A forensic pathologist who did the autopsy on a young Australian woman found dead near a toilet block has told a court she found major problems in the “suboptimal” post-mortem conducted by African authorities.
Local fishermen in the beachside village of Tofo – in southeastern Mozambique – found Elly Warren’s body outside a toilet block near a hotel where she was residing in November 2016.
She was just 20.
Patricia Klepp conducted the autopsy on Ms Warren’s body and raised issues about how Mozambique authorities handled their own post-mortem examination.
Dr Klepp told the court this included the first doctors embalming the young girl’s body and drawing incorrect conclusions about the cause of death.
The court was told the post-mortem was “suboptimal”, “totally unacceptable” and “not worth the paper it’s printed on”.
It is suspected the budding marine biologist died of asphyxia after inhaling sand, found by medical experts during autopsies.
African authorities and federal police have branded Ms Warren’s death a homicide but no charges have ever been laid.
At the Coroners Court of Victoria on Thursday, the court was told Ms Warren’s mouth and trachea was “chock-a-block” with sand.
Dr Klepp said she conducted her autopsy on Ms Warren’s body on November 16, 2016 in South Africa, following a prior examination by Mozambique authorities.
“With all this sand in the way, causing a mechanical obstruction … it’s not just post-mortem in nature,” Dr Klepp said.
“I believe she was alive at the time she breathed it in.”
Her examination did not test for drugs or prescription medication.
While later toxicology results were inconclusive, Dr Klepp said the use of drugs or alcohol could not be ruled out.
Dr Klepp said it was an “enormous blunder” that blood tests for alcohol were not approved, saying that genital swabs should have also been conducted by Mozambique authorities.
“The responsibility is 100 per cent on the first person who examined Elly,” she said.
“Our work pivots around alcohol.”
The court was told Ms Warren’s body was embalmed – something that made Dr Klepp’s autopsy “more difficult”.
While it did not affect her findings, the court was told she was not able to get crucial samples.
Dr Klepp also raised issued with the conclusions reached by Mozambique authorities on the cause of death, which they said was due to pressure on her neck.
She slammed the initial report as “totally unacceptable” and “not worth the paper it’s printed on”.
Those injuries could have been caused during the first autopsy, she explained.
“I don’t think we’re able to say whether someone very strong held her head into the sand,” Dr Klepp said.
“She was a fighter, she was strong.
“She could also have passed out from spiked drinks … we just don’t know.”
Dr Klepp said it was unlikely Ms Warren’s body was moved from a different place to the toilet block as there would have been noticeable abrasions on her body.
“I don’t know whether this is accidental or homicidal,” she said.
Earlier in the day Stacey Walker, a public servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), said the Mozambique police officer looking into Ms Warren’s death had taken pictures of the crime scene on his personal phone.
She gave evidence the officer appeared to be “less and less responsive” when offered money to fix it by Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers.
Ms Walker said her experience of Mozambique police was they were “poorly trained, resourced and paid”.
She travelled to Mozambique with the AFP following Ms Warren’s death to provide translation services, meeting with a Cuban doctor who had examined Ms Warren’s body.
Ms Walker also introduced herself to the chief of local police, asking for Ms Warren’s belongings.
“There were textbooks and study materials, as well as some clothing,” Ms Walker said.
Ms Walker told the court photos of the crime scene were on the personal phone of one of the local Mozambique policemen, which was broken.
Now-retired AFP officer Noel Scruton, who was travelling with her, offered metical – the country’s local currency – to get the phone repaired and extract the photos.
Mr Scruton also gave evidence of his dealings with the case, explaining the AFP was only there to support the local police’s investigation at the time.
“Mozambique police were investigating the matter, (not us)” he said.
“(The officer) said he had considered whether the body was moved there. He was trying to demonstrate he was open minded in investigation.”
Mr Scruton said he attempted to contact a key official responsible for police investigations in Mozambique, asking for permission to speak with local officers.
When the official did not respond to emails or calls, he almost “barged” into his office.
Mr Scruton said he was eventually granted access but told the court of a weird comment the official made.
“He said if he was asked about this meeting, he would deny it ever took place,” Mr Scruton said in his evidence.
“It was an unusual comment at the end.”
Ms Warren’s body was moved to Maputo – the capital of Mozambique – for the post-mortem.
Mr Scruton said the use of formaldehyde would have masked any potential drug or alcohol readings on the body.
A day earlier, the court was told Ms Warren and a group of volunteers had been drinking at a Tofo bar on the night before she died.
A security guard last saw the 20-year-old about 2.30am.
Her close friend Jade O’Shea gave evidence Mozambique police didn’t seem interested in properly investigating Ms Warren’s death.
She said they appeared to record inaccurate information and didn’t amend errors.