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Angel Baby: 10 years on - feature story

By Shepparton News

Ten years ago today tragedy unfolded at a bus stop in Grahamvale.

The body of a newborn infant was discovered in a green shopping bag.

It is unknown if the infant was alive or dead when left at the bus stop, and the mother has never come forward.

The infant’s umbilical cord was torn, suggesting he was not born in a hospital.

Reaction and grief over the death was substantial.

The community rallied, raising thousands of dollars for a service and subsequent funeral.

Toys and flowers piled up at the bus stop and a rose garden still marks the site, maintained to this day.

Debate over the issue of mothers in crisis reached the highest level of state office.

On its 10-year anniversary, The News re-examines the cold case and speaks to police and others closely associated with the tragedy.

Concerns still held for mother

By Myles Peterson

A decade has passed since Tatura grandfather Paul Hughan made the most grim of discoveries.

Taking the rubbish out at his then Mouser Rd address about 5pm on Wednesday, July 23, 2008, Mr Hughan investigated an innocent-looking green bag presumably left behind at a nearby bus stop.

‘‘In the bag was a baby,’’ Mr Hughan recalled 10 years later. The newborn infant was deceased.

Unwilling to initially talk about the event, Mr Hughan and his wife Christine have come forward on the 10th anniversary of the discovery to share their experience in the hope of sending a message of support to the still unknown mother of the baby.

Christine and Paul Hughan speak about Angel Baby. Picture: Holly Daniel.

But the couple continues to worry about what could have been.

‘‘I came home from work at about half-past four and noticed the green bag at the bus stop and just thought that one of the kids had left their school gear there or something like that,’’ Mr Hughan said.

The bag had been noticed by Mrs Hughan and her daughter several hours earlier when they drove past, but they did not investigate.

In the car with them that day was the Hughans’ infant grandson Robbie.

‘‘Robbie was between one or two months, which was probably a similar age to this baby. Robbie’s just turned 10,’’ Mrs Hughan said. ‘‘It would probably be hard on the family thinking that child would be 10 now.’’

Mr Hughan now believes it was fortunate he made the discovery.

‘‘I’m glad that I found the baby and not someone else,’’ he said.

The Hughans still continue to worry about the series of events.

‘‘The thing that has bugged me … I sort of wondered if I’d stopped earlier, would the baby still be alive?’’ Mr Hughan said.

Intense media attention and the shock of the discovery deeply affected the couple at the time and neither initially wanted to be put in the public spotlight.

‘‘I reckon it took me 30 seconds to a minute to say, ‘What am I going to do? Do I stay here and ring the police? Do I ring Chris first? What do I do?’

‘‘I probably did the wrong thing by putting the bag in the back of the vehicle,’’ he said.

‘‘But I needed to go and see Chris and what I said was, ‘You just better check to see what I’m seeing is what I’m seeing’.’’

Paul Hughan. Picture: Holly Daniel.

There was little doubt the baby was no longer alive, according to Mr Hughan.

‘‘I had to take it home to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I did check to see if it was breathing or not. I just wanted confirmation that it was deceased.’’

In the days and weeks, even years, afterwards the Hughans became involved in the enormous community reaction that followed.

Flowers and toys piled up at the bus stop left by locals also trying to deal with the tragedy.

Paul Hughan pictured at the bus stop 12 months after the body of the baby was found.

A service for the infant dubbed ‘Angel Baby’ was later held at St Brendan’s Catholic Church, led by Monsignor Peter Jeffrey and attended by hundreds.

‘‘Monsignor was terrific,’’ Mr Hughan said.

‘‘There was a lot of toys left there (at the bus stop) and we sort of took them into the church. They were mostly put into the grave.’’

Thousands of dollars left over from a fundraiser to cover the funeral costs was donated to Goulburn Valley Base Hospital children’s ward.

The Hughans established a small rose garden at the bus stop as a tribute and that garden is still there today, well maintained.

Mr and Mrs Hughan continue to worry for the mother.

‘‘We would like the mother to be okay,’’ Mrs Hughan said.

Both hoped with the passing of 10 years and the healing of time, the mother might consider coming forward to ease community concerns for her wellbeing and perhaps finally give the baby a name.

‘‘Even if she could anonymously see someone,’’ Mr Hughan said.

Still hoping case will be solved

By Hayden Thomson

Ten years ago a baby boy was left at a bus shelter in Grahamvale, and was found dead in a green recyclable shopping bag.

While his mother has not yet been found, police have not given up hope.

‘‘I would really like to understand why the baby boy was discarded,’’ Shepparton police Detective Acting Sergeant Cherrie McCaig said.

Detective Acting Sergeant Cherrie McCaig hopes the case can still be solved. Picture: Ray Sizer.

Little is known about the circumstances leading to the infant being left at the bus shelter on July 23, 2008.

Shepparton resident Paul Hughan found the body inside the shopping bag, as he returned home from work.

Thinking it was rubbish, Mr Hughan approached the bag to throw it in the bin.

Too upset to speak to media at the time, his son Shane said his father noticed the form of a baby through the bag and was ‘‘shocked and froze’’.

Homicide squad Detective Sergeant Graham Guy said the baby’s umbilical cord was still attached and had been torn, rather than cut, indicating the child was not born in hospital.

A funeral was held on June 3, 2010, and the infant was buried at the Pine Lodge cemetery.

Det Act Sgt McCaig said police continued to look for information to solve the case but said it now ‘‘hinged on the public’’.

‘‘All avenues of inquiry have been exhausted so it’s really up to the general public.

‘‘It would be satisfying to give the case some closure and the baby an identity.’’ - Detective Acting Sergeant Cherrie McCaig

The case was reopened in 2016 following ‘‘recent public information’’ which Det Act Sgt McCaig said gave her hope.

‘‘Knowing there are people out there that do have information gives me hope that the case can be solved,’’ she said.

‘‘Anonymous information regarding the identity of the baby provided to police two years ago prompted further avenues of inquiry, (but) the information was disproven.’’

If the child’s mother or father was to come forward, investigators would take the time to understand their circumstances.

‘‘There could still be welfare issues with the mother today,’’ Det Act Sgt McCaig said.

‘‘So any spark in conversation that the public might have is urged to give us a call. You can remain anonymous if you so please to be.’’

Anyone with information is encouraged to phone Shepparton Crime Investigation unit on 5820 5800 or, to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Act had far-reaching consequences

By Myles Peterson

The discovery of a deceased infant at a bus stop in Grahamvale a decade ago sparked a community reaction that spiralled up to reach the highest levels of government.

The Federal Senate debated the issue of providing safe ‘‘drop box’’ services for distressed mothers of newborn infants, recalls Monsignor Peter Jeffrey, and then Victorian premier John Brumby declared he was open to the idea.

Monsignor Jeffrey said the outpouring of grief and empathy had been substantial.

‘‘When we named the infant ‘Angel Baby’ and had the service it was quite remarkable the number of mothers who wanted to participate,’’ he said.

Monsignor Peter Jeffrey at the funeral service held for Angel Baby.

While the infant may have been left, Monsignor Jeffrey said it was not abandoned.

‘‘That mother wasn’t wanting to dispose of that child, but was wanting to see that it was adequately cared for even though she wasn’t in the situation to do that herself,’’ he said.

‘‘I think we need to be very supportive of the mother who at the time found that a way of dealing with her awful dilemma. No doubt she was in turmoil and was hoping that this would be a way of the infant being discovered.’’ - Monsignor Peter Jeffrey

That the mother placed the infant in a public space, with evidence of having cared for the child, suggested she was reaching out in desperation for community help, according to Monsignor Jeffrey.

‘‘I can imagine she was so caught up with the trauma she herself was experiencing and I have deep empathy for her and what she went through at the time,’’ he said.

‘‘I hope she has been able to get some sort of assistance as her life moves on.’’

Monsignor Peter Jeffrey said the event had a profound impact on the community.

Monsignor Jeffrey also noted the impact the infant’s life and death had had on the wider community due to the mother’s actions.

‘‘She has established something that has had far-reaching effects,’’ he said.

From The Archives: How The News reported the story

The following story was printed in The News on July 24, 2008, after the baby was discovered the night before.

A baby believed to be aged between three and six months was found dead at a bus shelter north-east of Shepparton last night.

The child’s body — believed to be that of a boy — was discovered in a green recyclable shopping bag in the bus shelter on the corner of Ford and Mouser Rds at Lemnos about 5.30pm.

Police believe the body could have been at the bus shelter since as early as 7.45am yesterday.

Police at the scene on the night of July 23, 2008. Picture: Ray Sizer.

Shepparton police, Shepparton Criminal Investigation Unit, homicide detectives, paramedics and Shepparton Search and Rescue members attended the scene, blocking off access to Mouser Rd and part of Ford Rd while investigations were being carried out.

At the scene, Detective Sergeant Hilary Mark from Shepparton Criminal Investigation Unit said the cause of death would not be known until after an autopsy was carried out at 9am today.

The child’s body was discovered by a family which lives near the shelter.

The family noticed the green recyclable bag was still sitting in the shelter, having seen it there a number of hours earlier.

Det Sgt Mark said they went to collect the bag, which they thought contained groceries, only to discover the body of the infant.

He said after making the discovery they took the bag home and phoned police.

He said the family was ‘‘obviously very distressed’’ by what they had witnessed.

Police at the scene on the night of July 23, 2008. Picture: Ray Sizer.

Detective Senior Sergeant Ron Iddles last night made an appeal for the child’s mother and father to come forward.

‘‘No matter what has happened we want to sit down and discuss the matter,’’ Det Sen Sgt Iddles said.

‘‘It may have been a case that the child was abandoned and died of hypothermia.

‘‘We ask them to come forward on their own or with legal representation.’’

He said police would hold a press conference today at 10am, following the autopsy.

Det Sen Sgt Iddles asked anyone with information, or any witnesses who saw a green shopping bag or anyone with a green shopping bag near the scene, to phone police on 5820 5817 or Crime Stoppers on 1300 333 000.