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Why this murder trial had to leave the Northern Rivers

THE families of two elderly Ballina women allegedly murdered as they slept have endured an emotional roller-coaster as the jury in the Lismore trial of their accused killer was discharged yesterday for a second time, and a new trial relocated to Sydney.

South African-born nurse Megan Haines will now face the Sydney Supreme Court next Monday charged with the murders of Isabella Spencer and Marie Darragh.

Shedding tears outside the court was Jan Parkinson, a daughter of Marie Darragh, who died in the St Andrews nursing home at Ballina in May 2014 after allegedly being injected with insulin by the accused Haines.

Ms Parkinson's sister Charli Darragh said the family had hoped the trial would be "done and dusted" as soon as possible.

 

Marie Darragh and her daughter Charli Darragh at St Andrews nursing home in Ballina. Supplied picture.
Marie Darragh and her daughter Charli Darragh at St Andrews nursing home in Ballina. Supplied picture.

Instead they face having to relocate to Sydney for as long as eight weeks.

"Now we need to uproot our entire lives," Ms Darragh said, adding that while it would be a "logistical nightmare... we'd do anything for mum".

Joy Spencer, sister in law of Isabella Spencer, who was 77 when she died, said she would also attend the Sydney trial with husband Don, the late Ms Spencer's brother.

 

VICTIM: Isabella Spencer, who the crown will allege died of externally administered insulin, injected by Ballina nurse Megan Haines.
VICTIM: Isabella Spencer, who the crown will allege died of externally administered insulin, injected by Ballina nurse Megan Haines. Contributed

After discharging the second jury, NSW Supreme Court Justice Peter Garling said he had to balance competing considerations in making his decision whether to move the trial to Sydney.

Justice Garling said on Monday the court had received notes from two jurors who each revealed they had personal knowledge of either witnesses in the Crown case or a connection to the St Andrews aged care facility where the murders allegedly occurred.

One of the jurors had a grandmother residing at St Andrews.

Justice Garling said the jurors' circumstances meant the first trial attempt was "likely to result in a miscarriage of justice" if it continued.

Following its second attempt to restart the trial on Wednesday, the court received 15 similar discharge applications from members of the jury panel, applications which Justice Garling said were "entirely proper".

He noted the jury panel had been whittled down from 100 to just 20 and the impact of having to excuse so many was a potential shortage of jurors.

Justice Garling said any jury panel taken from the Lismore area was likely to give rise to similar applications by jurors who were familiar with one or more of some 70 witnesses testifying in the trial.

But Justice Garling also said there were compelling reasons why trials should be held in the same area where offences occurred and it was always in the best interests of the administration of justice to do so.

He said a decision over whether to relocate the trial had caused him "a great deal of concern".

Ultimately however, he said the matter of the greatest significance was the accused being able to have a trial without further interruption. Haines has already been in custody for more than two years.

The trial was therefore moved to Sydney, and scheduled to restart without delay in the Sydney Supreme Court on Monday.

A number of witnesses whose evidence is considered "uncontroversial" will now give evidence via video link.

Topics:  court crime megan haines nursing home murders police



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