The Western Australian government has pardoned and apologised to the Yamatji family of a baby who was brutally murdered by Mervyn Bell after the baby’s mother was arrested by police who had been called to assist her in an assault.
After nine years of lobbying by the devastated family and their legal advocates, Tamica Mullaley and her father, Ted Mullaley, were officially pardoned on Wednesday by the WA attorney general, John Quigley. Tamica Mullaley was pardoned for resisting arrest and Ted Mullaley for obstructing arrest, charges they received that day while enduring “the unthinkable”, Quigley said.
“I am sorry by the way you were treated by the government and the WA police,” Quigley said.
“The granting of such pardons is a truly exceptional step. It is so exceptional that I could not find a case in modern Western Australian history, where pardons of this nature have been granted.
“These pardons are a show of mercy … and it has been a long time coming.
“As a government and the state we must acknowledge that the response at the time was clearly deficient.
“For that I am truly sorry. You deserved much better.”
The Mullaley family welcomed the apology and their pardons as the start of healing for their “unbearable” loss of baby Charlie, and their treatment at the hands of police.
“If police had treated me like a human being that night, my baby Charlie would be alive today,” Tamica Mullaley said in a statement.
“I cannot express the pain that is inside me as a mother who has lost a child in such horrible circumstances. It never goes away, but today’s pardon and the statements in parliament are a turning point and perhaps me and my family can start to heal from now.
“It has taken nine years to be seen and heard by the WA government and it is time to look at the justice system and police that failed me and my Charlie boy.”
In March 2013, then 26-year-old Tamica Mullaley was punched, and left naked and bleeding by the side of the road in Broome by her violent partner, Bell.
Police were called, but by the time they arrived Bell had fled the scene. Police then arrested a bloody and injured Tamica Mullaley who they alleged was abusive towards them. When Ted Mullaley arrived to help his daughter, he was charged with obstructing arrest. Police agreed to take Tamica Mullaley to hospital rather than the station, but transported her handcuffed in the police van. It was later found she had suffered a ruptured kidney and lacerated spleen in the beating from Bell.
Police left baby Charlie with others at the scene while they took Tamica Mullaley into custody. A short time later, Bell, who was not his father, returned and took him.
In the hours that followed, Ted Mullaley went to the Broome police station several times, telling them Bell had threatened to kill the baby and asking them to begin a search. A later investigation by the crime and corruption commission (CCC) found the police took nine hours to act on the information.
Bell had baby Charlie for about 15 hours before he turned up at the Fortescue Roadhouse in Karratha about 1,000km away. Charlie, who was pronounced dead a short time later, had injuries from his head to his feet, including broken bones, third-degree burns, internal bleeding and bruising. In 2014, Bell was found guilty of having murdered and sexually assaulted Charlie, in a crime the judge described as “evil”. Bell killed himself in prison in 2015.
Despite that outcome, police charged Tamica Mullaley with two counts of assaulting a public officer and one count of obstructing officers. In Broome magistrates court in 2015 she was convicted of all three charges. Ted Mullaley was found guilty of obstructing police that night for trying to stop police arresting his daughter.
On Wednesday the Mullaley family was invited to WA parliament to hear Quigley formally apologise and pardon them for their convictions.
The 2016 CCC review found that the police response to baby Charlie’s kidnapping was “delayed and ineffective”, but there was “no serious misconduct”.
“An incident that began as a serious assault ultimately became a search for a missing child that ended with tragic consequences,” the review said.
The Mullaley family have been fighting for an inquest into baby Charlie’s death.
That request was rejected by the WA supreme court in 2020. The family were finally granted a meeting with the attorney general earlier this year, after efforts by the National Justice Project, and advocates including Dr Chelsea Bond and human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade.
But the Mullaleys said the battle for justice is far from over. The family is also seeking a review of the CCC report, an opportunity to submit a victim impact statement and to see all relevant documents relating to the incident.
They’re also seeking a public apology from the WA police.
“The price of the fight has been hard and the personal health and mental cost high, but we never gave up,” the family said in a statement.
“We will continue to share our unbearable tragic loss and experience until Charlie boy Mullaley’s story is known by all.”