Rick Thorburn ‘to plead guilty to Tiahleigh’s murder’

MORE than two years after Tiahleigh Palmer was killed and left on the banks of the Pimpama River, lawyers representing her foster father Rick Thorburn today announced he is planning to plead guilty to murder.

Tiahleigh, 12, had been living with the Thorburns for 10 months when they reported her missing on October 30, 2015.

Rick claimed he had dropped the 12-year-old off near Marsden State High School in the Queensland city of Logan on the morning of October 30.

But when he returned to pick her up that afternoon, she never showed.

A week later, a fisherman found Tiahleigh's semi-naked, partially decomposed body on the edge of Pimpama River. It is still not known how she died.

Tiahleigh was found dead in November 2015.
Tiahleigh was found dead in November 2015.

Almost immediately after Tiahleigh was found, Queensland police launched a mammoth investigation.

The most vocal about that investigation was Tiahleigh's biological mother Cindy - who lost custody in 2011 after spending time in jail.

Cindy was instrumental in Brisbane's bus fleet getting splashed with pictures calling for justice for her daughter.

And her Facebook page, named "Justice4Tiahleigh", has grown to include 6000 members, becoming a place where she regularly comments on the case and raising public awareness.

It was on that exact Facebook page, in September 2016, that Cindy commented on a development in her daughter's case.

Investigators had announced they'd seized a blue Ford Falcon as a "vehicle of interest" in regards to Tiahleigh's death - but Cindy was not told who exactly the car had belonged to.

But through an unnamed source, Cindy was alerted to the fact that the seized Ford Falcon had once belonged to Tiahleigh's foster father.

Cindy Palmer has fought for Tiahleigh.
Cindy Palmer has fought for Tiahleigh.

Police allege Rick had used that exact car to drive Tiahleigh's body to the river - and then sold it online.

On her Facebook page, Cindy expressed her shock over the revelation.

"The car that was seized is identical to the one that … and … had, the one they had sold within days of Tiahleigh's body being found," she wrote. "And as the news and police depicted this car was in the possession of a new owner who was NOT a suspect in their investigation ...

"… and … were the carers of Tiahleigh, the people who were intrusted [sic] where [sic] her care and wellbeing, the same carers who are publicly selling up everything they own."

Despite police, who later said they were at a crucial point in their investigation of the Thorburn family, asking Cindy to delete the post it had already been picked up by the media.

Four members of the Thorburn family were arrested in September 2016, 11 months after police launched their investigation.

Rick Thorburn with his son Josh, wife Julene and other son Trent.
Rick Thorburn with his son Josh, wife Julene and other son Trent.

RICK THORBURN

The father, who police allege killed Tiahleigh in order to cover up his son's sexually abusive relationship with the 12-year-old, has been in jail since his arrest in September 2016.

Almost immediately after police charged him, Thorburn attempted to end his own life by overdosing on pills.

He was placed in an induced coma in Brisbane's Alexandra Hospital for a number of days but was eventually sent back to prison.

Queensland Police said its homicide squad would not publicly comment on the case until Thorburn was sentenced in the Brisbane Supreme Court on May 25.

A pre-trial hearing later this week where Thorburn was expected to seek a judge-only trial because of publicity around the high-profile case has been cancelled.

Thorburn remains in custody and is facing a life sentence for the murder.

Earlier today, his lawyer Adam Guest told the Brisbane Supreme Court that the matter would not go to trial as planned.

He will also plead guilty to a charge of perjury relating to alleged lies he told about her disappearance and interfering with a corpse.

In 2015, few suspected the Thorburn family could be behind Tiahleigh's death.

At his foster daughter's funeral, Rick was one of the six pallbearers wearing a bright purple shirt bearing the words "Tiahleigh RIP".

Earlier today, Cindy Palmer released a statement to ABC, hoping the day of Rick's sentencing will be the end of it.

"My beautiful daughter Tiahleigh deserves justice. I hope it comes on May 25th. Thank you, everyone ... I have lots to say, but right now, I will let the police and court do their job. Tia, I love you," she told the publication.

Foster father Rick Thorburn was arrested on September 20, 2015. Picture: Jack Tran
Foster father Rick Thorburn was arrested on September 20, 2015. Picture: Jack Tran

TRENT THORBURN

Before Tiahleigh's death, the youngest of the Thorburn family admitted to numerous people that he and his 12-year-old foster sister had had sexual relations.

When Trent was 18, he told his cousin in a Facebook message that he was worried Tiahleigh might be pregnant. He deleted it not long after.

Hours before police allege Tiahleigh was murdered, Trent had disclosed the same fears to his mum Julene.

Trent was sentenced to four years jail for incest and perjury in September last year.

The youngest Thorburn's time in jail wasn't easy, with reports from the Courier Mailclaiming fellow inmates shouted "pretty boy" and "kill him" at the then-teenager.

Not long after his arrest, an ambulance was called to Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre after one of Thorburn's attackers was injured in an altercation with guards.

With time served, after spending 16 months in prison, Thorburn was released on parole on January 19, 2018.

His sentence will be suspended for five years.

After Trent's release, Tiahleigh's mother Cindy criticised his early release.

"I have confirmation, Trent Thorburn was released from prison this morning on parole after serving the rest of his s**tty sentence!!" she wrote on Facebook, alongside the hashtag #nojusticehere.

Trent Thorburn is free from prison.
Trent Thorburn is free from prison.

JULENE THORBURN

It wasn't until Tiahleigh's foster mum was caught on a recording device hidden in the family's Chamber Flats home that she decided to cough up the truth about the 12-year-old's death.

Julene was sentenced to 18 months in jail in November after covering up Tiahleigh's death in an attempt to protect her lifestyle and "breadwinner" husband.

Julene is currently serving six months jail before her sentence is suspended for three years. She pleaded guilty to perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice - the same charges laid on her 22-year-old son Joshua.

Julene was caught on the recording device in September 2016, urging the family to "stick to the same story" they'd created, regarding Tiahleigh's disappearance.

Julene fed her horses as forensic police searched their rural property. Picture: Liam Kidston
Julene fed her horses as forensic police searched their rural property. Picture: Liam Kidston

JOSHUA THORBURN

Joshua, 22, the other foster brother of Tiahleigh was also convicted over the 12-year-old's death - after pleading guilty to the same charges his mum faced.

On July 27 last year, the then-21-year-old was sentenced by the Beenleigh District Court to 15 months in prison.

He served three months before his sentence was suspended for three years.

Thorburn admitted he twice gave misleading statements to police and lied to a Crime and Corruption Commission hearing investigating the alleged crime.

His lawyers claimed he lied to police because he was terrified of what his father would do.

The night of Tiahleigh's murder, Thorburn was reportedly called to a family meeting with his brother and parents where they all agreed to lie about her disappearance.

On the day of Joshua's release, Tiahleigh's biological mother Cindy slammed his freedom on her Facebook page #Justice4Tiahleigh.

"It has been brought to my attention that … Josh Thorburn will be saying goodbye to his old life in prison and will (today) be let out to move on with and live a fulfilling life," Ms Palmer wrote.

"He will be able to put this whole thing behind him and go on with his life. Just another kick in the face to show you how much more rights/protection and leniency criminals have these days," she added.

Joshua Thorburn was sentenced in July last year. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Joshua Thorburn was sentenced in July last year. Picture: Glenn Hunt

With AAP

 

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