Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Coroner: Iraena Asher drowned in accidental death

Iraena Asher was last seen near the beach at Piha. Photo / Supplied
Iraena Asher was last seen near the beach at Piha. Photo / Supplied

After hearing two full days of evidence about Iraena Asher's disappearance, a coroner has ruled that she is dead, presumed drowned, and that her death was accidental.

Coroner Peter Ryan delivered his decision at the end of the inquest at the Auckland District Court this morning.

He said Ms Asher was likely to be suffering an emotional crisis following the break up of her long term relationship that would have been enhanced by her consumption of alcohol and marijuana on the day she vanished at Piha on October 12, 2004.

Based on the evidence, Coroner Ryan did not believe Ms Asher had been given or taken any hard drugs. However he said it was clear to him that the "sexually charged'' atmosphere at the Piha house she was at with her boyfriend and others made her feel like she was being pressured for sex she did not want to participate in.

Coroner Ryan said contributing to the death was the failure of the police not to send a car to Piha to ascertain whether Ms Asher needed help after she made a distressed 111 call.

But instead of sending a patrol car, police called a taxi for her. It never arrived, and it later emerged it had been sent to the wrong address.

Two weeks before she disappeared, Ms Asher broke up with her boyfriend Julian Dyson, having met another man.

On the night of Saturday, October 10, she and her new boyfriend went to one bar, then Ms Asher went home. Her boyfriend stayed out and met a friend, Jesse Pragert.

Early the next morning the men went to Ms Asher's flat and the group decided to drive out to Mr Pragert's Piha house and continue drinking.

They arrived at Piha about 9am and soon after, unbeknown to the group, she walked about 4km to Piha beach.

At 11.30am a family visiting the beach saw her sitting on the sand crying. She looked "spaced out'' and appeared lost.

The family offered to give her a ride home. She was acting strangely and making odd comments about people keeping things from her.

She returned to Mr Pragert's house wet, covered in sand and upset.

Over the next few hours Ms Asher repeatedly took her clothes off and behaved seductively.

She smoked marijuana, but those at the house denied she took - or was given - any other drugs.

Eventually Ms Asher was put to bed on a couch. But about 10 minutes after everyone else went to bed, she walked out into the night.

About 9pm, Ms Asher made her 111 call. Minutes later she was picked up by a local woman and her son.

They said she went from hallucinating to being "quite lucid''.

She was taken back to the woman's home, warmed up and given food. She called her ex-boyfriend's mother, and then she got into a bed made up for her in the woman's lounge.

Five minutes later she left, walking back into the stormy night wearing only a dressing gown.

Ms Asher was seen next by a couple walking their dog about 2am.

They saw Ms Asher standing under a street light. She was naked and spoke to the light before kissing the ground. The couple followed her as she walked towards the beach. They saw her for the last time under the last light on the street. Then, she was gone.

Coroner Ryan said the decision of Piha couple Julia Woodhouse and Bobbie Carroll not to call police after taking an "out of it'' Ms Asher into their home "may'' have also contributed to the "adverse outcome''.

He said Ms Woodhouse and Ms Carroll were "good Samaritans'' and commended them for taking care of Ms Asher. However he said they should have called police so an accurate assessment could have been made about what professional help the woman needed.

Coroner Ryan urged people to err on the side of caution if they found themselves in a similar position. It was much better to call 111 and let trained officers ascertain what action to take.

- NZ Herald

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