Tiahleigh Palmer’s body was found on the banks of a Gold Coast river in 2015.
Tiahleigh Palmer’s body was found on the banks of a Gold Coast river in 2015.

Rick Thorburn gets life for killing Tiahleigh Palmer

RICK Thorburn has been sentenced to life for killing his foster daughter, Queensland schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer, after today pleading guilty to her 2015 murder.

During sentencing of Thorburn, Justice David Boddice described actions in murdering Tiahleigh Palmer as "cold, calculating and callous".

"You murdered this defenceless child, who relied on you for protection ... and you did so to save one of your own children because of the consequences of his actions," he said.

"You showed no respect for her even in death."

He said Thorburn "feigned concern and even assisted in the search of the child after she had been reported missing to police".

He will be eligible for parole in 2036.

Rick Thorburn is expected to plead guilty to murdering Tiahleigh Palmer in 2015. Picture: Jack Tran
Rick Thorburn is expected to plead guilty to murdering Tiahleigh Palmer in 2015. Picture: Jack Tran

"Your conduct throughout the offending has been made more shocking ... by your willingness to coerce your family ... to cover up for your despicable behaviour," Justice Boddice said.

Thorburn this morning pleaded guilty to the murder of his foster daughter, Tiahleigh, in the Brisbane Supreme Court.

The 12-year-old girl was found dead on the banks of a Gold Coast river in 2015, six days after she went missing while in the care of Thorburn and his family.

Thorburn, wearing a light blue long-sleeved shirt in the court, was visibly crying as he uttered the word "guilty" to all three charges.

Trent Thorburn.
Trent Thorburn.

He also pleaded guilty to interfering with a corpse, attempting to pervert the course of justice and two counts of perjury.  

The courtroom has been packed with Tiahleigh's family and supporters, including her mother Cindy Palmer, more than a dozen detectives and members of the press.  

The charges perjury and attempting to pervert justice relates to false testimony Thorburn gave in Crime and Corruption Commission hearings.   Carl Heaton QC, for the DPP, earlier this morning went over the facts of the case.


Mr Heaton told the court Thorburn said "We need to think this through, deal with this properly and take this carefully" after finding out his son, Trent Thorburn, had sex with Tia.

"Richard Thorburn was very concerned about this revelation ... and that he (Trent) would go to jail," Mr Heaton said.

The court heard Thorburn was left alone with Tia on the October 29, 2015 and told his wife when she asked if the 12-year-old was OK: "It's all taken care of ... Don't ask any questions you don't need to know I have taken care of it."

Later, Mr Heaton told the court: "The case against Richard Thorburn became a compelling case founded on the lies told and the conversations captured on the covert recording devices."

Thorburn was heard by police telling members of the family to keep quiet about Tia's murder.

He told them: "Don't tell anyone, no matter what ... that's when things f*** up".

Mr Heaton has conceded Thorburn made an early plea of guilty.

"The offence of murder has a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment," he said.

"It reflects a desire, perhaps belatedly, to facilitate the administration of justice."

The court heard a plea of guilty to a murder charge is very rare and in this case stopped "a lengthy trial" with more than 250 witnesses.

Mr Heaton has argued for the normal parole period of 20 years to apply before Thorburn is eligible to apply for release to reflect his plea of guilty.

"This is an appropriate case for no further order to be made in relation to parole," he said.

Thorburn has been sitting in the dock with his eyes closed for most of the sentence.

Thorburn is the last of his family members to be punished over the crime, which has gripped Queensland for years.

In February, Thorburn sought a judge-only trial but a month later the court was told he would plead guilty to murdering the Marsden High schoolgirl and disposing of her body.

Thorburn's two sons and wife have also been jailed in connection to her murder.

Trent, who admitted to having sex with his foster sister, was jailed in September 2017 for a maximum four years after pleading guilty at the Beenleigh District Court to four charges, including incest.

His mother Julene spent six months behind bars after pleading guilty to perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice in November 2017.

The Thorburn's eldest son, Joshua, was sentenced to three months in jail in July 2017 after pleading guilty to same charges as his mother.

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