Mother accused of abuse 'was a gambler'

December 08, 2009 10:52am

IN the weeks leading up to her foster daughter's death, Denise Reynolds spent most nights at the casino in Darwin.

Earning more than $6000 a month in various government benefits to care for her five foster children, as well as her own seven children, Ms Reynolds spent so little time at home she thought the 12-year-old girl's leg was "getting better".

Ms Reynolds, while giving evidence during a coronial inquest, said she was not a problem gambler and denied spending Centrelink and foster carer benefits at the casino.

However, it was revealed during the inquest that Ms Reynolds had withdrawn $13,000 from ATMs at the Sky City Casino the month Deborah Melville died.

Deborah went into cardiac arrest caused by septicemia on July 12, 2007 while she was lying in the dirt backyard of her Palmerston foster home.

The inquest into the child's death early last month heard an autopsy had found 1.5 litres of pus in Deborah's leg, caused by a fracture to her left thigh sustained during a school sporting event some three weeks before her death.

Ms Reynolds told the Coroner's Court on Monday night that she thought the injury was just a pulled muscle and told Deborah she needed to stretch it, forbidding Deborah's siblings from getting her food and drinks.

Ms Reynolds said she would have been the first one to take Deborah to the hospital had she known something more serious was wrong.

"I thought she was trying to get as much possible out of (her injury), yes," Ms Reynolds told the inquest via video link from Adelaide.

"I had no reason not to take her ... a child has died and everybody wants to believe that I'm the bad person here, so they'll say whatever.

"It was a terrible mistake, I should have taken her to the doctors."

However, counsel assisting the coroner, Phillip Strickland, alleged Ms Reynolds knew "perfectly well" that Deborah had been unable to walk before she died.

"Deborah couldn't even brush her hair before she died because he arm was sore, isn't that right?

"You refused other peoples suggestion to take Deborah to the Doctor, didn't you?"

After undergoing several hours of intense questioning, a previously teary Ms Reynolds became noticeably agitated.

"Oh my God, I've had enough of this," she said with her hands over her eyes.

Ms Reynolds told the court she had accepted a full time job several months before Deborah's death and spent many nights at the casino to "escape", leaving 11 of the children, including two who were disabled, in the care of her ill sister and 18-year-old son.

"It probably wasn't responsible, but that's how it was," Ms Reynolds said.

The family lived in the lounge room of a three bedroom home with Ms Reynolds' sister and her family, as well as a man on sex charges who had been bailed to live at the address.

Ms Reynolds said her sister, Toni Melville, was under strict instructions not to leave any of the children alone with the man.

Ms Reynolds claims she was forced to move into her sister's house when she and her husband separated.
She said she continued to care for the Melville children because she did not want them to be separated from each other.

"I lost my relationship because I chose them (the five Melville children) over him," she said.

"Unfortunately I chose the wrong way, didn't I?"

The morning of Deborah's death, Ms Reynolds carried the girl outside and told her she needed some fresh air.
Ms Reynolds said she expected Deborah would return to the couch within a few minutes.

Instead, Deborah died lying on the dirt with no food or water, delusional with pain and unable to move.
Toni Melville and Ms Reynolds were found not guilty of the manslaughter of Deborah in the Northern Territory Supreme Court in August last year.

The former head of child protection in the Northern Territory will give evidence at the inquest on Tuesday.

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