Monday, June 24, 2024

Fire obliterated any chance of working out campers’ cause of death, court told

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Experts were unable to determine the cause of death of campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay because fire had obliterated any evidence, a court has heard.

Forensic pathologist Melanie Archer, who is also an expert in the study of insects, told a Supreme Court jury on Monday about her examination of the remains of the pair, who were killed at a remote alpine campsite.

Forensic pathologist Melanie Archer leaving the Supreme Court on Monday.Credit: Joe Armao

She said that ultimately it was impossible to say how Hill, 74, and Clay, 73, died, but by looking at the remnants of maggots found at a burial site near Dargo, she was able to say the bodies were left for months before being burnt.

Archer said that fire, which left behind thousands of bone fragments, meant there was only one option open to her when trying to determine how the pair died.

“The problem for the forensic pathologist is that the material that you need – the evidence you need to help make that decision – has been obliterated by the change,” she said. “You’re left as ‘undetermined’ as your only choice.

Where police say the remains were burnt at Union Spur Track, near Dargo.

Where police say the remains were burnt at Union Spur Track, near Dargo.

“Whatever caused their deaths has been masked by the changes that have taken place in the burning and fragmentation.”

Archer, who specialises in estimating minimum times of death, season of death, insect biology and how a body is treated after death, told the court she became involved in the investigation into Hill and Clay’s deaths in December 2021.

She said she had been asked to examine insect remnants that had been buried superficially and were found at Union Spur Track, near the town of Dargo.

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