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Lawless SA town should be permanently policed, Coroner says in rape-murder inquest findings

Victim, the late Gayle Woodford

Police should be stationed in the South Australian outback town of Fregon, where Gayle Woodford was brutally raped and murdered, a coroner has recommended.

SA Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel on Thursday handed down his findings into the death of Ms Woodford in 2016, declaring it "perverse" that a town of such lawlessness had no permanent police presence.

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

Dudley Davey subsequently pleaded guilty to her rape and murder and is serving a minimum 32-year jail term.

It's believed Davey, who had a significant history of violent and sexual offending, tricked Ms Woodford into opening a security cage around her home and overpowered her as she walked to her ambulance.

Mr Schapel said while it was difficult to determine if a police presence in the town would have prevented her death, it would have a deterrent effect on criminality and other misbehaviour in the area.

"The evidence of those witnesses who were called and who expressed a view about police presence in the Fregon community, having regard to the level of lawlessness within it, would suggest that a permanent police presence would be essential.
"The proposition that a community in which certain of its members need to be protected by cages does not require an immediate police presence within that community would, I think, strike the ordinary man or woman in the street as perverse.”

In other recommendations, Mr Schapel called for measures to prevent serious repeat offenders from residing on SA's Indigenous lands, and requiring police and other authorities to make more extensive submissions into the decision the release of such people on parole.

Despite Davey's long criminal history, the coroner said there was no evidence that Ms Woodford had met him before, or knew of his previous behaviour and it was unlikely she would have left the protection of her home if she had. Mr Schapel said:

"I have little doubt that if Mrs Woodford had known of the background, and propensities of Dudley Davey, she would never have engaged with him without the walls of the cage at all times intervening between the two of them."

Mr Schapel also pointed to problems with new provisions designed to better protect outback nurses by requiring them not to attend medical callouts alone.

He said the so-called Gayle's Law was silent on the question of what should happen if someone attended at a health practitioner's home, and there was no callout as such.

"The legislation as currently crafted appears to contemplate that a callout involves a journey on the part of the health practitioner from one place to another.
"That is not the only circumstance in which danger might be posed to a health practitioner in a remote area.
“Mrs Woodford's is a case in point.
"To my mind, her abduction occurred at her home."

In a statement outside court, Mr Woodford said:

“The recommendations we’ve read are good.”
“Gayle never had a chance... (the coroner) found that she should not have been required by Nganampa Health to treat men alone at night, and if she hadn’t been required to do that, her death might have been prevented.
“We thanked the coroner for that finding,

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told FlowNews24 on Friday:

"The Marshall Liberal Government has thanked the Coroner for his findings, and will now review and consider his recommendations.
"A response to those recommendations will be provided in due course."

-- with AAP