Tele/ Newcastle News: Gabriella Thompson: How the system failed a young mum stabbed to death at home by her partner

When Gabriella Thompson didn’t show up for work one Tuesday in March, 2019, a friend became concerned.

So concerned she called Belmont Police Station in the early hours of the following morning, to tell officers she feared for Gabby’s safety.

That friend told police the 27-year-old had a history of abuse at the hands of her “knife-happy” partner, and the father of her child, 22-year-old Tafari Walton.

The devastating chain of events that followed that phone call – and tragic circumstances in the years prior – played out last week in a coronial inquest into the couple’s deaths.

And while the State Coroner’s findings won’t be released for some time, it’s already clear almost everybody in Gabby’s life – apart from the friend who made that desperate phone call to police – has failed her.

A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP

Gabby lived in fear of Tafari, at least in the later stages of their relationship.

Throughout the course of their five years together, Tafari had manipulated, threatened, drugged and routinely assaulted her.

His jealousy and aggression only worsened when he drank or used drugs, which was often.

Gabby never reported the domestic violence to police or applied for an apprehended violence order, because she was scared of how he would retaliate.

But in the weeks before Tafari was released from prison for what would be the final time, something in Gabby shifted.

She had expressed being anxious and fearful about his impending release, and moved house and changed her phone number to better sure-up her safety.

RELEASED ON BAIL

Tafari had a long criminal history and had spent much of his young adult years behind bars.

At age 19 he was jailed for an armed robbery and, just one month after his release, was behind bars again for firearms offences and a siege at his mother’s home.

It was while in custody for the later offences he was charged over the alleged stabbing of a fellow inmate at a Mid-North Coast correctional centre.

But in January 2019, seven weeks before both he and Gabby would be killed, Tafari was granted conditional bail for the alleged stabbing, and parole for the other offences, in Kempsey Local Court.

Magistrate Brett Thomas determined the stabbing case was weak and there may be delays in the court schedule, ordering Tafari to report to police daily, abide by a curfew and live with his mother while on bail.

Perhaps of interest is Magistrate Thomas’s glaring omission from the coronial inquest witness list.

Anyone who wanted to hear exactly how he came to the decision to release Tafari back into the community won’t get that chance.

The inquest did hear Tafari had what can only be described as a deeply troubled life.

At just age two, following an early trauma, he was deemed by a psychologist to be a “very damaged child”.

Throughout his young life he experienced severe mental health issues, battled drug addiction and made repeated threats, and attempts, at suicide.

But despite this, he never received meaningful mental health care.

One can only wonder what difference this might have made in the lives and deaths of Tafari and Gabby.

BREACHING BAIL

Tafari was serving bail and parole concurrently, and while his parole required him to answer to a parole officer, his bail did not.

And this is how repeated breaches of his bail conditions, that should have seen him back before the courts, went unchecked.

His parole officer was aware he had breached the conditions – Tafari openly told him so – but the parole officer did not report this to police.

The parole officer told the inquest he was only responsible for the parole aspect of Tafari’s supervision and could only “encourage” him not to breach bail.

He told the inquest he had done nothing but follow Corrective Services NSW policies and procedures.

The breaches had included not receiving mental health treatment as ordered by the court, and not abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

These issues were of particular significance – it was known by those close to Tafari, and noted in his parole officer’s records, that drug use exacerbated his rage, and subsequently led to him committing violent crimes.

And that’s exactly what happened in his seven weeks between leaving jail and murdering Gabby.

COPS QUESTIONED

Police had conducted a welfare check on Gabby following that phone call from her friend.

After not being able to reach her initially, they spoke to her by phone about 9am on March 14, when she assured them she was fine.

But the job had been entered into the police dispatch system as a ‘C4W (concern for welfare)’, rather than ‘domestic’.

Had it been classified as a domestic, officers would have had to see Gabby in person to verify she wasn’t in danger.

And had that happened following their phone call, it could have placed officers at her home in the hour or so before she was murdered.

It was a simple administrative function that may or may not have changed the entire course of that day.

Police were called on again to answer why they hadn’t notified Gabby’s parents she’d died, shortly after being taken to John Hunter Hospital with stab wounds.

The investigation manager told the inquest he was focused on finding Tafari, and police had “assumed” someone at the hospital had let the family know.

Instead, they received inaccurate information about her condition from her killer’s family.

WHO DIDN’T SPEAK UP?

Tafari’s parents were present at Gabby’s home at the time of the violent assault that ultimately ended her life.

Tafari’s stepfather wrestled him off Gabby as he beat her, but left the home when he saw what he thought may be a weapon.

His first instinct, rather than to call triple-zero, was to ask Tafari’s mother to “diffuse the situation”.

As it turned out, she had heard the commotion from the car where she waited with two children, and driven off to drop them somewhere safe.

She didn’t call police either.

Emergency services were contacted after Tafari left the home, and Gabby had been stabbed 16 times, including in the neck.

Those were the injuries that was caused her to die less than an hour later, and sparked a 24-hour manhunt for Tafari that ended with him being shot dead by police.

Tafari’s stepfather admitted to the inquest the family was aware of their son assaulting Gabby over the course of their relationship, and they’d seen her bruises.

Whether Tafari’s family had conspired to protect him from being charged over any offences against Gabby was raised by her family’s lawyer, but vehemently denied by his stepfather.

However if Tafari’s family had seen the bruises, one can only ask who else in her life knew of her suffering and didn’t offer help.

It wasn’t just the courts or the cops that may have failed Gabriella Thompson – it’s every single person who chooses not to speak up and speak out.

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