I Once Met… Michael and Lindy Cham­ber­lain

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - An­drew Roberts

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

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