Mozambique police took inaccurate statements after woman’s death, court hears

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A friend of deceased Melbourne woman Elly Warren said police in the small Mozambique town investigating her suspicious death took inaccurate statements after her body was discovered and didn’t appear interested in correcting records of their murder probe.

The three-day inquest for Warren began on Tuesday, three months short of the seventh anniversary of her suspicious death in Tofo, a coastal town in south-eastern Mozambique, in November 2016. Last week, local police ruled it a homicide.

The court heard the 20-year-old had travelled to Tofo to volunteer with Underwater Africa on a marine conservation project to gain experience before starting a course in marine biology in Australia.

On November 8, 2016, Warren checked into the Pariango Beach Motel, dropping her belongings on a bed in a women’s dorm around 6.30pm before heading out to a local bar and then to a friend’s house in town. She left the house and returned to the bar, where she was last seen by friends around 11pm.

A few hours later, Warren was discovered by local fishermen face down in the sand at the back of a toilet block, just 20 metres from the bar she was at the night prior. The last person to see her alive was a security guard, at about 2.30am on November 9.

The inquest was called to determine the medical cause of Warren’s death and the circumstances of how it occurred. Much of her death remains shrouded in mystery and the person responsible for her death is still unidentified.

Elly Warren.

A friend of Warren, Jade O’Shea, gave evidence from New Zealand and broke down when she was asked what happened to her friend back in 2016. O’Shea met Warren in Tofo and was with her the night before she was discovered dead.

“I’m not … I’m not sure,” O’Shea said, apologising for her tears during the hearing. “I know for sure that what happened to her [was due to] someone else, and she was killed and nothing she did contributed to that.”

“She wasn’t drunk, and she wasn’t out of control of herself, she wasn’t some drunk person making a stupid decision, that [wasn’t] who she was and that wasn’t what happened.”

O’Shea said she always felt safe in Tofo and that locals would look out for expats visiting the small town.

O’Shea told the inquest she believed, however, that when police began looking into Warren’s death they recorded inaccurate information, and seemed uninterested in amending it when the errors were brought to their attention.

“They were kind of just scribbling notes, and they weren’t really pausing long enough for me to be properly translated,” she said in the hearing.

“There were like little details that were wrong, and a lot left out, but they didn’t really seem to care about that.”

O’Shea said in the last hours she saw Warren she didn’t seem distressed and appeared normal.

Paul Warren outside the Victorian Coroner’s Court on Tuesday.Credit: Justin McManus

The court also heard Warren was involved in an altercation with a British backpacker, David, who struck a friend of theirs the day before at Casa Barry Lodge, where she was staying while a volunteer.

Victorian State Coroner John Cain said the process of gathering relevant evidence from Tofo had been challenging, and there remained several gaps in the coronial brief before the court.

“It’s unlikely that the oral evidence will close or cover all of those gaps,” Cain said. “The purpose of this inquest is to … try and provide some closure for you.”

Counsel Assisting Sergeant Ross Treverton said Warren’s death had been the subject of significant investigation by the court, and Warren had gone to Mozambique himself seeking answers to the mystery.

“Her father Paul Warren, and mother and stepfather Nicole and David Cafarella, have continued to search for answers,” Treverton said.

In 2019 Warren’s father told 60 Minutes an initial police report said his daughter died of a drug overdose, but when toxicology reports found no drugs in her system the cause of death was changed.

Authorities later said an autopsy found Warren died of asphyxiation. She was also found with sand in her lungs and bruising and abrasions to parts of her body.

More than six years on, no charges have been laid and the Mozambique police investigation is ongoing.

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