I Once Met… Michael and Lindy Chamberlain
The Chamberlains were the couple accused of murdering their nine-weekold daughter, Azaria, in the outback near Ayers Rock in the Northern Territories in Australia, and blaming it on a dingo. They attended the coroner’s inquest at the Alice Springs Courthouse in 1981.
I happened to be there supporting a friend who was being charged for being drunk and disorderly. I can’t remember very much about the night before, but my friend was acquitted. While having a pee in the courthouse urinals, I noticed Michael Chamberlain next to me.
For the three months that I had been travelling around every state in Australia during my year off between school and university, I had heard nothing but theories about ‘the Dingo Case’. The world’s press was outside the courthouse, as the case attracted much the same level of global attention as the Thai boys trapped in the caves has recently.
‘Good morning, Mr Chamberlain,’ I said to him politely. ‘I hope you and Mrs Chamberlain get a good result today.’ I was 18, had recently been expelled from school and was probably merely being perverse in constantly arguing that the couple were innocent.
For months, the case had led to high-spirited debate with Australians, the majority of whom were convinced of the Chamberlains’ guilt. Because the couple were Seventh Day Adventists, and the name Azaria crops up in the Bible, there were endless theories based on speculation and prejudice about child sacrifice, which I had enjoyed ridiculing throughout my trip.
Now here I was, standing next to the man I had been defending. Maybe it was my English accent, or maybe just because I clearly thought he was innocent, but he asked whether I would like to meet his family. I was introduced to the attractive, 33-year-old Lindy Chamberlain, who was charming and friendly, and to their well-behaved sons, Aidan (eight) and Reagan (five).
Later that day, the coroner found that a dingo had been responsible. But the following year, the judgment was overturned and Lindy was convicted in Darwin of murdering Azaria and given life imprisonment, while Michael got an 18-month suspended sentence as an accessory after the fact.
Five years later, when Azaria’s bloodstained jacket was found by accident in a dingo’s lair, they were exonerated. The Chamberlains divorced in 1991 and Michael died in 2017 aged 72. Lindy remarried and is living in Australia, where a judge finally stated in 2012 that Azaria had been killed by a dingo.
Andrew Roberts’s ‘Churchill: Walking with Destiny’ (Penguin, £30)
The Dingo Case couple at the Alice Springs inquest, 1981