A Malaysian court Wednesday overturned an inquest verdict of “misadventure” in the death of a French-Irish schoolgirl who vanished in the jungle, replacing it with an “open” ruling in a victory for her family.
The initial verdict indicated the death was accidental, but the new ruling leaves open the possibility of criminal involvement and may put pressure on authorities to conduct a new probe.
The body of Nora Quoirin, a 15-year-old with learning difficulties, was discovered after a huge hunt through the rainforest following her disappearance from a resort outside Kuala Lumpur in 2019.
In January, a coroner handed down the misadventure ruling and said no one else was involved.
But the teen’s London-based parents — who believe she was abducted — challenged the verdict in court.
They were pushing for an open verdict. Judge Azizul Azmi Adnan ruled in their favour, telling the Seremban Hight Court that changing the verdict was “in the interests of justice”.
“There was no credible evidence to support any other verdict,” he added.
Her parents, Meabh and Sebastien, watching proceedings via video-link due to coronavirus curbs, showed little reaction as the ruling was delivered but later said they were pleased with the decision.
“It’s a very big day for us, we’re very emotional,” Meabh told the BBC.
“Nora was always going to be worth fighting for and this is the verdict we wanted.
“It was really the only reasonable verdict open to us, in the sense that the proof that we had could only really lead to this road as a credible one, as far as we were concerned.”
An open verdict is typically handed down in inquests when there is no evidence to support a more conclusive ruling — such as homicide.
A family representative declined comment on what their next steps might be.
But it will give them ammunition to pressure Malaysian police to launch a new probe into their daughter’s death, after they fiercely criticised the initial investigation as slow and inadequate.
– ‘Shy and retiring’ –
Judge Azizul effectively tore up the coroner’s initial verdict, saying it was unlikely the teenager would have wandered off alone at night, and the terrain would have been too challenging for her to clamber over barefoot.
“It was not probable for Nora Anne to have ventured out of the (chalet) on her own, to have navigated by herself the challenging terrain in and around the location where she was eventually found,” he said.
It was unlikely that she managed to evade detection while the massive search and rescue operation was being conducted, he added.
The schoolgirl’s body was found in a stream in an overgrown palm oil plantation after a 10-day hunt involving helicopters, sniffer dogs and hundreds of rescuers.
Azizul also noted she was a “shy and retiring child who was uncurious and unadventurous, and who was strongly attached emotionally to her parents… it was unlikely for Nora Anne to have gone out on her own”.
The coroner had said the teenager had been left disoriented by the long journey from Britain to Malaysia, likely leading her to venture out alone, and that there was no sign she was murdered or sexually assaulted.
Malaysian police have also stuck to their version of events — that the teenager clambered out of a broken window on her own and insist there was no sign of foul play.
But her mother has said she believes someone could have placed her body in the spot where it was found, and her parents testified they heard noises in the holiday chalet the night their daughter disappeared.
The teenager vanished a day after her family checked in to the Dusun Resort. An autopsy concluded she likely died of starvation and internal bleeding.
The five-hectare (12-acre) resort is next to a patch of thick jungle and in the foothills of a mountain range.
The teen had a condition known as holoprosencephaly, where the brain fails to develop normally. She had limited verbal communication and could only write a few words.
She attended a school for young people with learning difficulties.