Man guilty of killing girlfriend who was found submerged in wheelie bin

A man has been found guilty of killing his girlfriend,who was found upside down and submerged in a wheelie bin in her Wollongong unit almost two weeks after she was last seen alive.

David Bagster,55,pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of Valmai “Jane” Birch,34,who was found dead in her bathroom at Woonona on March 21,2011.

Birch was captured on CCTV on the last day she was seen alive,March 9,2011.

Birch was captured on CCTV on the last day she was seen alive,March 9,2011.Police Media

He faced a three-week trial in Wollongong District Court before Judge Andrew Haesler. The jury retired to deliberate on Monday,May 23,before returning a verdict of guilty on Friday.

Neighbours had called police when they noticed a bad smell emanating from the unit between March 15 and 21,2011 became “progressively worse”,and officers forced entry through a window,Crown prosecutor Chris Todd said in his opening address.

He said Birch was facedown in a 240-litre bin with a yellow lid in the shower recess and “partially hog-tied” with material binding her ankle to her waist. According to agreed facts at trial,the shower hose was in the bin,the top half of Birch’s body submerged in water and her lower limbs protruding.

At the time of her death,Birch had a drug addiction and had worked as a sex worker in Port Kembla.

David Bagster was arrested in 2019 and charged with manslaughter.

David Bagster was arrested in 2019 and charged with manslaughter.Police Media

Bagster,a qualified butcher,met Birch through a mutual acquaintance in May 2010. In the period to April 2011,he was using cannabis and methylamphetamine,or ice,the agreed facts state.

The Crown alleged Bagster and Birch’s relationship was “volatile”,marked by repeated aggression,verbal altercations and physical violence including him threatening and assaulting her.

Senior Constable Claudia Pavric gave evidence that in August 2010,while called to a job in Mangerton,she had taken a statement from Birch who had a bruised eye and swollen cheek.

Valmai “Jane” Birch was 34 when she died.

Valmai “Jane” Birch was 34 when she died.NSW Police

Birch told her that in an argument over money,Bagster grabbed her arms and hair and hit her in the face before wrapping green tracksuit pants around her neck. “Trying to strangle me,” she said.

Pavric said she photographed the injuries,but Birch declined medical treatment. Under cross-examination,she said the allegations never came before the courts.

On March 9,2011,the last day Birch was seen alive,she was captured on CCTV with Bagster near Wollongong train station. At about 3pm that day,she was seen to be in a drug-affected state outside her unit and was helped inside by neighbours.

The prosecutor allegeda five-page “Dear Jane” note,expressing love and concern for Birch,was contrived and written by Bagster about the events of that day and placed in a drawer in her bedroom,“in a manner designed to cast suspicion away from him”.

Todd said a forensic examination of the bin matched two fingerprints to Bagster,while a DNA profile matching Bagster was found on the wheelie bin handles and a ceiling fan switch. When police had entered the unit,a fan in the loungeroom and an exhaust fan in the kitchen were operating.

Todd said a post-mortem did not determine Birch’s cause of death,and possibilities that could not be excluded were positional asphyxia,drowning,neck compression,drug overdose or a combination.

Defence barrister Scott Fraser had submitted Bagster and Birch’s relationship “had its ups and downs”,and it was not disputed they “moved in circles” of other drug users. But he disputed that the relationship was characterised by violence,and had asked the jury to consider whether certain witnesses were reliable or had “an axe to grind or some ulterior motive”.

Bagster remains in custody with a sentence hearing listed by Judge Haesler on September 30.

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Sarah McPhee is a court reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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