Gravestones at the East Ballina Cemetery. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Gravestones at the East Ballina Cemetery. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

Nimbin couple who staged bizarre burial face court hearing

A NIMBIN couple who secretly buried a relative in the forest near a shared community have been found guilty of failing to notify authorities of their loved one's death.

Prosecutors believe Christopher Watt, who had a terminal illness - died between February 24 and 27 last year.

Police later found his body buried at a property near Nimbin, with a crystal on each eye and a snake skin around his head. A cement pad with an inscription was also placed over his grave.

Mr Watt's daughter Urshla Vedda, 40, maintained her pleas of not guilty to failing to report a death, knowingly making a false or misleading statement and resisting or hindering police in Lismore Local Court last Thursday.

Her co-accused and former partner, Timothy Goodchild, 45, reaffirmed his plea of not guilty to burying human remains without authorisation, but pleaded guilty to failing to report a death.

The duo appeared without legal representation and with two of their three children in tow.

Police prosecutor Brett Gradisnik said the allegations centred around Mr Goodchild's alleged burial of Ms Vedda's father, Christopher Watt, and the couple's alleged failure to report his death.

The court heard Ms Vedda told her uncle, Martyn Watt, and police officers, her father had "caught the blue bus", assuming they understood the term to mean he had died.

Ms Vedda's "blue bus" comments were a reference to The End, a song by The Doors which she listened to with her father in his last weeks, the court heard.

But the euphemism for his passing, which she used with her uncle and police, did not stand up in court.

The court heard while Mr Watt had been living at the Tuntable Falls Community, he asked to be buried on nearby Crown Land "with his back to Tuntable".

Ms Vedda said she believed her uncle, Martyn, would take care of the administrative affairs related to her father's death, including reporting it.

Martyn Watt did not corroborate this when he appeared as a prosecution witness.

Leading up to the time police arrived at their Nimbin home - after Martyn Watt alerted them to the situation - Ms Vedda made no attempt to report the death, the court heard.

Mr Goodchild said the grave was not meant to be permanent, with plans for a funeral after Martyn Watt arrived from interstate.

While the accused may have been trying to live up to Mr Watt's final wishes, their actions undermined all citizens' responsibility to report a death, Magistrate J Trad said.

"Ignorance of the law is no defence," she said.

She said while the circumstances of Mr Watt's death were not considered to be suspicious, they had a duty to report Mr Watt's death as soon as possible.

"It's certainly an obligation that every citizen is compelled to comply with," she said.

"If it's at home, in an accident, if everybody knew they were going to die because they had a terminal illness ... they're obligated to report that."

She said there was no implication of "neglect or indifference" and no allegation the defendants were "malicious, vexatious, or morally corrupt" in their actions.

"What you did try to do for him was care for him in the last months of his life," she said.

"Christopher has adopted a lifestyle that was consistent with what you say was his last wishes.

"I respect that, when you tell me that what you were trying to do was to comply with his wishes.

"My role here isn't to judge people's beliefs, it's applying the law to the evidence."

Ms Trad found all charges proven. She recorded no conviction for Ms Vedda's failure to report.

Ms Vedda was given was given a 12 month good behaviour bond, while Mr Goodchild was given a six month bond.