ebony as just staring out of the window, often wearing just grubby underpants.
Investigators estimate the starvation and neglect of Ebony began 20 months before her death, making it about March 2006 that BW and SW began the slow torturous killing of their daughter.
Trial judge Justice Robert Hulme wrote: “I am satisfied that she did not appear in any of the family photographs after July 2006 because of her increasingly pitiful condition.
“For the same reason she was kept out of public view.”
In late 2006 or early 2007, the window to Ebony’s room was broken and replaced with a piece of plywood.
That was the last the neighbour saw of Ebony.
In March 2007, the Department of Housing visited the home and found it “in a putrid state”. When the family moved out in August 2007, another neighbour went into the house and found Ebony’s room had piles of faeces in the corner and a bad smell of faeces and urine.
When they moved to Guya St, Hawks Nest, on August 31, 2007, a removalist who saw Ebony thought she was the size of a three-year-old.
“By the time the family moved to Hawks Nest on 31 August, 2007, two months before Ebony’s death,she was thin and unwell,” Justice Hulme said. “Both offenders were aware of this.
“(The removalist) described her as sitting down, just staring, neither saying anything nor making any noise.”
Ebony was seven years and five months old at the time.
Of the next eight weeks at Hawks Nest, Justice Hulme would say, “BW just ignored Ebony.”
“In a gross abrogation of his parental responsibility, BW … knew that she was thin and unwell … and yet he displayed no interest in her whatsoever.
“He realised she was being confined to her bedroom.
“Even when locked in that room, the distress that she was in … would have been audible. “BW could not have cared less. A father could show no less love to his child.
“The abject cruelty that had become her existence was of no concern to him.”
However, BW was “obviously capable of driving a car, shopping, paying bills, studying the form guide, placing bets over the internet and engaging in trading on eBay”.
By mid-October 2007, according to the estimations of medical experts who examined Ebony’s body, Ebony’s parents stopped feeding her altogether.
“Both parents were aware of the squalid conditions in which Ebony was living,” Justice Hulme said.
“The first thing that struck all the ambulance and police officers who attended the home on 3 November 2007 was the stench of urine in her bedroom.
“BW’s excuse that he breathed through his mouth and so he smelt nothing must be rejected as palpable nonsense.”
On the day before Ebony died, SW later claimed to police the girl had on two occasions been standing in the living room of the house.
But Dr Edward O’Loughlin, a gastroenterologist from The Children’s Hospital, Westmead, estimated Ebony could not have stood unassisted, sat up, or been able to support the weight of her own head, possibly for up to two weeks prior to her death.
He said it would have been days or weeks since she had eaten solid food and in 25 years of treating malnutrition, he had never seen someone so malnourished.
In her autopsy report, which concluded Ebony had died of starvation and neglect, Dr Nadesan noted that Ebony’s hair was heavily matted, there was dirt and faecal matter, trapped within it.
There was no rigor mortis, because Ebony had virtually no muscles, and a sunken abdomen with only a film of fat, her eyes were sunken and her distorted face was only skin stretched over a skull.
Her small and large intestine contained no food particles and her large bowel had solid faecal particles known as “starvation stools”, typical in severe malnourishment.
Her limbs, hands and feet were completely wasted, just skin and bones. The soles of her feet were wrinkled and her toes peeling due to long-term soakage, possibly in urine.
Her brain had atrophied from malnourishment and her pink lungs indicated she never went outdoors.
Photographs taken of Ebony in her bedroom and at the morgue were described by the trial judge as “the most horrific images of a deceased child imaginable”.
While in prison before the murder trial for her daughter, Ebony’s mother SW told forensic psychiatrist Dr Olav Nielssen she “was under the control of BW”.
She claimed that he had been physically abusive and she had left him twice, returning after he phoned her to say he had taken a drug overdose.
“I felt so low all the time … with (BW) being so unpredictably violent all the time,” she said.
“He’d wait for a chance to start trouble. He threw me around the room … pulled my hair and kicked me … even before we were married.”
Dr Nielssen found SW unemotional and deduced she either lacked empathy or had suffered “longstanding physical or emotional abuse”.
But Justice Hulme ruled that SW was not reliable.
After Ebony’s death, as ambulance, police and doctors visited the crime scene, both SW and BW were taken aside to explain what happened.
SW claimed to police she found her daughter lying on the mattress in her room, with “bull ants coming out of Ebony’s mouth” and “a black discharge coming our of Ebony’s ears”.
Now aged in his late 50s, BW’s application for release to the State Parole Authority will be heard in September, for his possible release by November 16.
SW’s earliest possible release date is November 16, 2037.