Just after 9 am on the morning of 29 January 2009, a white Toyota Landcruiser was driving across the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne, when it slowed in the left lane and then stopped at the highest point of the bridge – nearly 60 metres above the water.
Witnesses in following cars saw a man open the back door, reach in and remove a small girl from her seat. Then to everyone’s horror he walked to the railing, lifted the child over and let her go. He then re-entered the vehicle and drove away.
After several emergency calls, the Water Police were able to find the little girl in the water, but she died in hospital, later that day.
Her name was Darcey Freeman, just 5 years of age, and she had been thrown off the bridge by her father, Arthur Phillip Freeman, while on the way to her first day at school.
Freeman then drove his car, with his two young sons also aboard, to the Commonwealth Law Courts – a complex that deals with family law cases. He was arrested on location and charged with murder.
It transpired that he had been divorced from his wife Peta some 6 months before and was locked in a custody battle with her in which he learned that he would be forced to accept reduced access to his children.
In the March 2011 trial that followed, Freeman admitted his actions but claimed he was suffering from mental impairment and acute depression at the time of the murder. However this argument was not accepted by the Court and he was found guilty as charged.
During sentencing the following month, the presiding judge, Justice Coghlan, remarked “It can only be concluded that you used your daughter in an attempt to hurt your wife as profoundly as possible”.
He was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 32 years. He will be eligible for release in January 2041.
In 2015 a coronial inquiry was held into the general issue of mandatory reporting for doctors and lawyers involved in family disputes, in particular custodial issues. Peta Barnes, the ex wife of Arthur Freeman, told of previous occasions where she had informed three different doctors of her concerns about their children’s safety. This was because of her observations of Freeman’s mounting anger generated by the custody dispute. However her concerns were never reported to police.
Image: Arthur Phillip Freeman attends his trial at the Victorian Supreme Court in March 2011.
Photograph Source: The Age