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.
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.
Miss Petrie excitedly accepted and called him ‘the love of her life’ after he proposed. The couple is pictured together
Ashleigh Petrie’s last post on Instragram. She stated she had been in Metung – posting a peaceful photo of her view. She would be dead hours later.
Shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue has demanded an investigation into Miss Petrie’s (pictured) relationship with Rod Higgins
COURT UNDER INVESTIGATION
October 2017: Former magistrate Jacinta Dwyer commits suicide
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.
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.
‘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.
Ms Petrie posted this photo on Instagram just days before here death
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.
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.’
Grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins proposed to Ashleigh Petrie (pictured together), from Mirboo North in Victoria, during a romantic trip to Fiji in September
Ashleigh Petre, 23, who is engaged to 68-year-old magistrate Rob Higgins, has previously another magistrate, 59
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.
‘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.
Love is in the air: A 68-year-old magistrate and a 23-year-old court clerk (pictured) are engaged
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.
Ashleigh Petrie, said yes to grandfather-of-eight Rod Higgins (pictured together) when he proposed during a trip to Fiji last month
Miss Petrie is pictured with her current beau Mr Higgins who proposed to her last month after a whirlwind romance
‘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.’
Last month and Mr Higgins proposed during a romantic holiday in Fiji. Pictured: The couple on holiday
Magistrate Rodney Higgins proposed to his girlfriend Ashleigh Petrie, 23, in September. She is pictured right and left with her ring
The relationship has been disclosed to Victoria’s chief magistrate Peter Lauritsen after many lawyers raised eyebrows at the unusual arrangement. Pictured: The couple at the beach
For confidential support in Australia call the Lifeline 24-hour crisis support on 13 11 14.