Anna Leask

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

Couple fight Iraena Asher inquest ruling

Piha women seek to overturn finding that they contributed to Iraena Asher's death

The coroner ruled Iraena Asher was swept away in the surf at Piha Beach. Photo / Supplied
The coroner ruled Iraena Asher was swept away in the surf at Piha Beach. Photo / Supplied

The Piha couple criticised for not calling police after taking in a distressed Iraena Asher the night she drowned in 2004 are seeking to have a coroner's findings "quashed".

After an inquest in July, coroner Peter Ryan ruled that Ms Asher's death was accidental. He said that the 25-year-old had most likely walked into the surf, been swept out to sea and drowned.

Mr Ryan said Bobbie Carroll and Julia Woodhouse, and her son Henry, "contributed" to Ms Asher's death.

"[They] were in the best position to assess Iraena's condition that day on a personal level. They were also in the best position to obtain professional intervention for Iraena ... I consider their decision not to contact police was a factor in Iraena's death."

Ms Carroll said it was too soon to discuss the case in detail.

But she was looking forward to the "eight-year nightmare coming to a fair and accurate conclusion at some stage in the near future".

Her lawyer, Garth Gallaway, said the claim for judicial review "was seeking to have the findings that Julia, Bobbie and Henry contributed to Iraena's death quashed".

"The basis for the proceeding is that they allege a breach of natural justice," he said. "They were not told that the police would be critical of them. The police officer who gave evidence said he believed that they contributed to Iraena's death - they had no notice of this, no opportunity to question the police and make submissions on this point.

"It is also alleged that the coroner failed to give notice to Julia, Bobbie and Henry that he would make adverse comment against them. Where a coroner makes adverse comment, he or she is required to advise a party and seek comment before making such a comment."

After the claim was filed, the police asked the court if they could be joined as a respondent or second defendant - meaning they are on the side of the coroner. A hearing date will be set after all parties have had a chance to submit claim and defence information. A hearing is unlikely until next year.

Ms Woodhouse and her son were driving home when they found Ms Asher wandering in her underwear, scared and confused. They took her to their home and, with Ms Carroll, spent four hours comforting her.

They said they twice discussed calling the police. Each time Ms Asher became agitated and begged them not to; she said she had called the police already but they were not interested.

The couple considered their options and decided that keeping the young woman safe and warm inside was better than having her bolt into the cold stormy night - which they thought was bound to happen if they called 111.

They were not expecting Mr Ryan to deliver such a critical finding at the inquest and were angry that he did not direct any blame at other people who had seen Ms Asher behaving strangely that night.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said Mr Ryan would not comment. Police also declined to speak about the case.

- NZ Herald

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