Last to see Asher 'didn't call police'

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 16:24 18/07/2012
Iraena Asher
SUPPLIED
FATE UNKNOWN: The 25-year-old went missing around Piha in the early hours of October 11, 2004.
Angelique Campbell
PHIL DOYLE
SUICIDE ILL-FIT: Iraena's sister Angelique described her sister as beautiful, outgoing and sensitive and unlikely to commit suicide.
Michael Asher
PHIL DOYLE
FRIGHTENED: Iraena's father Michael Asher says when she had an episode she would become 'anti-us'.

Iraena Asher - cold case

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The last two people to see missing model Iraena Asher alive watched her walk naked into the darkness in the middle of the night, then went home, had a drink and went to bed - without calling police.

Zachary Nixon and Simone Ross were walking their dog around 1.30am when they came across Asher under a streetlight and crouched down, to watch what she was doing.

Nixon got his phone out to take a video of the young woman, but Ross told him to put it away. The pair watched as she appeared to talk to the streetlight, then get down on her knees and kiss the ground.

Ross said her arms were held out, in an almost ritual manner, before she turned from the light and walked towards the beach.

"I almost broke into a jog to see where she was going," Nixon said.

"The last time I saw her was when she exited the second streetlight on Seaview Rd."

The couple followed Asher, turning on a torch to see if they could find her. The dog ran down towards some rocks but Nixon called it back. It was so dark they could not see the edge of the surf from the dunes, they said.

"Simone and I were a bit freaked out because she just vanished," Nixon said. The pair went home, had a drink, talked about it, and went to bed.

Neither called the police, despite hearing the police helicopter about half an hour later. Nixon received a text from the volunteer fire brigade, but didn't respond. He didn't speak with police until they called him the next day, when he was on his way to work.

Asked why they didn't help Asher, or call police, the pair said she didn't appear distressed, and that "skinny-dipping" was common in Piha.

"I did wonder how she wasn't freezing. I wondered if she was under the influence," Ross said.

"The fact that she had no clothes on made me wary of frightening her or surprising her. She had a private thing going on," Ross said.

WOMEN WHO AIDED ASHER FIND SUGGESTIONS 'DESPICABLE'

The two women who took in Asher after finding her underdressed and alone on the night have told the inquest into her disappearance any suggestion they contributed to her death is "despicable."

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Julia Woodhouse and Bobbie Carroll, who lived together in Piha when Asher went missing, sheltered her at their home for four hours before she fled.

Woodhouse and her son Henry picked up Asher around 9pm while she was walking, dressed in ugg-boots, underwear and a sweatshirt, after running from a house nearby where she had spent the day with a new boyfriend.

Asher was distressed and anxious and while she had said she felt safe in the house, she seemed suspicious, Woodhouse said. Carroll said she thought at the time Asher was coming down off LSD.

Wanting to help - but warned off calling police by Asher's reaction when they mentioned it - the couple instead let Asher have a shower, gave her food and helped her find a phone number to call her ex-boyfriend's mother.

They even helped her take her nail polish off, because it was distressing her.

But less than five minutes after Woodhouse tucked her into bed, with a promise to take her home in the morning, Asher ran outside. Henry called police and Carroll tried to chase her but found only her dressing gown cast off in the middle of the road.

Responding to comments from police yesterday that the couple should have called police, both reacted angrily. Asher had earlier called police for help, but they instead had sent her a taxi, which never arrived.

"I felt quite shocked when he said we had failed Iraena," Woodhouse said. "It wasn't us. We weren't the people who failed Iraena. We gave her warmth and kindness, we gave her anything she wanted."

Carroll went further, saying even in hindsight she wouldn't have called police, because Asher seemed nervous of them.

"Our priority was to keep her safe. We had no idea until we saw that dressing gown on the road... of what was going to unfold."

"We made good, considered decisions. The suggestion that we may be culpable at all is nothing short of despicable."

Asked by Coroner Peter Ryan what she would have done instead of calling police, Carroll said she'd call a mental health team. Earlier, Ryan told Woodhouse he believed one of the messages that might come from the hearing is that people need to call the police straight away.

ASHER'S EPISODES 'FRIGHTENING'

Earlier today Asher's family told the inquest that she appeared normal the day before she disappeared and showed no signs of slipping into manic or depressive behaviour.

Their testimony was followed by that of a psychiatrist, who said he could not rule out that Asher had been affected by drugs.

Asher's father Michael told the court when Asher had an "episode" she would run away and he would have to chase her and restrain her.

"It was frightening. When she had an episode the first thing she did was become anti-us. Like we were the bad guys," he said.

Asher said the family knew well the signs of their daughter becoming sick, and when he'd visited her the day before, she seemed fine.  

"There was nothing about her that was out of the ordinary. However she was good at hiding things."

He told the court how Asher loved the sea, just like him.

"I took her to swimming lessons. She loved the beach at Piha. All my daughters love Piha."

He did not think Asher would have drowned herself.

"She would have been trying to touch the water. The tide must have swept her away. But that's just a speculation."

Asher's sister Angelique Campbell had spent the Saturday before with her sister - they'd gone to the Otara markets and hung out at Asher's Ponsonby Rd home.

She described her sister as beautiful, outgoing and sensitive, but before she had a manic episode she would get hyperactive and restless.

"She was in constant movement. She would need to be moving and she would run."

But the last day she spent with Asher was nothing like that. Campbell believed her sister had been taking her medication properly.

"She really hated being ill. She knew when she had started to get ill and took responsibility for it."

Campbell too, ruled out suicide, saying Asher was a "self loving" person and suicide did not fit with her personality.

Psychiatrist Dr Wayne Miles said apart from the day of her disappearance, Asher appeared to be functioning well.

On the day of her disappearance, he said, he couldn't decide if Asher was having a manic episode or was being affected by a chemical of some sorts. The reports of her behaviour did not provided any definite answers, Miles said.

The inquest continues.

- Auckland Now

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