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'The truth is out,' family says after Australian dingo ruling

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chamberlain-Creighton: "We are relieved and delighted" by finding
  • Fourth inquest finds daughter Azaria was killed by a dingo in 1980
  • Coroner extends apology to family for their suffering and loss
  • Chamberlain-Creighton served time in jail before her murder conviction was quashed

(CNN) -- More than 30 years after her frantic cries of "a dingo's got my baby," an Australian coroner has ruled that the words Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton screamed that night were true.

Azaria Chamberlain was just two months old when she disappeared from her family's tent at a public campsite near Uluru, also known as Ayer's Rock, in Australia's Northern Territory.

Speculation about what happened to Azaria polarized public opinion in Australia and became the subject of a 1988 feature film "A Cry in the Dark" starring U.S. actress Meryl Streep.

Thirty-two years after losing her daughter, Chamberlain-Creighton sat shaking in the Darwin court Tuesday as she waited to hear the results of the fourth and now final inquest into Azaria's death.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton shows reporters Azaria's death certificate outside a Darwin court Tuesday after coroner Elizabeth Morris rules that a dingo caused her baby's death 32 years ago. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton shows reporters Azaria's death certificate outside a Darwin court Tuesday after coroner Elizabeth Morris rules that a dingo caused her baby's death 32 years ago.
Court rules dingo took baby
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Photos: Court rules dingo took baby Photos: Court rules dingo took baby
Coroner rules a Dingo did take her baby

"Shortly after Mrs Chamberlain placed Azaria in the tent, a dingo or dingoes entered the tent, took Azaria and carried and dragged her from the immediate area," said coroner Elizabeth Morris.

"It it is clear that there is evidence that in particular circumstances a dingo is capable of attacking, taking and causing the death of young children," she added.

Coroner rules dingo to blame for Australian baby's death

Outside the court, Chamberlain-Creighton said her family was "relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga.

"We live in a beautiful country but it is dangerous and we would ask all Australians to be aware of this and take appropriate precautions and not wait for somebody else to do it for them," she added.

The official finding that a dingo -- a type of wild dog -- killed Azaria ends a legal battle that has been fought over four inquests, a murder trial, through Federal and High Court appeals and a judicial inquiry.

Until Tuesday, questions had remained over the cause of Azaria's death, despite a 1988 ruling quashing Chamberlain-Creighton's conviction and life sentence for her daughter's murder.

Turning to address the family directly, Morris said: "Please accept my sincere sympathy on the death of your special and loved daughter and sister Azaria.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Time does not remove the pain and sadness at the death of a child
Elizabeth Morris, coroner

"I'm so sorry for your loss. Time does not remove the pain and sadness at the death of a child," she added, her voice straining with emotion.

Stuart Tipple, the lawyer who has represented the couple throughout their ordeal, described the atmosphere inside the court as "electric."

"When the coroner extended her sympathy and broke down herself I don't think there were too many dry eyes," he said. When the Chamberlains left the court room they were given a standing ovation, he added, and later outside they were applauded by the waiting press.

"I've never seen that done before. I thought that really indicates how the tide has changed."

Everything changed for Lindy and Michael Chamberlain on the night of August 17, 1980.

Court documents stated, Lindy, then 32, left the campsite barbecue to put her daughter and six-year-old son Aiden to bed in the family tent where her other son, four-year-old Reagan, was already asleep.

According to her testimony, Lindy tucked Azaria into her bassinet before going with Aiden to the car to get some baked beans after he complained that he was hungry.

"There is no doubt that she did return to the barbecue area, accompanied by Aiden and carrying the tin of beans and a tin opener, about five or ten minutes after she had left. She seemed normal and quite composed. No one saw any blood on her clothes or her person," the court documents read.

It was during her absence from the barbecue that the prosecution alleged Chamberlain-Creighton slit her baby's throat with a pair of scissors before hiding the body, possibly in a camera bag. She was alleged to have buried the body later near the campsite with the help of her husband Michael. He was charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact in a conviction that was later quashed.

This battle to get to the legal truth about what caused Azaria's death has taken too long
Michael Chamberlain

Outside the court Tuesday, Michael Chamberlain declared, "The truth is out."

"This battle to get to the legal truth about what caused Azaria's death has taken too long," he said. "However, I am here to tell you that you can get justice even when you think that all is lost."

During their long battle for justice, the Chamberlains divorced. Both have since remarried. Azaria would have turned 32 on Monday, June 11.

"It is the end of the legal journey, there's nothing else from a legal perspective we wanted to achieve," said Tipple.

"We were quite determined and have been over the past 31 years that we would keep going until we achieved everything that we set out to achieve," he said.

Soon after the inquest findings were delivered, Chamberlain-Creighton appeared before the press holding a copy of her baby's death certificate.

"I think it's just an enormous relief," Tipple said. "She like everybody in there was hoping for what we ended up with today."

However, he added: "If we hadn't have got the result today we would have kept going, as simple as that."

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