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Lauren Hickson was a pretty quiet kid. Thoughtful and kind, quite tall for her age. But the four-year-old’s love of animals is what colours the snapshots in her mother’s mind: Lauren stroking her sulphur-crested cockatoo; Lauren following pets around the Emu Plains caravan park they called home; Lauren watching birds in the branches, as she played in the dirt below.
The preschooler doted on all creatures, without fear of being bitten or scratched or swooped. She simply trusted them to be as gentle with her as she was with them.
That’s the Lauren her mother Jurina Hickson remembers, and it’s the only Lauren she knows.
The girl with the dark blonde fringe and gaping smile remains frozen in time, a portrait on her parents’ wall, a name Australians read about in their weekend papers or heard on the nightly news nearly 29 years ago. The girl assaulted, tortured and killed in one of the most notorious murder cases in New South Wales history.
Lauren’s killer, Neville Raymond Towner, 51, will face a parole hearing on Tuesday, having served beyond the minimum 20-year sentence ultimately handed to him by a NSW court. It’s the third scheduled date for the hearing, which, agonisingly, has been adjourned twice since June last year.
Jurina will be there, clutching a picture of her little girl, as her family’s lawyer delivers their submission to the State Parole Authority. She can barely stand the thought of seeing Towner’s face on courtroom video link, let alone on the streets of Sydney.