King hit ... Justin Galligan. Photo: Supplied
The state coroner today warned parents about the dangers of tolerating drinking at teenage parties after the death of 16-year-old Justin Galligan, who was king-hit by a gatecrasher at a Halloween party.
Judge Jennifer Coate said it had been acceptable to Randolph and Christine Bowden, who held the party for their daughter, Sheridan, at their Balwyn home, to have 50 to 70 teenagers aged 15 to 16 affected by alcohol.
"That this was considered acceptable and a demonstration of teenagers having fun should at least cause our community to reflect on what messages that gives young people with respect to alcohol," Judge Coate said when handing down her findings into Justin's death.
The coroner said "the level of tolerance of the fighting inside the party, together with groups of rowdy young people drinking and milling around the front and the back of the premises make for a very volatile mix and a potent recipe for the trouble which indeed did erupt".
"The tragic outcome in these circumstances must be a salutary reminder to all parents who contemplate teenage parties."
The Bowdens did not supply alcohol to guests at the party but were aware teenagers were arriving with it. There were two fights during the party, including the one at the rear of the house where Justin was attacked on October 31, 2008.
Judge Coate said five boys were later charged after a police investigation into Justin's death with offences including affray, unlawful assault, intentionally causing injury, making threats to kill and drug possession. They were later sentenced in the Children's Court.
The coroner said it was explained to Justin's family that she did not have the power to examine the criminal prosecution of the boy who punched Justin in the head.
Police had identified the killer and sought legal advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions on the offences with which he could be charged. Investigators were told a manslaughter charge could not be sustained, so the killer was charged with the lesser offence of affray.
He was 17 when he appeared in the Children's Court in September 2009 and received a good behaviour bond. No conviction was recorded.
Justin's parents, Michael and Mary, told the coroner during the inquest in April that their despair had been "compounded by the inability of authorities to bring a more serious offence against the boy who killed Justin".
Outside court today, Justin's aunt, Cathy Neagle-Haupt, said the grief over his death remained undiminished. "This is compounded by the belief that Justin didn't receive full justice in the criminal court." she said. "Given that that is out of our control, it is our deepest desire to prevent similar tragedies in the future."
The OPP and police have refused to publicly release a copy of the legal advice or show it to Justin's family.
Judge Coate said Justin had lost consciousness for a short time after being king-hit, before waking up dazed and confused. He became unable to walk and was taken home in a taxi by a friend.
Justine's father, Michael, met the boys at the door. "Justin's father thought Justin looked like he had a swollen jaw and asked him if he had been in a fight," the coroner said.
"Justin denied that he had. His friend did not tell Justin's father that he had been in a fight and struck his head, as he was concerned this would get Jason into trouble with his father."
Justin went to sleep but was rushed to Royal Melbourne Hospital the next morning after his parents found him on the floor moaning and having trouble breathing. He died two days later.
Medical evidence was given that if Justin had been taken to hospital soon after being hit he could have survived.
Judge Coate said most of Justin's friends and the supervising adults at the party did not understand the "potential lethality" of being punched once in the head.
The coroner recommended the Victoria Police Safer Communities Unit incorporate into its website and the Partysafe kits basic information about the dangers of any form of head strikes and ensure the kits "make clear the need for zero tolerance of any violent behaviour in and around the party and the perils of allowing uninvited people to linger in and around the party area".