The Co Louth woman was raped and strangled in Melbourne, Victoria, by Adrian Bayley who then buried her remains in a shallow grave. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison, a jail term he unsuccessfully appealed.
While the young woman’s family decided against an inquest, coroner Ian Gray felt he still needed to take a closer look at the circumstances surrounding her death.
He said: “Bayley’s sexual offending and violent offending history and the fact that he was a prisoner on parole at the time he murdered Ms Meagher are relevant to matters of public health and safety and prevention.”
Mr Gray linked the killing to the deaths of two other women in the Victoria region which occurred in and around the same time: “Each woman was killed by a man with a violent offending history. Two of the men were on parole at the time they killed the women, and one had recently completed his parole period. As shown by these murders, each of these men after their release continued to pose a risk, particularly to women.”
Mr Gray pointed out that in 1990, when Bayley was aged 18, he raped a young woman. Two months later, while on bail pending trial for that offence, he attacked and attempted to rape a 17-year-old girl. Another few months later, he attacked a 16-year-old girl but she managed to escape. He was sentenced to five years in prison for the three offences.
Then in 2001 he was arrested and charged with 16 counts of rape against five women over the course of a six-month period. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison but was released on parole in 2010. He re-offended in February 2012, and was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment in Geelong on a charge of causing serious injury. He appealed the sentence.
Mr Gray pointed out that Bayley was on parole and on bail when he murdered Ms Meagher.
The coroner examined reports on assessments made of Bayley while he had been in prison up to 2010. A sex offender programme’s risk assessment tool found he was at “high” risk of sexual re-offending.
At the start of his parole after emerging from prison, he was allocated a special case manager by Community Correctional Services (CCS). That case manager reported that Bayley gave contradictory statements about his ability to control himself after drinking alcohol and also admitted he had a row with his girlfriend before drinking. Despite those admissions, he was not referred for re-assessment until after his conviction for assault.
“Gillian Meagher’s death was preventable,” said Mr Gray. “A more rigorous, risk-averse approach by CCS and Adult Parole Board would have led to the cancellation of Bayley’s parole either when charged with the Geelong offence, or when convicted in the Magistrate’s Court.” He said the approach taken was “difficult to understand”.
“If the approach was consistent with adult parole practice at the time, it was a flawed practice as it did not bring dangerous and high-risk parolees immediately to account,” he added.
“In this sense, it appeared not to prioritise the interests of public safety. As a consequence of reforms, that approach would not now be an option.”