Cairns minibus death pair charged
Cairns minibus death pair charged

‘Appalling’: Fresh details in tot’s minibus death

A LITTLE boy was left to die alone in a hot bus because of a significant systems failure and appalling criminal negligence by the two daycare workers whose job it was to look after him, a court has heard.

Heartbreaking details of the three-year-old's horrific final hours were revealed in the Cairns Magistrates Court yesterday, including that he had been "inexplicably" forgotten despite being the only child on the bus and being strapped into a baby seat just two rows back from the driver.

Shocking allegations also emerged that the manager of the daycare centre was fraudulently obtaining taxpayer-funded benefits for children on days when they were absent, and the child had been marked as present even before he had been picked up.

Goodstart Early Learning Centre at Edmonton director Michael Glenn Lewis was granted bail on a manslaughter charge after the court heard he phoned triple-0 almost six hours after picking up the child, saying: "Oh my God, this kid is dead."

Goodstart employee Dionne Batrice Grills, who was also on the bus, was granted bail on a manslaughter charge as well.

 

Michael Lewis, 45, leaves the Cairns watchhouse yesterday. Picture: Brian Cassey/AAP
Michael Lewis, 45, leaves the Cairns watchhouse yesterday. Picture: Brian Cassey/AAP

 

Police prosecutor Senior Sergeant Maynard Marcum said the fact the child was not seen by two daycare staff - strapped into a baby seat just two seats back from the driver - was "somehow inexplicable".

The boy's body was discovered in the bus operated by Goodstart Early Learning centre and driven by Lewis on Stokes St, Edmonton about 3.15pm on February 18.

On that day, the temperature in Cairns had soared as high as 36C.

He was also the only child on the bus trip after his mother, Muriel Namok, called to let the centre know he had not been collected that morning.

"The child was two seats back in an empty row behind the driver,'' Senior Sergeant Marcum said.

"This is an act of criminal negligence, appalling in its nature."

He pointed out the trip was short, and yet the pair somehow forgot a child they had directly been sent back to a home to collect.

"It was one child only and somehow in that 3.5km to 4.5km the child was forgotten," he said.

"So when they arrived at the childcare centre the child was forgotten again.

"There are specific procedures to ensure these sorts of terrible tragedies do not occur.

"It was a clear and egregious breach of the duty of care owed to the child."

 

Close family of the three-year-old boy who died in a daycare minibus leave court yesterday. Picture: Brian Cassey/AAP
Close family of the three-year-old boy who died in a daycare minibus leave court yesterday. Picture: Brian Cassey/AAP

 

Sen-Sgt Marcum said Lewis allegedly drove the bus to a meeting at Bayview Heights for several hours, before later finding the boy's body at the start of his afternoon run outside Hambledon State School.

The court heard that Lewis called triple-0 and said: "Oh my God, this kid is dead … I've left a child on the bus all day … So sorry buddy … Oh my God I'm going to jail. Oh my God my whole life is over."

It was also alleged Lewis had been "fraudulently" obtaining taxpayer-funded benefits for children on days when they were absent.

"It was a critical failing based on fraud, on fraudulent behaviour," Sen Sgt Marcum said. "This is an exceptionally strong case of the manslaughter of a deceased child."

The court heard the boy had allegedly been fraudulently signed in by Lewis and Grills on the daycare centre's electronic system at 7.35am. But he was not collected until 9.15am and CCTV shows the bus arrive at the centre at 9.33am.

A statement from Goodstart Early Learning said it was aware that the court yesterday heard allegations that the centre director at Edmonton fraudulently claimed the child attended the centre when they had not.

 

Goodstart Early Learning employee Dionne Batrice Grills, 34, leaves the Cairns watchhouse yesterday. Picture: Stewart McLeam
Goodstart Early Learning employee Dionne Batrice Grills, 34, leaves the Cairns watchhouse yesterday. Picture: Stewart McLeam

 

"While the matter is before the court we are constrained in what we can say about this allegation, but we are investigating.

"If there are irregularities Goodstart will fully refund any subsidy incorrectly claimed."

Lewis, a married father-of-three who has lived in Cairns for 20 years, had been manager of the Goodstart Early Learning Centre at Edmonton for 18 months. The Canadian-born Australian citizen worked for the company since 2015

Magistrate Jacqui Payne granted bail on the condition he have no contact with Grills, daycare staff and witnesses, surrender his passport and not go near international departure points.

She said police alleged there had been a "significant systems failure", but Lewis had given "extraordinary co-operation" and did not need to be in custody for his own protection.

Grills was also granted bail on the condition she have no contact with the centre's staff and witnesses.

Sen-Sgt Maynard Marcum told the court Ms Grills had only worked at the centre for a month.

He said her charges "were not as egregious" as her co-accused.

The pair have both been stood down by Goodstart.


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