Darcey Freeman‘s father is serving 32 years for her 2009 murder. She was just four years old. This week, in Melbourne, an inquest into her death is investigating why he was able to carry out that crime.
The story of the short life of little Darcey Freeman and her brutal murder at the hands of her own father has lived rent-free in my mind for over 5 years.
On that terrible day in 2009, I was in our Melbourne office. It was morning, my team and I were gathered in the boardroom, sipping lukewarm lattes and hot chocolates, staring at yet another mind-numbing powerpoint presentation.
Someone noted the police helicopter, followed by news choppers and the sirens of first responders making their way to Melbourne’s West Gate bridge. We stood at the window, speculating that it was an accident. It looked serious. It looked bad. We tried to focus on our presentation, but the distraction of what was happening on the Yarra River, proved too great.
I asked one of the team to go online to find out what was going on.
It was more than bad. It was downright evil. No one could comprehend the story that was being relayed to us over Ethernet.
A small child had been thrown from the 58 metre bridge in to the murky water below.
More facts emerged and we disbanded the presentation, as many of my team, most of them parents themselves, began to cry or curse with disbelief.
The victim was a little four-year-old. She had blonde hair. She had a cheeky smile. Her name was Darcey.
WATCH: Channel 10’s report on Darcey’s murder and her father’s trial from 2011. (post continues after video…)
I clutched my burgeoning belly, pregnant with my first baby Harry, whose existence was still hidden from my colleagues and tried to stymie the vomit rising from my stomach. Likely filled with nervous excitement as her Daddy drove her to her first day at school, Darcey was ripped from the middle of the backseat of the family car, where she was nestled between her two older brothers and violently thrown from the bridge.
No sane person could make sense of the events. Why would Darcey’s father, the one person who should have loved and protected his little girl against an often cruel world, perpetrate such a heinous act ?
Over the next few days, we learned that Darcey’s Dad was engaged in a bitter custody dispute with his former partner and mother of his children. Photos of a handcuffed, head bowed, balding Arthur Phillip Freeman flooded news reports. What struck me was his sheer ordinariness. And then the dichotomy that something so ordinary, someone you wouldn’t like twice at, could be capable of such malevolence.
By all accounts, Freeman loved his children. At the prospect of the split, he was distraught that he wouldn’t be there to tuck them in at night. He wouldn’t be there to read them a story.
So how does a seemingly average man become so consumed by hate and anger that he destroys the person they love the most ?
It was a question I asked over and over again, in my mind, to my friends and one for which there was no answer.
Returning to Sydney three days later, I travelled by taxi over the West Gate Bridge. Flowers and teddy bears tied to the railing, a sad reminder of little Darcey that was lost.
I prayed death came quickly to Darcey. That the speed and shock of what happened to her, blocked any pain or awareness. Sadly, my prayers came to nought, as we were later to discover that Darcey survived the fall and was critically injured, but still alive when pulled from the river.
I was flooded with twin thoughts of sorrow and anger.
Sorrow for Darcey’s Mum Peta, who had lost her only daughter. Sorrow for Darcey’s two big brothers, who must have been terrified as their father veered erratically across the West Gate Bridge, and then grabbed their baby sister from their midst and murdered her in front of them.
One of them reportedly asked their dad to turn around and go back for her, “because she can’t swim”.
And anger. White hot rage. I kept picturing Freeman in my mind’s eye. I imagined punching him in his face. I hoped that his fellow inmates would mete out “prison justice” I wanted revenge for Darcey. I wanted him to hurt a thousand times more than Darcey and her family.
But I soon realised that anger is wasted energy. Brutalising the likes of Freeman does nothing to protect the thousands of Australian children that are at risk of harm from their parents and carers. It does not save the average 27 children a year who are victims of filicide in this country.
As the coronial inquest in to Darcey’s murder reaches its’ conclusion in Melbourne this week, there is concern from many quarters that the findings of the inquest will reflect badly on the Family Court. My personal belief is that this is a good thing. How do we heal the wounds and repair what is broken if we can’t identify its failings and what needs to be fixed ?
A couple of years ago, I broke my arm, cracked my skull and shattered my knee as I fell down 18 marble stairs, carrying my baby Bertie. I took the full brunt of the fall, and in that split second, I never questioned trying to protect myself, I did what a “normal” parent did and put myself before my child and his safety. Childless friends marvelled at my “bravery” my friends who were parents just knew that was stock standard fare for any “normal” decent parent.
So for Freeman, the seemingly “normal” guy to premeditate the murder of the little person to whom he gave life, things were far from “normal.” It is my hope that the inquest will identify how a “normal” dad became a monster. What were the warning signs? What were the triggers? How do we prevent them from happening again?
I pray that the findings of the inquest help break down the stigma of mental ill-health. To ensure there is somewhere to go. To stop successive government funding cuts to mental health programs and hospitals, to nip tragedy in the bud before it has a chance to putridly bloom.
And we need to remember the wretched tale of poor little girl’s murder, and that an overhaul of the Family Courts will mean that darling little Darcey Iris Freeman did not die in vain.
What do you hope the inquest into Darcey’s death will uncover?
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