Nora Anne Quoirin inquest: Ex-headteacher affirms teen’s difficulties from medical abnormality, says unlikely climbed out window

Quoirin family’s lawyer S. Sakthyvel is pictured at the Seremban Court Complex August 26, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara.
Quoirin family’s lawyer S. Sakthyvel is pictured at the Seremban Court Complex August 26, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 18 — A special school in the United Kingdom where French-Irish teenager Nora Anne Quoirin had studied prior to her disappearance from The Dusun resort in Negri Sembilan last year affirmed today in the Coroner’s Court of the teen’s disabilities and difficulties as a result of her medical disorder.

Testifying at Quoirin’s inquest as the 39th witness, Garratt Park School headteacher Michael Reeves testified that Quoirin was diagnosed with mild holoprosencephaly — a brain abnormality in which the brain doesn’t properly divide into the right and left hemispheres — that nevertheless resulted in significant learning difficulties and physical disabilities for the teenager.

According to Reeves, Quoirin had enrolled at the special school located on the outskirts of central London at the age of 11 in September 2015, pointing out how he was very much acquainted with the teenager as he had stood in as substitute teacher for her class several times.

“In terms of the effects of this had upon her functioning, in terms of her intellect and cognition learning, Nora presented when she arrived to us at the age of 11 as a child functioning in terms of reading at about the age of six.

“Her mathematical ability was below the age of five. Her ability to recall sentences was about the age of five and her ability to form sentences was below the age of seven.

“Other conditions included, particularly very poor balance, very poor core strength, poor posture and all of them meant physically she found it difficult to take part in some activities including Physical Education,” he said during the inquest hearing that was conducted through video-conferencing.

He recalled how throughout the four years he knew Quoirin, he had never once seen the teenager running in the playground as the girl was fearful of falling when she attempted to do so.

“She did have a significant physical disability as well although you may not see it, her ability to move, balance and straight posture was limited,” he said, adding that the teenager also suffered from hearing loss on her right ear.

He explained that it would become obvious that she had a disability only when one gets closer and interacts with Quoirin, describing her gait as quite fragile coupled with poor balancing when seen from a distance.

Apart from the school’s curriculum, Reeves also disclosed that Quoirin attended two one-to-one therapies — occupational therapy; and speech and language therapy — provided by the school’s therapists to develop the relevant skills she needed and evaluate them on a yearly basis.

Apart from the aforementioned challenges Quoirin faced, Reeves also said the teenager found it difficult to interpret complex emotions, unable to comprehend multi-step instructions, hard to explain advanced concepts and was easily distracted by noises.

He said Quoirin made good progress albeit at a very minimal level throughout her four-year enrolment at the school.

Highly, highly unlikely for Quoirin to go out through window

Asked on the possible theory that Quoirin had gotten outside by exiting through a window roughly at the waist height of an adult, Reeves said Quoirin was absolutely incapable of doing so due to her physical limitations.

“Nora was much obviously much shorter than an average adult. So waist-height for an adult would be getting on to chest height for Nora and I just can’t imagine her having either the skill or balance or strength to climb over something like that.

“No, it’s just highly, highly unlikely,” he said, adding that Quoirin was very much conscious of her disabilities.

Asked further how she would cope with walking over rough terrain filled with stones and tree branches or through perimeter fencing, Reeves said Quoirin would find it exceptionally difficult to do so.

“She would have found it exceptionally difficult. Even for a short distance it would have been very difficult. The idea of Nora climbing fencing is unimaginable. I simply would not believe she would do that.

“She might have climbed over something a foot or higher but no higher than that. Nora had the ability to know what fences are for and she respects other people’s space, rule-bound and had a clear sense of right and wrong,” he added.

He said Quoirin would have been frightened and responded by closing in on herself if she were to find herself out in the dark in a foreign country.

“I would envisage her shouting for her parents. I would expect her to close up and stay still wherever she was,” he said.

Nora Anne, a 15-year-old with learning difficulties, disappeared from the resort last year where she was staying with her London-based family, triggering a 10-day hunt involving helicopters, sniffer dogs and hundreds of searchers.

Her body was discovered close to the jungle retreat and an autopsy found that she likely died of internal bleeding linked to starvation after spending about a week in the dense rainforest.

The inquest resumes on November 23.

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