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Australia EXCLUSIVE: Court clerk, 23, killed after her relationship with a magistrate, 68, was exposed 'hoped an investigation into the controversial paring would expose the toxic culture within the system where she worked'

17:45  29 october  2019
17:45  29 october  2019 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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EXCLUSIVE : Court clerk , 23 , killed after her relationship with a magistrate , 68 , was exposed ' hoped an investigation into the controversial paring would expose the toxic culture within the system where she worked '. Ashleigh Petrie, from Mirboo North in Victoria, was engaged to Rod

Court clerk Ashleigh Petrie, 23 , died after being struck by a car in country Victoria, days after her relationship with A 23 yo Victorian court clerk died suddenly just weeks after her relationship with a 68 yo magistrate became Latrobe Valley Magistrates ’ Court , where Petrie and Higgins worked

The young court clerk who was killed weeks after her relationship to an elderly magistrate became national news secretly hoped the court's 'toxic culture' of sexual intimidation and predatory behaviour would be exposed by investigations into her relationship.

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Ashleigh Petrie, 23, had been engaged to marry grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins, 68, who was a magistrate working in country Victoria.  Ms Petrie was tragically killed early on Monday morning after a night out in Victoria's east.

However, in a surprising twist in her death, Daily Mail Australia can reveal Ms Petrie had hoped reports about her controversial relationship would lift the lid on what she saw as a 'toxic culture' within the court system.

It is not suggested Mr Higgins played a part in this toxic behaviour.

A source told Daily Mail Australia Ms Petrie had also previously spoken candidly about approaching the media herself to expose the culture.

COURT UNDER INVESTIGATION

October 2017: Former magistrate Jacinta Dwyer commits suicide

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January 2018: A magistrate was accused of groping a young woman’s buttocks and saying he 'loved her' after a night of drinking at a Christmas party for court staff

March 2018: Magistrate Stephen Myall killed himself

September 2018: A solicitor at the Coroner's Court of Victoria took her life

February 2019: WorkSafe launched a probe into the Coroner's Court's allegedly 'toxic culture'

October 2019: The Children’s Court of Victoria was forced to investigate after a clerk boasted to friends that she had been intimate with a magistrate in a courtroom

Her death has sparked an outpouring of emotion and anger at the fact her relationship was made public earlier this month.

Ms Petrie and the magistrate's relationship became public after a front page newspaper report in Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper on October 10th.

The story was followed up across the nation, including by Daily Mail Australia.

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The reports saw Victorian opposition attorney-general Ed O’Donohue write to the Judicial Commission of Victoria about Mr Higgins’ suitability as a magistrate.

But Daily Mail Australia has been told that rather than dreading the revelations, Ms Petrie was 'excited' about the prospect of further stories exposing the inner workings of the court.

On Friday, just three days before Ms Petrie died, the Herald Sun revealed outgoing chief magistrate Peter Lauritsen dealt with an application for an intervention order by Mr Higgins’ former partner against Ms Petrie.

The publication claimed he had refused calls to recuse himself and ultimately made an indefinite order against Ms Petrie, banning her from all contact with Mr Higgins’ former partner.

She would be dead by the start of business on Monday.

Daily Mail Australia has been told that Ms Petrie had no problems with the reports on her relationship.

Court clerk engaged to magistrate dies in road incident

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'This was going to happen ... it was work that killed her,' the source said.

Ms Petrie was struck by a vehicle and killed on Metung Road near Lakes Entrance in eastern Victoria about 1am on Monday.

The clerk had been under extreme pressure following news of her engagement to Mr Higgins, who used the name Rod Rocketman on Facebook up until Monday.

That pressure is believed to have seen cracks start to appear in her mental state, particularly on social media.

Police are continuing to investigate the tragedy and will pass on a report to the coroner.

Ms Petrie's death has caused shockwaves across the magistrates' court, with staff being offered counselling across the state.

Daily Mail Australia has been told such is the concern of court hierarchy that workers are being shielded from news reports about Ms Petrie's death.

'Media monitoring had zero references to the situation,' one source said. 'Nothing to see here. Get on with it.'

Victoria's court system has come increasingly under scrutiny in recent times.

Earlier this month the Children’s Court of Victoria was forced to investigate after a clerk boasted to friends that she had been intimate with a magistrate in a courtroom and also in another magistrate’s chambers.

In January last year, it was reported a magistrate was accused of groping a young woman’s buttocks and saying he 'loved her' after a night of drinking at a Christmas party for court staff.

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In September 2018, a solicitor at the Coroner's Court of Victoria took her life.

WorkSafe launched a probe into that court's allegedly 'toxic culture' in February.

Two magistrates had also taken their own lives in recent times: Stephen Myall killed himself in early 2018 while former magistrate Jacinta Dwyer took her life in October 2017.

Court insiders have told Daily Mail Australia they hope Ms Petrie's death might spur on a similar investigation.

'Id be surprised of WorkSafe wasn't going to look into it on the back of the coroners suicide and two magistrates,' a source said. 'You start to think what's it going to take for something to be done and the culture to change.'

The whirlwind romance had made headlines across the nation, prompting calls for the legal watchdog to investigate the propriety of the relationship.

A friend of the family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Daily Mail Australia Ms Petrie's family was in deep shock.

The family is understood to be still struggling to come to terms as to how Ms Petrie ended up dead on Metung Road.

Chief Magistrate Peter Lauristen released a statement saying the thoughts of the court were were with Ms Petrie's family.

'It is with deep regret that we advise that an employee of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, Ashleigh Petrie, died as a result of an accident involving a motor vehicle early this morning,' he wrote in a statement.

'The details are still coming to hand. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

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'Judicial officers and staff are being supported, and appropriate counselling and support services are being provided. No further comment will be made at this time.'

Ms Petrie, who was understood to be on leave when her relationship was exposed, posted a photo on Instagram on Sunday of her enjoying a drink at the Metung Hotel.

Ms Petrie admitted the relationship to the Herald Sun but refused to comment to Daily Mail Australia when previously asked.

Mr Higgins and Ms Petrie were living together in Mirboo North, four hours from Shepparton in northern Victoria.

Last month he whisked her away to Fiji where he popped the question.

The clerk excitedly accepted and called him 'the love of her life' in a gushing Facebook post where she showed off pictures of her sparkly new ring.

'What an amazing 10 days it has been here in Fiji! Firstly, I arrived as Rod's girlfriend and I leave as rod fiancé! I cannot wait to become Mrs Higgins!' she wrote online.

'It started with a crush and now I have a ring on my finger. The love of my life asked me to marry him and I said YESSSS.'

'I don't know how I got so lucky to find such a sweet and caring man with the same sense of humour, this amazing man is the love of my life!'

During their trip, the pair went zip lining, met a Fijian tribe and swam in the sea together, according to their numerous social media posts.

A source told the Herald Sun that Ms Petrie and Mr Higgins had been trying for a baby.

At the time, a spokesman for Mr Lauritsen said: 'The Chief Magistrate has no comment on the personal lives of magistrates or staff.'

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