The foster mother of Tiahleigh Palmer has been sentenced to 18 months in jail over her role in the cover-up of the Logan schoolgirl’s death in 2015.
Julene Thorburn, 55, pleaded guilty in the Beenleigh District Court to perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The court heard Thorburn lied about the 12-year-old’s disappearance because she was “protecting her family and lifestyle, and because of the shame and embarrassment”.
Tiahleigh’s body was discovered on the banks of the Pimpama River on the Gold Coast on November 5, 2015.
The court today heard Thorburn led a cover-up to throw police off the scent, as they tried to investigate how Tiahleigh’s body came to be found on the riverbank.
The grizzly discovery came days after the Thorburns found out that one of their teenage sons, Trent, had sex with the 12-year-old girl.
The court heard Julene and husband Rick, along with sons Trent and Joshua, held a family meeting where the boys were told “it’s all been taken care of”.
Prosecutor David Nardone told the court that Julene Thorburn instructed her sons to tell police they knew nothing about Tiahleigh’s disappearance and to lie to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission in 2016.
He said the lies were exposed after police bugged the Thorburn house and captured family discussions.
“She told the family we have to stick to the same story of her going to school the next day,” Mr Nardone said.
Mr Nardone told the court that Julene Thorburn then admitted to lying.
“She did not want her son Trent to go to jail,” he said.
Julene Thorburn cried and barely lifted her gaze as she sat in the dock as she was sentenced.
Her sons Joshua and Trent have also been jailed for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Joshua was sentenced to three months, while Trent was ordered to serve 16 months in custody and was convicted of incest with his foster sister.
Tiahleigh’s mother, Cindy Palmer, was in the court gallery supported by family and detectives.
Lack of ‘any human decency’ horrifies judge
Judge Craig Chowdhury said it was “quite extraordinary” that none of the family came forward to tell the truth.
“Once Tiahleigh’s body was found dumped on the banks of the river, any sense of human decency would lead one to say ‘I can’t keep a secret anymore’,” Judge Chowdhury said.
“This is horrific. This poor girl has been murdered, her body left like the carcass of an animal.
“It’s hard to think of a worse situation that would lead them to have some pangs of conscience.”
The sentence will be suspended in six months, which means Julene Thorburn will be released from custody in May 2018.
Tiahleigh’s foster father, Rick Thorburn, has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.
In previous court hearings, lawyers for Joshua and Trent Thorburn said they lied to authorities because they feared for their safety, and later expressed remorse for their actions.
Rick Thorburn had reported the girl missing six days before her body was found and allegedly told police he last saw her alive when he dropped her at the Marsden State High School.
In September, Judge Chowdhury said Trent’s confession of having sex with Tiahleigh was the “catalyst” for her death, and led to a family plan to cover up her alleged murder.
Previous court hearings heard the brothers were told “Tia is no longer with us” at a family meeting, and understood that to mean she had been killed.