Grieving parents of toddler who drowned in Perth lake win defamation case against neighbour
In emails sent to the principal of the school attended by the couple’s children and to the WA Police inspector formally in charge of the search for Sam, Ms Rajoo falsely claimed the Trotts had conspired to murder their son, and had been conditioning him to swim in the lake where he drowned.
She also falsely claimed they had been spying on her, spreading rumours, stealing her mail and had poisoned her dog.
The allegations came around the same time Ms Rajoo split with her husband, and shocked the Trotts, who previously had a friendly relationship with their neighbours. Ms Rajoo had brought food to the family in the wake of their son’s death.
The District Court of Western Australia this month awarded the couple $30,000 each in damages following a defamation trial which was not attended by Ms Rajoo.
Judge Amanda Burrows found the comments made by her were “seriously defamatory”.
“[Ms Trott] gave evidence that when her husband told her about the contents of the publications she was shaking and felt physically ill,” she wrote in her judgment.
“She said she had received counselling for nearly 12 months to get over Sam’s death and felt proud of herself for coming through it when the publications occurred.”
Mr Trott said he also suffered as a result of the allegations with the family forced to move away from a community that had offered them so much support.
“Whilst his wife wanted to move out of the home straight away, he resisted because it was the only home that Sam had lived in and they had all their memories of him in the home,” Judge Burrows said.
“He described feeling connected to the community and wanting to stay there … the community had provided a tremendous amount of support in the wake of Sam’s passing to the extent that a nature playground was constructed … in memory of Sam.”
He gave evidence that Sam loved swimming in their backyard pool, which was also a form of therapy for him, but those memories had now been tainted by false allegations the couple had “conditioned” him to jump into water.
While the recipients of the letters sent by Ms Rajoo did not believe their contents, Judge Burrows found them were deeply hurtful to the Trotts.
“[The letters] attack the integrity of each of them in the worst possible way as parents,” she said.
“There is no evidence before the court to suggest that the [Trotts] had anything but a good reputation as parents and members of the community prior to the defamatory publications.”
Ms Rajoo has never apologised for her actions.
Heather McNeill is a senior journalist at WAtoday.