Click or flick across for photos of Mandy Martyn throughout the investigation. 

BABYSITTER Mandy Martyn remained in hiding yesterday as a coroner ruled she caused the death of Myrtleford toddler Daniel Thomas after weeks of torture.

His mother, Donna Thomas, was found to have contributed to his death by failing to stop the abuse.

Coroner Jacinta Heffey said Ms Martyn was at fault through “inflicting the injuries that led to (Daniel’s) death”.

“Daniel was exposed to cruelty amounting to torture,” she said.

The finding on his former partner, Ms Thomas, shocked Daniel’s father, Kevin Ruffels.

He said outside the Coroner’s Court in Melbourne that he had always blamed Ms Martyn for the boy’s death in October, 2003.

“She was obviously the one all along we thought was the main suspect so I hope she goes to hell,” he said.

“There’s no closure until Mandy gets her right whack, she gets charged hopefully, and sentenced to many years in prison.”

Kevin Ruffels leaves the coroner's court after findings into the death of his son Daniel was handed down. Picture: FAIRFAX

Kevin Ruffels leaves the coroner's court after findings into the death of his son Daniel was handed down. Picture: FAIRFAX

Ms Martyn failed to attend the brief hearing in Melbourne, which was relayed by audio-visual link to Wangaratta court where a seven-day inquest was held last December. 

But she was represented in Wangaratta by solicitor Greg Duncan, who intended relaying the coroner’s finding to her some time yesterday morning.

When asked whether Ms Martyn would be making any comment, Mr Duncan replied: “No she won’t”.

Police will now take the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions to assess for potential criminal charges, homicide squad Detective Sen-Sgt Stuart Bailey said.

Ms Thomas started sobbing after Ms Heffey ruled she had contributed to Daniel’s death.

She remained in her seat in the front of the courtroom for several minutes after Ms Heffey left the bench, with family and other supporters putting their arms around her in support.

Her barrister Diana Price said later that Ms Thomas would not be making any comment on the findings.

The death of two-year-old Daniel has been one of the North East’s biggest mysteries, with a large emergency services search failing to find the boy after he was reported missing on October 17, 2003.

His remains were found five years later by a dog under a house in Lawrence Street, Myrtleford, where Ms Thomas lived before moving in with Ms Martyn.

The failure to find Daniel’s body during the initial search was criticised by Ms Heffey.

“It is most unfortunate that not withstanding the huge effort undertaken to search for Daniel in the days after he went missing, insufficient attention was paid to the possibility that Daniel could be buried under the rented unoccupied house in Lawrence Street,” she said in her finding.

Ms Heffey said it was “highly unlikely” that Daniel’s body was buried elsewhere and then taken to Lawrence Street after the official search was abandoned.

“Had Daniel’s body been found at that point, a cause of death would almost certainly have been established and a productive and effective homicide investigation undertaken.”

Ms Heffey told the court she did not intend reading out her entire 28-page finding, but did say it was likely Daniel died late on the evening of October 13, 2003.

It was also possible that he died very early the next morning.

But Ms Heffey said it was not possible to determine a cause of death, though suggested in her finding that he might have died from strangulation, drowning or a closed head injury.

Her finding painted a picture of true horror for the little boy, who was subject to a constant campaign of mistreatment from Ms Martyn.

At various times, Daniel was gagged, tied to his bed, slapped and shut in a cupboard.

“I am satisfied that Ms Martyn physically and emotionally abused Daniel, particularly in the six to seven weeks before his death, and that Ms Thomas failed to protect him in any way,” Ms Heffey said.