Secret diary holds key to possible perjury charge
HIDDEN away in Rachel Antonio's bedroom, with its single bed, its teddy bears and lace curtains, was a diary the schoolgirl hadn't wanted her parents to read.
But they would read it - in shock and disbelief - because they hadn't known their beautiful, high achieving, animal-loving daughter, like any other teenager, had secrets.
There was relief there too. Relief that their daughter had left behind her own story, her own truth, and perhaps now, 22 years later, Rachel could play a part in bringing about justice.
"The biggest issue I have in my life right now is whether to do it - or not," she wrote, aged 15, in late 1997 in a diary that was tendered at an inquest into her death.
"Robert and I have been best friends for over two years and have been going out for six months.
"I can honestly say - I think I love him.
"Although Robert is 24 (almost 25), he is really caring. The only problem I have - is that I'm scared he will dump me afterwards. This shouldn't really worry me cause he has been with me for six months already. I know he cares about me."
The last time Cheryl Antonio saw her daughter, she had no idea of the significance of the moment.
It was Anzac Day, 1998, and she'd waved her away, watched as she walked towards the Bowen cinema in North Queensland where she'd said she would be watching the 7pm film.
Instead, the young surf lifesaver had walked on to the beach, just down the block, where she'd sat in the elevated lifeguard chair watching the ocean. Waiting.
"I'm waiting for my boyfriend," Rachel had told two men who, gave evidence at the inquest that they were walking along Bowen's Queens Beach on their way home from the bowls club when they saw her.
She'd asked them for the time.
Robert Hytch, Bowen surf club captain, was at home, at his brother's 18th birthday party. Two trials and an inquest would later hear he'd left just before 7pm to hire a movie for the young children to watch.
His mother would ask him to buy more ice as he left, clad in shorts, t-shirt and reef sandals, in his Ford Falcon.
He'd return with the movie - but not the ice or his shirt. His car had broken down, he'd explain - both to account for his missing t-shirt and his 45-minute absence. He'd used his shirt to wipe the grease from his hands. Police would later find Rachel's blood on his sandal.
Rachel didn't make the movie - and she didn't make it home.
They searched the beach and the dunes, the rivers and drains and water tanks. Soldiers walked slow and careful steps through bushland, scoured Bowen's hilltops.
But it was her bedroom where they'd find what they thought was their best lead: Rachel's own story, her own words. Her secret diary.
For 18 years and through two separate trials, Robert Hytch denied there had ever been anything but friendship between him and Rachel.
He'd be charged with murder, found guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter and sentenced to nine years jail.
The conviction was overturned on appeal in 2001 and a jury found him not guilty at a second trial.
The diary had been useless in Hytch's two trials - the court had ruled it inadmissable.
But Coroner David O'Connell, in an inquest that ran from 2014 to 2015, used Rachel's words to determine Hytch had lied.
The inquest heard she'd written of secret meetings, of fights and breakups and reconciliations. Rachel wrote in her diary that she'd caught him staring at two 13-year-old girls one day.
"He went swimming with them," she wrote. "He fairly checked them out."
By early 1998, Rachel had more reason to be jealous. The inquest found he'd confessed to a liaison with another girl on a lifesaving trip to NSW. The other girl was pregnant, the inquest found he'd said.
Hytch denied ever telling Rachel this. Mr O'Connell didn't believe him.
"No doubt this information would be a crushing revelation to a young, `relationship-naïve' 15-year-old girl," he said.
The inquest heard she'd come up with a revenge plan - one that would play out on the night of her disappearance. Rachel had told Hytch she too was pregnant. She told a school friend Hytch had panicked, the inquest heard.
"I am going to call Robert and ask him to go to the movies on Saturday and I am going to ask him if he is lying about the lady … being pregnant and if he says 'yes' I'll tell him that I am not pregnant and that it was a lie," Rachel told the friend.
That was the plan. Nobody knows for sure what Rachel said that night. Hytch denied meeting her.
But Mr O'Connell found Hytch had killed Rachel, that he'd become enraged by her naïve, schoolgirl deception.
Hytch has already faced two trials over the death of Rachel Antonio. Now he has been referred to police to see whether he could be charged with perjury.
Hytch's repeated claims that he and Rachel were nothing but friends were lies, the coroner found.
"The result is, I believe that Mr Hytch, in denying the nature of this relationship before this inquest, made statements which were deliberately false," Mr O'Connell found.
Originally published as Secret diary holds key to possible perjury charge