Woman accused of murdering teenager Amber Haigh watched her have sex with husband, court hears

<span>Photo of Amber Haigh and Robert Geeves, who is accused with his wife of murdering the missing New South Wales teenage girl. They deny the charges.</span><span>Photograph: ODPP NSW</span>
Photo of Amber Haigh and Robert Geeves, who is accused with his wife of murdering the missing New South Wales teenage girl. They deny the charges.Photograph: ODPP NSW

Anne Geeves, accused with her husband of murdering teenager Amber Haigh more than two decades ago, threatened the young mother with taking her newborn baby from her, a court has heard.

Married couple Robert and Anne Geeves, both 64, face one count each of murder over the suspected killing of Haigh, who disappeared without trace in June of 2002. The Geeves have both pleaded not guilty.

Related: Missing teen Amber Haigh was ‘removed from the equation’ after giving birth, court told

The court heard on Tuesday how Robert Geeves and Haigh would have sex “all the time” – sometimes watched by Anne Geeves – and that the missing teen had looked increasingly dirty and dishevelled in the lead-up to her disappearance.

Haigh’s unresolved disappearance has been an enduring mystery in the Harden area of the Riverina, where she was living at the time. The NSW government has offered $1m for information leading to a conviction over her disappearance, and presumed murder.

The prosecution has alleged in court that Haigh was used by the Geeves as a “surrogate mother” because they wanted another baby, and, once Haigh’s baby was born – fathered by Robert Geeves – they sought to have her “removed from the equation” by killing her.

The court has previously heard Haigh was an intellectually disabled teenager from Sydney who had endured a “dysfunctional upbringing” and who had moved to the farming hamlet of Kingsvale, in the Riverina, to live with her great-aunt in the late 1990s. That aunt lived next door to the Geeves’ then property, and Haigh later moved in with the Geeves.

A sexual relationship commenced between Robert Geeves and Haigh, and she gave birth to a son in January 2002.

Haigh disappeared sometime in June 2002. The Geeves say they drove her to Campbelltown railway station, from where she was to visit her sick father, on the evening of 5 June, and have neither seen nor heard from her since, the court has heard. They told police Haigh left her five-month-old son in their custody.

The Geeves reported Haigh missing a fortnight later, on 19 June 2002. In 2011, a coroner ruled Haigh had died from “homicide or misadventure” sometime in 2002. Her body has never been found.

Haigh’s great-aunt and sometime guardian, Stella Nealon, gave evidence to the NSW supreme court on Tuesday morning. She told the court she “felt the blame” when Haigh became pregnant, aged 14, to a cousin who was also living at Nealon’s home.

That pregnancy was terminated.

When Haigh fell pregnant again, this time to Robert Geeves, the court heard she was determined to keep the baby.

But Nealon said Anne Geeves wanted to take Amber’s baby.

She told the court Anne Geeves treated Haigh “roughly … talked nasty to her”.

Nealon alleged Anne Geeves told Haigh: “If you don’t look after the baby, you will lose it, I’ll take it.”

Nealon told the court Haigh had said she and Robert Geeves would have sex “all the time”, including in his car and at the Geeves’ home, on occasion watched by Anne Geeves.

Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr asked: “Did Amber [Haigh] tell you that Anne [Geeves] watched her have sex with Robert Geeves?

“Yes,” Nealon replied.

She said Haigh told her that Anne Geeves could not have another baby, and that Anne Geeves wanted Haigh to have a baby for the couple to keep.

Haigh’s baby to Robert Geeves was born in January 2002.

In court, Nealon said Haigh was mostly living alone in a flat in the town of Young after giving birth, and that she appeared unkempt and was losing weight. “She was starving,” Nealon told the court, so she took Haigh to her home to feed her.

Nealon said she last saw Haigh in May 2002, a month before she disappeared. Haigh had, by then, moved back in to live at the Geeves’s house, with her newborn baby.

“She [Haigh] said ‘they are standing over me’. I remember noticing that since she was living with the Geeves, she looked dirty and unhealthy. The baby … looked quite healthy, though.”

Nealon told court she had heard from people in the district rumours about Geeves allegedly tying up a young girl on his property, but had no first-hand knowledge of the allegation.

“That was the story going around, that he tied up two girls, school children. I wasn’t going to question that, because it’s none of my business.”

And she conceded that she had been angry with Robert Geeves over his relationship with Haigh, “for what he had done to my family”.

Nealon was asked if she thought Haigh would ever willingly give up her baby.

“Never,” Nealon said. “She loved him.”

Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr asked Nealon: “Do you think that if Amber was alive, she would have contacted you?”

“My word,” Nealon said, “my word.”

The court has previously heard the Geeves had had one child together – a son of almost identical age to Haigh – but the couple wanted more, having subsequently endured three miscarriages and a stillbirth.

The crown case will allege the Geeves planned to use Haigh as a “surrogate mother”.

Related: Amber Haigh murder trial unexpectedly delayed after accused too ill to attend court

“The crown case theory is that it was always the intention of the Geeves to assume the custody and care of [the child] from Amber, but they knew that to do that, Amber had to be removed from the equation, because the Geeves knew that Amber would never voluntarily relinquish custody of [her child] and certainly not to them.

“When it became apparent that choosing their desired outcome would be more difficult than they first thought, the Geeves realised that a more fundamental action was needed. So, the crown asserts, they killed her.”

Lawyers for Robert and Anne Geeves said the case against the couple – now more than two decades old – was deeply flawed, arguing that “community distaste” at Robert Geeves’s relationship with “a much younger woman with intellectual disabilities” fuelled “gossip and innuendo”.

“Everything they did was viewed through a haze of mistrust and suspicion,” the court has heard.

“Many witnesses harboured grievances or suspicions particularly against Mr Geeves.”

The judge-alone trial, before Justice Julia Lonergan, continues in Wagga Wagga.