By Rama Ramanathan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--In this post, I answer the question “What if Anna Jenkins had gone missing in Queensland?” by discussing a Queensland coroner’s decision in January 2022. I point out five differences of law and practice in Queensland and Malaysia.

If Anna Jenkins had gone missing in Queensland, what would’ve been that state’s response?

Annapuranee (“Anna”) Jenkins, 65-years, and her husband Frank are from Queensland. They were in Penang in 2017 when disaster struck.

On the afternoon of 13 December 2017, she left her hotel to keep a dental appointment. Frank saw her off at the lobby.

She didn’t come back that evening. Frank became frantic.

On the morning of the next day, Frank reported her missing. He reported that Anna had phoned him and said she was being held by two men.

In the evening, three policemen, including a photographer, came to gather information from him and from the couple’s room.

The police investigation officer has testified that based on what they found in the room, the police chose to disbelieve Frank’s report that Anna said she was being held captive.

The police did not classify the case as a kidnapping. They classified the case as that of a missing person.

It was later established that Anna had kept her dental appointment, received her treatment, and left the dentist in an Uber car.

The car was booked by the dentist’s staff. The destination was a home for the elderly.

The driver was the last person to see Anna. He claimed she had asked to be dropped off enroute. He described the drop-off point to the police.

About three years on, in June 2020, some bone fragments were found in Penang. These were positively identified as Anna’s remains.

About five years on, in March 2022, the Penang coroner began an inquest into Anna’s death.

Thus, the question “What if Anna Jenkins went missing in Queensland?” is best answered by considering a recent case of a missing person in Queensland handled by a coroner. The crucial elements are missing person, Queensland, recent, and coroner.

The case I found is of Monique Clubb, 24-years old. Her mother, with whom she lived, reported her missing 8 days after she left their home. Her mother said she had spoken with Monique on the phone 6 days earlier.

Monique had a history of flouting drug laws. She had even served prison time. She left her home on 20 June 2013 with two friends, on a quest for illicit drugs. She was last seen alive – far from home – on 22 June 2013.

At the time of the coroner’s inquest, her remains had not been found.

Jane Bentley, one of Queensland’s Deputy State Coroners, conducted hearings over four days, in December 2021. She delivered her decision (report) on 13 January 2022.

Using that report, I’ll point out five differences between Malaysia and the Australian state of Queensland.

ONE, in Queensland, there are seven full-time coroners, and all their reports are posted on the state coroners’ website.

In Malaysia, every state has one part-time coroner. There is no coroners’ website.

TWO, in Queensland, two parties appeared before the coroner: (1) Monique’s family, represented by ATSILS (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service) which is funded by the state. (2) The Commissioner of Police, represented by counsel.

In Malaysia, the family has to hire its own counsel. The Public Prosecutor (who will, the next day, in another court, defend the police in some other case), appears for the state.

THREE, in Queensland, Paragraph #1 in the coroner’s report on Monique Clubb’s death says:

Section 45 of the Coroners Act 2003 provides that … written findings must be given to the family,… [those] granted leave to appear at the inquest and to officials with responsibility over any areas the subject of recommendations.

Paragraph #202, under the sub-heading “Comments and Recommendations,” the report says:

Section 46 of the Coroners Act 2003 provides that a coroner may comment on anything connected with a death that relates to public health or safety, the administration of justice or ways to prevent deaths from happening in similar circumstances in the future.

In Paragraph #210, the coroner made two recommendations. One for investment in phone location technology, the other a change in police operations procedures.

In Malaysia, there is no Coroner’s Act. Inquests are conducted in accordance with Chapter 32 of the Criminal Procedure Code and a Practice Directive issued by the Chief Justice. Coroner’s have famously and repeatedly refused to issue recommendations on the grounds that it is “out of scope.”

FOUR, in Queensland, there is a Missing Persons Unit, which specializes in cases of missing persons. This unit established the degree of initial urgency of Monique’s case and coordinated the activities of police across the districts she was known to have been in prior to her death.

In Malaysia, going by the Anna Jenkins case, the determination of urgency was made by the police station which received the report.

FIVE, in Queensland, CCTV recordings gathered by police during the course of their investigations are required to be uploaded in a police database system (called QPrime).

In Malaysia, going by the Anna Jenkins case, such data is not retained, let alone stored in a database.

What if Anna Jenkins had gone missing in Queensland?

The answer is clear. The state would’ve deployed its many specialized resources to find her, would’ve used coronial powers to investigate the police’s actions, and coroners would recommend improvements to those who control the resources of the state. Unlike in Malaysia.
*Rama Ramanathan is spokesperson for Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED) and an independent writer.*