News State SA News Review finds Woodford probe was adequate

Review finds Woodford probe was adequate

Gayle Woodford
SafeWork SA's inquiry into Gayle Woodford's murder was "comprehensive and careful", a review found. Photo: Facebook
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Workplace safety officials conducted a comprehensive and careful investigation into the murder of South Australian outback nurse Gayle Woodford, an independent review has ruled.

But at the same time, former Federal Court judge John Mansfield found SafeWork SA’s ability to communicate with Ms Woodford’s family during the investigation was hamstrung by confidentiality provisions.

“From the perspective of (Ms Woodford’s husband) Keith and his family, the engagement was not adequate,” Mr Mansfield said in his report.

“But their perspective was coloured both by their expectation that the investigation would lead to a prosecution and by a misunderstanding that arose as to the significance of the earlier investigation.”

In the circumstances, Mr Mansfield said it was appropriate for the government to consider amending workplace laws to allow better communication.

His review was launched earlier this year after SafeWork SA revealed its decision not to prosecute the country health organisation that employed Ms Woodford, a decision that angered the Woodford family.

At the time, Attorney-General Kyam Maher said concerns had been raised and the government was determined to ensure they were investigated thoroughly.

On Tuesday, Mr Maher said the government had accepted Mr Mansfield’s findings and his recommendations, and would consult on the necessary reforms.

“This report highlights how important timely and clear communication is in these terrible circumstances,” he said.

“I appreciate this report may not be the conclusion that the Woodford family were hoping for, but I do hope it reassures them that the investigation into Ms Woodford’s death was thorough and comprehensive.”

Ms Woodford had lived in Fregon, 1275km north of Adelaide, and worked at the Nganampa Health Council’s (NHC) local clinic in the period before she was abducted, raped and murdered by Dudley Davey in 2016.

The 56-year-old’s body was found buried in a crude grave three days after she went missing from her home.

It was believed Davey, who had a significant history of violent and sexual offending and is now serving a minimum 32-year jail term, tricked her into opening a security cage around the building and overpowered her as she walked to her ambulance.

After announcing its decision not to prosecute, SafeWork SA said the complexity of the investigation included seizing and critically examining more than 1200 documents, obtaining statements from all witnesses and interviewing health council staff and Davey.

“Having thoroughly investigated the matter and assessed all the evidence with the Crown Solicitor’s Office and after receiving advice from senior counsel, SafeWork SA determined that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction,” it said.

Ms Woodford’s family was disappointed and believed the decision went against findings from a coronial inquiry.

In his inquest, Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel detailed a number of previous instances of violence or threats against NHC staff and called for a permanent police presence in Fregon.

He also found that measures adopted by NHC for the protection of nursing staff working alone at night and on-call were not adequate.\