News, Culture & Society

Magistrate, 71, engaged to law clerk, 23, finally agrees to give death payment to her grieving mum

A wealthy magistrate who was engaged to marry a 23-year-old law clerk has agreed to part ways with a portion of her $180,000 death payment he had previously withheld from her grieving mother.

‘Rocketman’ Rodney Higgins, 71, made headlines in 2019 when his relationship with 23-year-old law clerk Ashleigh Petrie, 45 years his junior, went public.

The Victorian magistrate was once again thrown into the spotlight when Ms Petrie was hit and killed by a car just six months after they started living together and just weeks after he popped the question. 

Ms Petrie’s grieving mother Tina was shocked to discover the cashed-up magistrate had claimed her daughter’s $180,000 superannuation and life insurance payout.

Rodney ‘Rocketman’ Higgins, 71, (right) made headlines in 2019 when his relationship with 23-year-old law clerk Ashleigh Petrie, 45 years his junior, (left) went public

Ms Petrie (pictured) was hit and killed by a car just six months after she started living with Mr Higgins and just weeks after he popped the question

 Ms Petrie (pictured) was hit and killed by a car just six months after she started living with Mr Higgins and just weeks after he popped the question

Mr Higgins contacted Rest Superannuation just days after Ms Petrie was killed in the accident, later claiming he acted off advice from his colleagues. 

Despite earning a salary of $324,000 each year Mr Higgins stubbornly refused to part ways with the considerable payout, sparking waves of public outcry.

However, after a 20-month ordeal, Ms Petrie’s heartbroken mother has finally been awarded a portion of the money in an agreement made public on Thursday. 

Her lawyer Kimble Stynes told A Current Affair that though Ms Petrie nominated her mother to receive her death payment, it was a non-binding nomination. 

This meant that someone else can make a claim to the money. 

Mr Higgins (right) had contacted Rest Superannuation just days after Ms Petrie (left) was killed in the accident, later claiming he had acted off advice from his colleagues

Mr Higgins (right) had contacted Rest Superannuation just days after Ms Petrie (left) was killed in the accident, later claiming he had acted off advice from his colleagues

Despite earning a salary of $324,000 each year Mr Higgins (pictured with Ms Petrie) has stubbornly refused to part ways with the payout, sparking waves of public outcry

Despite earning a salary of $324,000 each year Mr Higgins (pictured with Ms Petrie) has stubbornly refused to part ways with the payout, sparking waves of public outcry

The lawyer described Tina as hardworking and a woman of ‘modest means’ and said she had been shocked to discover Rest would allocate the money to Mr Higgins. 

Due to confidentiality provisions, Mr Stynes can’t reveal the exact amount Tina received, however other sources suggested she got half of the $180,000.

He said Ms Petrie’s mother was relieved the ordeal was over, but said the payment would never replace the loss of her beloved daughter.

‘Ashleigh was a gorgeous daughter and sister to her brother, and she is missed everyday,’ Tina said in a statement.

‘The whole process with the superannuation death benefit has been incredibly upsetting, stressful and emotional. Thankfully it is now over.’

Her lawyer Kimble Stynes (pictured) told A Current Affair that while Ms Petrie had nominated her mother to receive her death payment, it was a non-binding nomination

Her lawyer Kimble Stynes (pictured) told A Current Affair that while Ms Petrie had nominated her mother to receive her death payment, it was a non-binding nomination

Magistrate Rodney Higgins proposed to his girlfriend Ashleigh Petrie, 23, in September 2019

Magistrate Rodney Higgins proposed to his girlfriend Ashleigh Petrie, 23, in September 2019

In August, Mr Higgins claimed he was advised by colleagues to contact Ms Petrie’s superannuation company after her death. 

‘I did that, they said, ‘what’s your relationship to her?’ I said, ‘I’m her fiancé, we live together,’ he recalled.

‘They said, ‘we will send you paperwork, fill it out and send it back’. And that was it.’

The couple’s relationship raised eyebrows in legal circles given they two both worked in the Magistrates Court of Victoria and he was in a very senior position. 

Mr Higgins defended his relationship with Ms Petrie but conceded it was unusual for a man of his age to ‘be with a young girl of Ashleigh’s age’.

The couple’s relationship raised eyebrows in legal circles given they two both worked in the Magistrates Court of Victoria and he was in a very senior position. Ms Petrie is pictured right and left with her ring.

Mr Higgins (left) defended his relationship with Ms Petrie (right) but conceded it was unusual for a man of his age to 'be with a young girl of Ashleigh's age'

Mr Higgins (left) defended his relationship with Ms Petrie (right) but conceded it was unusual for a man of his age to ‘be with a young girl of Ashleigh’s age’

‘The impression, if you like, was Ashleigh worked with me in court, and that I had some sort of hold on her,’ he said.

‘That’s completely untrue, we never, ever worked together. We were in the same court here in Shepparton when I was solicitor and she was a court clerk.

‘But it was just a normal professional relationship.’ 

In another blow to Ms Petrie’s family, Mr Higgins returned to Shepparton in country Victoria and reunited with his ex-wife Lurline Le Neuf just months after her death.

While the magistrate agreed the death benefit should have been shared ‘in some proportion’, he claimed he had been frozen out by Ms Petrie’s family.

‘I don’t like the intimidating and threatening manner that Ashleigh’s mother’s solicitor has taken,’ Mr Higgins told A Current Affair in August. 

‘I wish things were different.

‘I wish they hadn’t have gone the way they have and I wish we had conciliation way back then and worked out a proper distribution.’

While the magistrate (pictured with Ms Petrie) agreed the death benefit should have been shared 'in some proportion', he claimed he had been frozen out by her family

While the magistrate (pictured with Ms Petrie) agreed the death benefit should have been shared ‘in some proportion’, he claimed he had been frozen out by her family

In another blow to Ms Petrie's (left) family, Mr Higgins (right) returned to Shepparton in country Victoria and reunited with his ex-wife Lurline Le Neuf just months after her death

In another blow to Ms Petrie’s (left) family, Mr Higgins (right) returned to Shepparton in country Victoria and reunited with his ex-wife Lurline Le Neuf just months after her death

He also claimed that his former fiancé had access to his bank account and had, unbeknownst to him, been giving her mother money.

‘Ashleigh Petrie had full license to use my bank account to take whatever she wanted. I did not know that she was giving her mother money,’ he said.

A coronial report found Ms Petrie died after she ran in front of a car in Metung in Victoria’s southeast two years ago on October 28, 2019.

Her death came seven months after she began a relationship with Mr Higgins, who later revealed she had told him she had to go on a walk to ‘clear her head’. 

The now-retired magistrate began receiving worrying messages from the law clerk. 

‘She started to text me, ‘you would be better off without me, you would be better off without me. I have ruined your career. I am ruining your life. You will find someone’,’ he said.

The 23-year-old's death came seven months after she began a relationship with Mr Higgins, who later revealed she had told him she had to go on a walk to 'clear her head'

The 23-year-old’s death came seven months after she began a relationship with Mr Higgins, who later revealed she had told him she had to go on a walk to ‘clear her head’

Ms Petrie (right) was diagnosed as bipolar at 19, struggled with alcoholism, had a history of dating men significantly older than her, and made several attempts on her own life

Ms Petrie (right) was diagnosed as bipolar at 19, struggled with alcoholism, had a history of dating men significantly older than her, and made several attempts on her own life

‘There were four or five messages on her phone all from her and it just got worse and worse, saying ‘you will not see me again’.

”You are the love of my life’. And ‘goodbye’.’

After her death, reports about her mental health began to emerge.

Ms Petrie was diagnosed as bipolar at 19, struggled with alcoholism, had a history of dating men significantly older than her, and made several attempts on her own life.

If you or anyone you know is in need of mental health support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, for free confidential support. 

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk