SPOTLIGHT ON HERO COP
MORVEN’S Sergeant Gerard Thornton was recognised during the QPS South West District awards ceremony for his work in helping to crack the Coldwell murder cold case. Police Commissioner Ian Stewart presented Sgt Thornton with the District Officer’s Certificate for his dedication to the case.
OUTBACK Sergeant Gerard Thornton is an “unsung hero” according to Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart.
He was one of 28 officers from the southwest district honoured at an awards ceremony in Roma on Wednesday, with Commissioner Stewart saying the sergeant’s award “had been a long time coming”.
Sgt Thornton, was stationed in Morven when Lainie Coldwell died after falling from a ladder on August 23, 2009, but when he visited the scene the following day he immediately believed “something didn’t look right”.
Coldwell’s defacto partner of 18 years, former police officer Louis James Mahony, told emergency services he had been home at the time with their daughter, and he believed Ms Coldwell, 36, had fallen from a ladder after trying to remove party lights, hitting her head on a rock.
However Sgt Thornton said the first thing that caught his eye was the angle of the ladder, which had remained unmoved since the incident.
“As soon as I saw the ladder in the tree I knew no one could have climbed that ladder,” he said.
“To convince people to see the same picture as I had seen, that was the hard part, but I just knew with certainty no-one could have climbed that ladder.”
On further investigation, it was discovered that Mahony had taken out a $2.25 million life insurance policy two months before the accident.
With a small team and dogged determination, Sgt Thornton was able to gather the evidence and statements required to reopen the case in 2011.
Subsequently, Mr Mahony was put on trial and found guilty of Ms Coldwell’s murder by a Toowoomba Supreme Court jury in November last year.
Sgt Thornton said he often found his views on the case overlooked by his colleagues, as he toiled for eight years to bring justice.
“I visited the scene the next day and it didn’t look right but I didn’t have a chance to have another go at it until two years later when I went to relieve the officer in charge of the CIB and I dug the file back out,” Sgt Thornton said.
“I worked on it alone for my first two years. Probably the biggest struggle was getting senior police to see the same picture I (saw) and it was a struggle, but it just had to keep going and going until you got it.”
Commissioner Stewart said Sgt Thornton’s actions had been exemplary.
“It’s wonderful to be in Roma at this awards service recognising all of these officers, who have been involved in particular events that have been recognised as outstanding pieces of police work,” Commissioner Stewart said.
“There is no better example of this than the story of Gerard Thornton.
“I don’t think there is a finer thing an officer can do than get closure for someone that no longer has a voice.”
Mr Mahony has lodged an appeal against his conviction, with the court date yet to be released.
SERVICE RECOGNISED: Sgt Gerard Thornton at the QPS southwest district awards ceremony with his wife Lyn and daughters Emma and Dannielle Thornton.