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At 10:30am yesterday, Arthur Freeman, the man who threw his four-year-old daughter Darcey from the top of the Westgate Bridge in late January 2009, was sentenced to life in prison, with a 32 year minimum. The courtroom was packed. Among those who came was a man whose wife is in prison for the murder of their two sons, and the father of a young woman who was murdered while tending her grandmother's grave. Most unusually, several members of the jury who found Freeman guilty of Darcey's murder also attended.

The sentencing hearing was broadcast live from the Supreme Court of Victoria. It is rare for the Court to allow this; it was chilling, compelling listening.

I have reproduced below some of His Honour Justice Coghlan’s sentencing remarks that I have garnered from print media and last night’s PM. The audio of the sentence is available; the Court transcript is yet to be released.

Your behaviour through the whole of this period of your life was self-centred with a strong tendency to blame others. You are yet to say sorry for what you have done.

I am satisfied that you continue to lack insight into your offending and I regard your prospects of rehabilitation as bleak.

What Darcey's last thoughts might have been does not bear thinking about, and her death must have been a painful and protracted one.

Your conduct is a most fundamental breach of trust and it is an attack on the institution of the family which is so dear to the community. The killing was in the presence of your son, Benjamin, who was then six, and your son, Jack, who was two. The community hopes Jack will be too young to remember.

Any motive which existed for the killing had nothing to do with the innocent victim. It can only be concluded that you used your daughter in an attempt to hurt your former wife as profoundly as possible.

The killing of children by a parent is possibly the most horrific act of the many appalling things that humans do. The reaction of most people is, Why? I don’t understand. There are many different reasons, of course, but in the Freeman case the most likely explanation (and certainly His Honour’s remarks point that way) seems to be spousal revenge – “an attempt to hurt [a former spouse] as profoundly as possible”. After Freeman was convicted last month, the Age published a piece by Debbie Kirkwood on filicide, which provides a useful account of this phenomenon.

One of the dreadful consequences of such cases is that it is not unusual for the other parent to feel guilty. From a 2006 report in the Guardian (which I found on the day that Darcey was murdered when I was trying to help my partner understand what might have motivated Freeman):

For Sarah Heatley, though, she is in no doubt that her children's murders could have been prevented and would like to see a radical overhaul of the judicial system, particularly the family courts. She found the courage to leave her husband and did not want him to have unsupervised contact with their children. However, the family courts, who believe contact with both parents is always in the best interests of the child, granted it. It was on their first unsupervised weekend with their father that Nina and Jack ate their cornflakes and played with their mum's lipstick before their father strangled them. 'I am still furious that the legal system didn't care about the children's safety when they were alive and nor do they care about learning lessons,' she said.

As she leafs through a photo album of her two children, who would be 16 and 18 now if they had been allowed to live, she explains that she will always feel responsible for their death.

Yet, as Justice Coghlan correctly said to Freeman:

One of the very unfortunate features of the case was that others seemed to blame themselves for what you have done. They should not. You did what you did. You are responsible for it, and nobody else is.

Rest in peace, Darcey. And may all the families and friends whose lives have been changed forever also find peace.


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No-one can know why

On Freeman, the horror of spectators (I mean the rest of us, consumers of the kind or entertainment that is called the news) about what he did is likely to be a pale shadow of his own grief and remorse.  I agree that compassion can be felt for him.  It is no comment on the moral quality of what he did, no mitigation of that.

On the South Australian politician, I just looked up Wikipedia and child pornography is not about post-adolescent girls technically below the age of consent earning extra while they're not waitressing, it is about mainly pre-pubescent children, sometimes toddlers, in a considerable proportion of cases while they're being raped. Pornography does not seem a very suitable word for that reality.  And the offence and the emotions of the offender at being caught had better not evoke your compassion.  Different story.

a bad thing to wake up to.

The thread seems to be about harmed children and delinquent adults.

I think it will warm up again, with the news that a politician in suburban Adelaide occupying a responsible position has been busted for downloading kiddieporn.

Here we have have an individual who is payed richly to "suffer the little children", in semantic ways we might in retrospect consider deviates somewhat from the Biblical norm.

Mary of Magdala

All I know about this story is some guy threw his daughter off a bridge, nuff said, he's crazy, that's why he did it.

No sane human, let alone a wombat, would do such a thing.

Personally I'd be quite happy to see him done in, easy when you don't know the story, and have absolutely no relationship with the convicted, I suppose; so best lock him up and let the professionals help sort him out for the remainder of his miserable life. Everybody is a loser but that's what homo sapiens have to cope with on occasions - insanity.

Cute debate between John and Marilyn: it's not often the straw man is attacked/defended while the protagonists, in their own humane way, agree on the guts of the debate: compassion.

I can still remember vividly the first time I felt compassion. It was when I was about three, maybe four, and had not yet gone near a bible. I was with my Dad and we were catching a train from Central railway station. I can remember the smell of hops that wafted across Elizabeth Street from the old brewery. We walked up the stairs onto the platform and all of a sudden another kid about my age screamed, cried and appeared totally distressed. His mother tried to comfort him without success.

I had no idea why he was so upset but I really felt sad for him, so sad that I too became distressed in silence; so distressed that I wished it were me who was in pain, not him.

Years later when I became familiar with the story of Jesus it dawned on me that Jesus was just another human, a man who felt deeply for others in pain, in the same way I did as an innocent little boy - it was compassion.

I suppose Jesus OD'd on compassion and recklessly died for his children, in the hope of relieving their pain and suffering.

There is a little bit of Jesus in (just about) all of us, I reckon; especially you Marilyn and it shows in many ways. 

The New Testament doesn't necessarily teach compassion, it simply tries to articulate, solicit, and reveal the true potential for human understanding that which is in all of us, at an individual level at least (collectively all humans are crazy).

Mr Freeman is a nutter, a child killer, fortunately he is a rare individual indeed, but could there be a little bit of Freeman lurking deep in all of us, in the same way Jesus lives within?

When we give our collective nod to war does that not guarantee the slaughter of children, especially in this day and age of smart bombs, dumb grunts and fuck-wit generals?

And when those wars are for purely economic reasons, rather than defence, does that not raise a flag in our individual consciousness?

Does not the slaughter of innocent children (for pure greed) cause one to feel compassion for the victims and their families, or does it cause one to follow the distractions, run with the mob, and when the need be rationalise like bloody hell?

Collateral damage.

If someone is going to be a kiddy killer would you rather they kill lots of other people's kids (your kids), or just one ot two of their own?

Apples and oranges you may argue - maybe; but for the truly compassionate a piece of fruit is a piece of fruit - an innocent child is an innocent child.

I bet that our Mary of Magdala would agree that for some it can be very difficult to turn off compassion, especially for the vulnerable and innocent, no matter who they are, or what part of our planet they live upon.


Seems an odd thread with some odd comments on a macabre, sensational case. For my part, Marilyn Shepherd's gut response I sympathise with.

But I can see the others are right to suggest it is also important to understand the circumstances of the case and draw whatever conclusions we can, for future reference and to limit the chances of it happening again.

This odd individual will have the rest of his life to contemplate his behaviour; the issue whether we or anyone else "forgive" him seems superfluous to the case, irrelevant for all intents and purposes, and not really the first thing most of have to do in attending to our own affairs - we couldn't do anything one way or another, even if we wanted to. He'll have to adjust to what he's done himself as best he can, the same as the rest of us do as to our own decisions, actions, and their consequences.

The court heard the evidence, convicted and jailed, end of story, move on. That is, unless something radically changes the situation in the way of evidence, which seems clear cut by all accounts.

"Every sperm is sacred...."

Jay, your last comment is a thread derail. I will indulge it thus far - read this. However, all further comments on this thread should stay on the highly specific topic.


By the way, Fiona, what's your view on abortion?


As Fiona's last post suggests, the really question is not why, but how.

Bullying, picking on the weaker, parents harming children, are all pretty common. As any divorce lawyer will tell you.

Marilyn says that our soldiers kill Afghan babies and cover it up (I presume Marilyn has evidence of specific atrocities). However, I think a bigger crime is that when the US got a bloody nose and looked to vent their anger on the weakest one around, the basket case of the world, we happily joined in.

But perhaps, before asking How do we prevent this,  perhaps we should ask whether we actually care. 

We're not really that interested in protecting our neighbours' snotty-nosed kids. They add nothing to the gene pool. Of all the government departments social workers are among the worst managed. Who cares? We'd much rather put our money into nurse education and health research.

Yes Jay

Several soldiers have been charged for killing 5 Afghan kids in their beds and the ADF covered it up for months unitl Dateline aired the story.

And dropping bombs on towns and villages tends to kill everyone including the kids.

Now my own parents would have happily left my younger sister and I in a paddy field to die of starvation because we were the 2nd and 3rd daughters and they only wanted boys.

Well as much as they wanted any kids because they hated each others guts.

I note that Sam Newman thinks we should show some compassion for Freeman, buggered if I get that.


Thanks Marilyn, you jogged my memory. If I remember correctly I recall discussions here, including when the soldiers were charged. 


Marylin, we should show compassion to everyone without judgement.

I believe that was the essential message that Jesus taught.

Although I am not a Christian I believe that what Jesus taught was some of the best wisdom that has ever come from a human mind.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:5

We are all victims of some sort. Who knows what Freeman was thinking or if his mind is diseased?

He will now pay the price and like all in prison he is a victim too.

Quoting an old book now?

Pssst.  The bible ain't real.  I feel zero compassion for Freeman, he picked up his terrified child in front of her two brothers, walked to the side of the bridge in full view and dropped her to her death with her elder brother screaming that dad had to save here because she could not swim.

I hope the bastard gets the rock spider treatment in prison.

The Bible is real

Marilyn, the Bible is very real, it is the wisdom of our ancestors, passed on the only way they knew how. God may not be real but the book is real. The ethics espoused in the Bible especially those espoused by Jesus are often very wise words.

Sometimes we need to listen to the wisdom of our elders.

Hate gets us nowhere.


The bible is not real, it has never been real and it won't be real because you say so.

Killing children is an abomination, killing any other human being is an abomination and no-one needs to  read a discredited old book to say so.

If I can see it, smell it and touch it

Marilyn, if I can see it, touch it and smell the bible it is real.

Whether or not there is any truth or wisdom in the bible is open to debate.

May I suggest that our culture is based on principles found in the bible? If we are going to throw it out what are your thoughts on what we should replace it with for our moral guidance?

It is to me a collection of stories going back over thousands of years, and we may be able to learn some truth from the experience of others.

The bible is what has held our culture together for two thousand years. We should not disregard it with out some thought.

Please remember that I do not believe in a god. But I do believe in people searching for truth.

When we see acts of evil we can internalise it or we can understand that is part of life.

If you believe there is no god and we are animals just like other animals, when a  lion kills its cubs do we take a moral stand? If not why not?

The ultimate betrayal of trust

Marilyn, like John I agree that killing children is appalling.

Nevertheless, I maintain that for a parent to kill a child is the most heinous of acts precisely because the parent-child relationship is the paradigmatic power relationship, where children are totally dependent on their parent(s), and trust that their parent(s) will protect them.

Sure, "[t]here is no training to be a parent, not all parents are wired to protect their kids...". That's partly the point about this and similar tragedies. If we could somehow help people to parent better, that might - after a very long time - somehow alter the dysfunctional nature of human society and maybe, just maybe, mean an end to wars, to the abuse of power by other adults who should know better (clergy, teachers, health professionals, legal eagles....), to the existence of destructive relationships between consenting adults.

Unlikely, I know, but surely we should try?

I agree, but

Is it really any worse than murdering Afghan children in their own beds and then covering it up?

Or bombing them to bits in Palestine,Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and may other places?

There is no training to be a parent, not all parents are wired to protect their kids and many in war mongering countries aren't even wired to protect other people's innocent kids.

We jail them here until they go mad and slash up or kill themselves.

I feel utterly revolted by Freeman and don't think he should ever again be a free man, but I am just as revolted by our soldiers gunning down Afghan babies and covering it up.

Killing children anywhere is revolting

You're right Marilyn, killing children anywhere is revolting.

But when a parent kills their child I think it is even more shocking, and tragic.

Every time a child dies through war, murder or poverty we as humans are less than what we could have been.

How could he?

I can easily consider giving up my life for my child.. but to murder your kid as revenge on her mother, or for any reason?  How this bloke could have three kids without such primal programming coming is difficult to even contemplate.

A lot of fathers find family separations more soul-destroying than mothers.  Being the one left behind when the missus and kid go was one of the hardest things I ever hope to need to endure, and somewhere in the mind of Darcy's Dad I'm guessing that this is what's come into play.

The old cliche, though, of parents not being meant to outlive their kids comes into play here.. for the mother, the brothers who watched the murder happen.. . if anything happened to my daughter I don't know if I could cope.

And as  for the last thoughts going through that little girl's mind.. I'd guess that Fiona's title would be very close..

Bugger it, I'm crying again.. 

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