Tamica Mullaley pardoned over conviction for police assault on night baby Charlie abducted

A woman whose baby was abducted and brutally murdered by her ex-partner after he bashed her and left her naked and bleeding in a Broome street has received an apology and pardon from the WA government.

Warning: This story contains images and names of Indigenous people who have died.

In making the apology, Attorney-General John Quigley recounted how in March 2013, Tamica Mullaley endured the “unthinkable”.

Ms Mullaley endured a “sustained and vicious attack” at the hands of her partner Mervyn Bell and was left bleeding from her injuries and naked on the streets of Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley.

Police were called, but in the chaotic scenes that followed, a “confused” Ms Mullaley was arrested for assaulting a police officer, and later handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence. 

Her child’s grandfather, Ted Mullaley, had asked officers to take baby Charlie, but he was instead passed to friends before Bell took him from their house while Ms Mullaley was receiving treatment for her injuries in hospital.

In the 15 hours that followed Bell tortured the child, before rushing his lifeless body to a roadhouse near Karratha, almost 1,000 kilometres away.

Charles Mullaley
Baby Charlie was tortured and killed after being kidnapped by Bell in WA’s north.(Supplied)

Charlie’s injuries included burns, broken bones, internal bleeding and severe abrasions. 

‘Clearly deficient’ police response

At the time, Mr Mullaley was also charged with obstructing police.

Wearing a tie with Aboriginal designs and speaking from isolation after testing positive to COVID, Mr Quigley announced both had been pardoned by the Governor under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

“Instead, the system we thought we could rely on to support victims of crime failed Tamica and Ted, and they were dragged through the courts themselves,” he said.

“These pardons are a show of mercy, for Tamica and Ted, it has been a long time coming.”

A bespectacled John Quigley wearing a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie with pink polka dots.
John Quigley apologised for the way Ms Mullaley and her father Ted were treated by police and the WA government. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

With both Ms Mullaley and her father in Parliament, Mr Quigley also apologised for a “clearly deficient” police response.

“Tamica was not treated by police at the scene as a victim of domestic violence,” he said.

“Tamica and Ted, for that, I am truly sorry. You deserve much better from the police and from the government. We are sorry.”

Mr Quigley said he could not find another case where pardons had been granted in similar circumstances.

‘Charlie’s legacy’ inspires change

Today’s apology and pardon followed a meeting between the family, Mr Quigley, Police Minister Paul Papalia, Minister for the Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Simone McGurk and incoming police commissioner Col Blanch.

“While there is always more work to be done, there has been significant progress in how the Western Australian police force respond to family violence, and how officers work with Aboriginal people, since 2013,” Mr Papalia told Parliament.

“Baby Charlie’s legacy will be a commitment from this government to do everything in its power to prevent another senseless, tragic death in our community.”

Charles Derschow-Mullaley
Ms Mullaley’s push for an inquest into Charlie’s death was unsuccessful.(Supplied)

Ms McGurk said the tragedy “reminds us to do better”.

“The events that unfolded over the course of the evening, and the following day, demonstrate how an inadequate understanding of family and domestic violence can have utterly devastating consequences,” she said.

Greater involvement of Department of Justice staff in family and domestic violence incidents, particularly to help understand the risks around perpetrators, was a specific area of progress Ms McGurk pointed to.

Simon McGurk pictured in front of trees speaking into microphones wearing a blazer and red top
Simone McGurk hopes the apology will help the family move forward.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“While we cannot change the past, I sincerely hope that today’s events can support you and your family’s healing journey,” Ms McGurk said.

Police commissioner Chris Dawson said discussions were taking place with the family.

“We’re working very, very closely with the family to ensure that we can do as much as we can to ensure that such an event never occurs again,” he said.

Crimes ‘shocked the public conscience’

In 2014, Bell was sentenced to at least 27 years in prison for murder, in a crime that was described as “evil” and one which “shocks the public conscience” by then-Justice John McKechnie. 

The next year, Bell took his own life in the special handling unit of Casuarina Prison.

Mervyn Kenneth Douglas Bell
Mervyn Bell abducted baby Charlie shortly after police arrested Ms Mullaley.

A report by the Corruption and Crime Commission in 2016 found there had been a “delayed and ineffective response” by individual officers on the night Ms Mullaley was arrested, but concluded it was “impossible to know” whether a more rapid response could have changed the outcome.

Ms Mullaley and her family had been campaigning for a coronial inquest into baby Charlie’s death, but that was rejected by Supreme Court judge Rene Le Miere in 2020. 

An inquest, from a legal perspective, is held to produce new evidence or clarify the facts around a death, with any recommendations about police policy or procedures ancillary to that function.

At the time, Ms Mullaley had been hoping to appeal directly to Attorney-General John Quigley to order an inquest.

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