‘Unprecedented’: Three charged with manslaughter over child deaths

SA Police this morning arrested and charged three people with manslaughter over the deaths of three children including Charlie Nowland and Makai Wanganeen, whose treatment threw a spotlight on the state’s child protection system.

Apr 26, 2023, updated Apr 26, 2023
Charlie Nowland and Makai Wanganeen. Photos: 10 News First

Charlie Nowland and Makai Wanganeen. Photos: 10 News First

Major crime and public prosecution branch detectives from SA Police this morning arrested three adults and charged them with manslaughter of three children.

Despite the arrests occurring on the same morning, SA Police said the three accused and cases were not connected. The accused will appear in the Adelaide Magistrates Court today.

Speaking at a media conference a short time ago, Assistant Commissioner John Venditto said the arrests were “unprecedented”.

“It’s extremely rare in South Australia to charge an adult with the death of a young child,” he said.

“To charge three in one day is unprecedented.

“But, there is a reason for that. The reason is because the three investigations have been managed and coordinated by taskforces and you shouldn’t read anymore into that.”

One of the accused is the mother of six-year-old Munno Para girl Charlie Nowland, whose death in July last year triggered widespread criticism of the state’s child protection system and a government inquiry.

Charlie was found unresponsive in her home on the morning of July 15. She was transported to the Lyell McEwin Hospital but died shortly after.

Interim post-mortem results indicated concerns about the state of her health and wellbeing at the time of her death.

SA Police in July launched a taskforce – called “Taskforce Prime” – to conduct a criminal neglect investigation into Charlie’s death.

The taskforce also investigated the treatment of five siblings who were living with Charlie and have since been placed in state care.

In a statement today, SA Police said Taskforce Prime detectives had arrested a “47-year-old Munno Para woman” and charged her with manslaughter in relation to Charlie’s death.

They said the woman was further charged with criminal neglect in relation to four other children aged between eight and 14 who had been living in the same house.

The Nowland family had interactions with the departments for child protection, human services, education and housing, as well as SA Police, prior to Charlie’s death, prompting widespread criticism of child protection authorities’ failure to intervene sooner.

At the time, Premier Peter Malinauskas described Charlie’s death as “somewhat incomprehensible for every South Australian, let alone every parent”. 

He commissioned former SA Police Commissioner Mal Hyde to conduct a separate investigation into the government’s involvement with the family.

Taskforce Prime and the Hyde inquiry were expanded following the death of a second child – seven-year-old Craigmore boy Makai Wanganeen – in February last year.

Makai’s father took him to the Lyell McEwin Hospital, but he was later transported to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital where he died.

A postmortem found Makai died from several serious health issues, but police refused to confirm his interim cause of death.

SA Police today said Taskforce Prime detectives had arrested a 50-year-old Craigmore man for the alleged manslaughter of Makai.

“These investigations are now before the courts, therefore no further comment can be made,” SA Police said in a statement. 

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A third woman from Flagstaff Hill was also charged with the manslaughter of 15-year-old Jasmine Wilmott, who died in October 2018.

Police today said the woman was “further charged with other criminal offences arising from the same set of circumstances”.

“Anyone with information about Charlie, Makai or Jasmine’s death is asked to please ring Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit – you can remain anonymous.”

Venditto said the circumstances that gave rise to charges of manslaughter were different in each case.

“What is the same though, is that the adult that’s been charged with manslaughter owned a duty of care to the child at the time,” he said.

Malinauskas today acknowledged the work of SA Police.

“I don’t imagine it’s particularly easy on any human being with a sense of compassion and it’s tough work,” he said.

“We knew that there was an investigation underway, clearly, but I was shocked to learn of the manslaughter charges.

“They are significant criminal allegations that will not be dealt with by the courts.”

Hyde delivered his report to the state government in November, but it won’t be publicly released until the criminal investigations into both Charlie and Makai’s deaths are complete.

The former police commissioner found that at the time, 526 children were at risk of living in “an extremely vulnerable situation”.

Welfare checks were ordered for all 526 children, with authorities identifying 45 as having safety issues present within their families.

Twelve children were subsequently removed from their families, but of those, 10 were “already part of open and active cases” prior to the assessments.

The charges come two days before Department for Child Protection chief executive Cathy Taylor resigns.

Taylor announced her resignation in January after serving seven years in the role.

Over the past year, she has faced sustained questioning over her department’s involvement with Charlie and Makai’s families and its processes for dealing with at-risk children.

The government in January launched a global recruitment process to find Taylor’s replacement.

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