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R v Thorburn


[2018] QSC 118





R v Thorburn [2018] QSC 118


(the defendant)


SC No 1763 of 2017

SC No 600 of 2018


Trial Division




SC No 1763 of 2017: Supreme Court, Brisbane – 25 May 2018

DC 2630 of 2017: District Court, Brisbane – transferred to SC (No 600 of 2018) on 30 April 2018


25 May 2018




25 May 2018


Boddice J


Criminal law – Particular offences – Offences against the person – Homicide – Murder – where the defendant plead guilty to murder – where the victim was a child aged 12 years – where the victim was in the foster-care of the defendant and his family – where the defendant’s son had previously engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim – where the defendant plead guilty to interfering with the corpse – where the defendant moved the victim’s body to a remote location – where the victim’s body was partially submerged – where the decomposition of the body prevented identifying the cause of death

Criminal law – Particular offences – Offences relating to the administration of justice – Perjury and false statement – Sentence – where the defendant made false statements to police – where the defendant continued to make such statements to police over a period of months – where the defendant gave false evidence at hearings conducted by the Crime and Corruption Commission – where the false statements were made to conceal offences – where the false statements touched upon facts material to the investigation of the offences – where surveillance recordings conducted by police revealed the falsity of those statements

Criminal law – Particular offences – Offences relating to the administration of justice – Perverting the course of justice – where the defendant caused his wife and two sons to give false accounts in accordance with his own false statements – where the defendant’s wife and two sons gave such false statements – where the false statements touched upon facts material to the investigation of the offences


C Heaton QC for the Crown

G McGuire with A Cappellano for the defendant


Director of Public Prosecutions (Queensland) for the Crown

Guest Lawyers for the defendant

  1. BODDICE J:  Richard Neville Thorburn, you are to be sentenced today on one count of murder and one count of interfering with a corpse, both on indictment 1763 of 2017, and one count of attempting to pervert justice and two counts of perjury, all on indictment 600 of 2018.
  2. To your credit, you pleaded guilty to those offences.  Those pleas of guilty have saved significant Court time and cost.  They have also saved witnesses the trauma of having to give evidence at what would have been a lengthy trial.
  3. Your offending involves truly appalling conduct.  You murdered a 12 year old child who was in your care because her own mother was unable to properly care for her.  That child had been in foster care since 2010.
  4. Initially, you and your wife provided respite care for her on weekends; that was in December 2014.  You became, with your wife, her full-time carer in January 2015.  In that month, a temporary child protection order was made in relation to the child and she was placed in your care up to 23 October 2015.
  5. Shortly prior to her murder, a meeting had been held in which her mother had indicated she had decided to relinquish guardianship of her daughter.  A Court date was set for 5 November 2015 for further orders to be made in relation to her ongoing care.  That hearing did not proceed as you murdered her on the evening of 29 October 2015.
  6. The reasons for that murder and your conduct subsequently can only be described as cold, calculating and callous.  You murdered this defenceless child who relied upon you for her protection, protection she could not receive from her own mother, and you did so in order to save one of your own children from the consequences of his actions.
  7. On the afternoon of 29 October 2015 you became aware that your then 18 year old son Trent had confessed to his cousin that he had had sexual intercourse with the child and that he was worried the child was pregnant.  You were told of those facts by your wife, who had been informed of his actions by Trent shortly before your wife spoke to you.  You expressed concern that Trent would go to jail.
  8. Concern was also expressed in that conversation that the child’s complaints of pain in her stomach, earlier that afternoon, might be consistent with pregnancy.  After discussions with your wife, it was agreed she would go and speak with her sister and the cousin to whom your son had confessed.  While she did so, you remained in the house, alone with the child.
  9. Your wife left at about 8 pm and returned around 10 pm.  Your son Trent and other son Joshua arrived at the house around the same time as your wife.  When they came inside, they found you sitting in the lounge room.  Your wife asked if the child was all right.  You responded “it is all taken care of”.  You told her not to ask any questions because she did not need to know.  There was further limited conversation.
  10. Joshua remembers that during that conversation you said the child was no longer with us and you hoped he understood what that meant.  You explained that the next day they would do things normally.  You insisted they all had to protect Trent and they all needed to keep to a story that the child had gone to the school the next day.
  11. The story to be conveyed by each of them was that none of them had seen the child when they returned home.  You said in this conversation that you had hidden the child.  You told the boys not to come home tomorrow night so that you could dispose of the child’s body.  You said you had a good place.  You all then retired to bed.
  12. The next morning your family went about its normal routine.  Later that morning, it was reported the child was not at school.  You feigned concern.  You even assisted in the search of the child after you had reported her missing to police.
  13. About 8 pm that night, you told your wife there was something you needed to do and for her not to ask any questions.  She observed you back your motor vehicle into the garage shed where you remained for some 15 to 30 minutes before leaving that area.
  14. When your two sons returned home, they were told by your wife that you were out disposing of the child’s body.  You returned home about 11 pm covered in dirt.  You simply said “it’s done”.
  15. What you had done was take the child’s body to a secluded area near a river bank in Pimpama.  You left her there, largely unclothed with her head and arms partially submerged.  You showed no respect for her, even in death.
  16. When the child’s body was located on the afternoon of 5 November 2015, it was in a state of decomposition that meant the cause of death could not be determined at autopsy.  No obvious injuries were detected, apart from a bruise to the scalp.  The autopsy was, however, able to determine that it was likely she died on the evening of 29 October 2015.  Those circumstance represent counts 1 and 2 on indictment 1763 of 2017.
  17. Counts 1, 2 and 3 on indictment 600 of 2018 relate to your deliberate and sustained steps to cover up your crime.  You gave false accounts to police.  You had your wife and sons give false accounts in accordance with the story you told them to maintain from the night of the murder.
  18. As part of that cover up, you and the other members of your family gave accounts to police to the effect that you had taken the child to school on the morning of 30 October 2015.  You maintained that position over many months of investigation.  You did so in a series of statements to police.  Those circumstances form the basis for the count of attempting to pervert justice.
  19. On 29 June 2016 and on 1 July 2016, you gave false evidence consistent with that story as part of hearings conducted by the Crime and Corruption Commission.  The falsity of your story was only detected as a consequence of conversations recorded pursuant to electronic surveillance devices in your home over a period of about one month.
  20. Those recordings included statements by you in which you required the family to stick to that story, and to ensure nothing was said of your son’s relationship with the child.  The recordings had you coaching others as to what they should say.
  21. The falsity of the statements given in evidence before the Crime and Corruption Commission included statements that the child remained in bed for the entire evening of 29 October 2015, that you saw her on the morning of 30 October 2015, that you drove her to school, and that you observed her meet another child at her school.  That was the first hearing.
  22. In the subsequent hearing, your deliberately false statements included that the first you knew of the child not being at school was a telephone call around lunch time, that your wife had checked on the child when she had arrived home on the evening of 29 October 2015, and that you were never concerned or suspected that the child was having any kind of sexual or romantic dealings with your son.
  23. Your conduct throughout all of the offending is made more shocking for the deliberateness of your actions and your willingness to coerce every member of your family to maintain false accounts in an effort to cover up your despicable behaviour.
  24. There is only one sentence that can be imposed for the offence of murder.  That is life imprisonment.  The issue I must determine is whether your despicable conduct in disposing of the child’s body and then engaging in deliberate untruthfulness over an extended period of time ought to justify an order delaying your parole eligibility date on that sentence of murder.
  25. That conduct is deserving of separate sentences of some magnitude.  Those sentences can only be served concurrently.  There is no power to order a prisoner to serve a cumulative period of imprisonment on a sentence of life imprisonment.
  26. In determining this issue, I have regard to the circumstances of your offending.  I have regard to the cooperation evidenced by your pleas of guilty.  I have regard to your personal circumstances.  You have a limited, but largely irrelevant and dated, criminal history.  I have regard to all that has been said on your behalf.  You had a prejudicial childhood.  You have a longstanding history of depression.
  27. None of these circumstances explain your horrendous actions on that night and in the months that followed, but your letter today expressed your profound remorse for that conduct.
  28. But for your pleas of guilty, the conduct engaged in by you over such an extended period was so callous and so deliberate that it would be deserving of an order that your parole eligibility date be delayed by a period of two years.  However, your pleas of guilty must be taken into account.
  29. They have shown significant cooperation with the administration of justice.  The only way to take that cooperation into account is to not make an order delaying the parole eligibility date that is allowed for by the legislation.
  30. Richard Neville Thorburn, on count 1 of indictment 1763 of 2017, you are convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.  On count 2 of that indictment, you are convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
  31. On count 1 of indictment 600 of 2018, you are convicted and sentenced to six years imprisonment.  On counts 2 and 3 of that indictment, in respect of each count, you are convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
  32. I order those sentences of imprisonment be served concurrently.  I record convictions in respect of each of those counts.
  33. I declare the 612 days you have served in custody, between 20 September 2016 and 25 May 2018, as time served in respect of those sentences of imprisonment.
  34. Allowing for that time served and for the seven days in custody which you have served which cannot be declared, I fix your parole eligibility date at 12 September 2036.

Editorial Notes

  • Published Case Name:

    R v Thorburn

  • Shortened Case Name:

    R v Thorburn

  • MNC:

    [2018] QSC 118

  • Court:


  • Judge(s):

    Boddice J

  • Date:

    25 May 2018

Litigation History

Event Citation or File Date Notes
Primary Judgment [2018] QSC 118 25 May 2018 Date of Sentence (Boddice J).

Appeal Status

No Status