Boyfriend didn't push partner off ledge - coroner

Ashleigh Dargusch and Jared Wilford. Ashleigh died after slipping off a cliff ledge at the pole house waterhole on Kauaeranga Valley on December 27 last year.
Ashleigh Dargusch and Jared Wilford. Ashleigh died after slipping off a cliff ledge at the pole house waterhole on Kauaeranga Valley on December 27 last year.

A coroner has dismissed suggestions that the boyfriend of an Australian tourist pushed her off a ledge at a Coromandel waterhole, killing her.

Ashleigh Dargusch was holidaying in New Zealand with her boyfriend, Jared Wilford, in Thames with his family and friends in December last year.

On December 27 the pair met up with Mr Wilford's friends. Friend John White suggested the pair, along with two other friends, go for a swim at a local swimming hole known as the Pole House on Kauaeranga Valley Rd.

After two of the friends jumped into the water, the remaining three, including Miss Dargusch - an accomplished sportswoman and level 5 skier - decided not to and proceeded to walk down to the river.

However, she slipped on the narrow, 30cm ledge, falling about eight to nine metres headfirst on to rocks below.

At an inquest before Coroner Gordon Matenga in Hamilton last month, Miss Dargusch's family, through their spokesman, Rick Greinke, claimed Mr Wilford had pushed their daughter to her death saying he had a motive.

In his findings released this morning, it was revealed part of that motive was money-related as Mr Wilford received an insurance and superannuation payout after Miss Dargusch death.

Their 23-month relationship had also been on the rocks in the months leading up to her death but the pair decided to save face for the family and go ahead with the trip anyway.

In their reasoning for their suggestion, Mr Grienke, at the inquest, said the group had been drinking all day - somewhere between three and 12 drinks each - and the family were also upset that Mr Wilford started seeing someone else just days after she died.

They had been further aggrieved as to why police were not immediately informed of the incident, instead not finding out until she died in Waikato Hospital a week later.

While police agreed there was a motive for Mr Wilford to push his girlfriend, police found no evidence to support the suggestion.

Mr Wilford denied pushing Miss Dargusch.

In his findings, Mr Matenga agreed with police and the evidence of Mr Wilford and his friends, Matthew Hopkirk, Brenden Prayoncorn and Mr White that they were not at fault.

"There is no evidence that [Mr Wilford] pushed her either deliberately or accidentally. Rather, the evidence is that Ashleigh accidentally fell from the narrow track either because the track at the point at which she was standing gave way or her footwear contributed to her losing balance, or a combination of the two factors. Either way, I am satisfied that the death of Ashleigh Jade Dargusch was due to an accidental fall and not to any deliberate actions."

A post-mortem was not carried out on Miss Dargusch but the coroner said that was the decision of her family at the time.

He was also satisfied that minor remedial work that the Thames-Coromandel District Council had done at the site was sufficient and did not formally make any recommendations.

- Otago Daily Times

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