'Inadequate' sentence appealed after girl drowns

·3-min read

Facing a "life sentence" of grief and loss over the tragic death of a four-year-old girl, her family wants more jail time for the woman who took out a kayak while drunk before the drowning.

Tamarah Eaton finished a bottle of vodka hours before taking the young girl and a dog out in a one-man kayak to go fishing in the NSW Hunter region.

When the kayak capsized at Port Stephens in June 2021 and the girl and dog drowned, Eaton had an estimated blood alcohol level of 0.297, almost six times the legal limit.

Eaton was sentenced to a maximum of 30 months behind bars in December last year, with a non-parole period of 18 months.

With crown prosecutors arguing this sentence was "manifestly inadequate," the girl's mother told AAP that while any increase in jail time would be welcomed, no punishment would replace their loss.

"We do feel like we're paying the ultimate price with a life sentence regardless of what she gets but 18 months is just not enough," she said.

The family had found it "very difficult" to cope with the little girl's brothers and sisters withdrawing from social contact and experiencing panic attacks and anger outbursts.

"It's been tough," the mother said.

The family filled the courtroom at Sydney's Court of Criminal Appeal on Wednesday wearing black T-shirts sporting heart-shaped collages of the young girl.

"I hope you're dancing in the sky," the shirts read.

Eaton was previously given a reduced sentence after Judge Peter McGrath found her alcoholism was linked to her deprived upbringing and mental health diagnosis of bipolar disorder which was "strongly" linked to alcohol abuse.

She was also given a 25 per cent discount for pleading guilty to one count of aggravated culpable navigation causing death, which carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.

On Wednesday, she watched the appeal hearing via video link from Wellington Correctional Centre wearing a standard issue prison green jacket with her hair tied up.

The Crown argued that Judge McGrath incorrectly used Eaton's personal circumstances to reduce her jail-time.

"We say that the sentence imposed ... was manifestly inadequate to a considerable degree," crown prosecutor Monica Millward told a panel of three appeals judges.

Eaton had a "very high level of moral culpability" in circumstances where she was drunk and took a young girl who could not swim on an overloaded vessel without offering her a life-jacket, said Ms Millward.

She was initially asked to take the girl on the kayak by a group she knew and paddled near the group as they mingled at Mallabula Point.

However, when everyone went inside for lunch, Eaton then travelled 900 metres from the jetty, out of sight of everyone, when the capsizing occurred.

She had been convicted of high-range drink driving and placed on a 10-month intensive corrections order four months before the kayak overturned.

On Wednesday, Eaton's barrister Peter Krisenthal said Judge McGrath imposed the 30-month sentence on a "principled and appropriate basis" and was allowed to reduce it because of his client's history and mental health.

"His Honour accepted that alcohol being at the root of this offending, that the mental health problems and the deprived background had some contribution to that," he said.

The judges will deliver their decision at a later date.

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