February 24, 2012 / 5:27 AM / 7 years ago

Australia hopes to close 32-year "dingo baby" case

CANBERRA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - An inquest began hearing new evidence on Friday into the 1980 death of baby Azaria Chamberlain, a case that has haunted Australia for decades and drew international attention after her parents said she had been killed by a dingo, or wild dog.

The coronial inquest into the death in the Australian outback of baby Azaria, the fourth since the infant disappeared, began in Darwin Magistrates Court in the Northern Territory in response to new information provided by the baby’s parents.

The evidence concerns several dingo attacks on infants and young children since Azaria’s death. Her parents expect the court to declare officially that Azaria was killed by a dingo, rather than by her mother Lindy Chamberlain, a lawyer representing parents Lindy and Michael Chamberlain said.

“Looking back now I have to agree that it was a dingo. I think the evidence now is such that it compels one to make that finding,” lawyer Stuart Tipple told Australia’s ABC radio.

Both Lindy Chamberlain, now known as Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton after she divorced and remarried, and Michael Chamberlain appeared in court.

“It gives me hope that this time Australians will finally be warned and realise that dingoes are dangerous animals,” Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton told reporters after the hearing.

“And I also hope that this will give a final finding which closes the inquest into my daughter’s death, which so far has been standing open and unfinished,” she said.

Opinions in Australia have been divided for more than 30 years over the cause of Azaria’s death and the case has been dramatised several times.

The best-known of those was the 1988 Fred Schepisi-directed movie “A Cry in the Dark”, which starred Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain.

Azaria Chamberlain was just nine weeks old when she disappeared on Aug. 17, 1980, from a camping ground near Ayer’s Rock, also known as Uluru, one of the main tourist attractions in Australia’s outback.

Lindy Chamberlain said soon after that she saw a dingo leaving the family’s tent with the baby in its mouth. Azaria’s body has never been found.

The first inquest in 1981 supported the parents’ account but, in 1982, a second inquest overthrew that finding and recommended Lindy and Michael Chamberlain stand trial.

Lindy Chamberlain, then pregnant with her fourth child, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Michael Chamberlain was convicted of being an accessory after the fact and given a suspended sentence.

Three years after that conviction a piece of clothing, identified as having belonged to Azaria, was found in a dingo’s den near Ayer’s Rock.

A Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, overturned the convictions in 1987, leading to Lindy Chamberlain’s release. However, in 1995 a third inquest returned an open verdict, leaving many questions unanswered.

Court officials told Reuters it could take several days before a decision in the latest inquest is made public. (Reporting By Maggie Lu YueYang; Editing by Paul Tait)

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