Michael Kearns and Louise Benson plunged more than 30 metres to their deaths in the seaside town of Ericeira, Portugal. Picture: Instagram
Michael Kearns and Louise Benson plunged more than 30 metres to their deaths in the seaside town of Ericeira, Portugal. Picture: Instagram

Mystery of Aussie couple’s bizarre cliff fall deaths

DISTURBING questions have emerged around the tragic deaths of young couple Michael Kearns and Louise Benson, whose bodies were found at the bottom of a 30m cliff in a quiet village in Portugal.

News Corp can reveal police have not interviewed any of the people who spent time with Mr Kearns, 33, and Ms Benson, 37, in the hours before they fell from the cliff-top at Praia dos Pescadores (Fishermen's Beach) in the surfing mecca of Ericeira in the early hours of Tuesday.

Perth couple Michael Kearns and Louise Benson, pictured in Sydney, died after falling from a beach wall in Portugal.
Perth couple Michael Kearns and Louise Benson, pictured in Sydney, died after falling from a beach wall in Portugal.

In circumstances that echoe the botched investigation by police into the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann a decade ago, the Portuguese police made no attempt to find witnesses, or speak to any of the people the couple had spent the previous 12 hours eating and drinking with.

Instead, local police claimed they appeared to have fallen between 1am and 6am while trying to take a selfie on the dangerous cliff face, which is protected only by a low wall.

The beach at the bottom of the cliff where Michael Kearns and Louise Benson fell to their deaths. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas
The beach at the bottom of the cliff where Michael Kearns and Louise Benson fell to their deaths. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas

Mr Kearns' father Bill said not knowing what happened is the hardest part.

"It's just so bloody final, there's no rhyme or reason to what happened … I keep saying why Mick, why are you gone mate?," he said.

"I would trade places with him, but he'll be with us in our hearts and so will she."

He described his son as a "rough diamond with a heart of gold" and his girlfriend was a "beautiful girl with a beautiful nature", he said.

A floral tribute at the cliff wall in Ericeira, Portugal,  where Michael Kearns and Louise Benson died.  Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas
A floral tribute at the cliff wall in Ericeira, Portugal, where Michael Kearns and Louise Benson died. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas

Mr Kearns' wife Kathy has made the heartbreaking voyage to Portugal to collect their son's body and hopefully find answers.

"If it had been a shark or something like that at least you'd know and have closure.

"I just hope we can find some closure, some peace and rest."

While there is no evidence their deaths were anything other than a tragic accident, News Corp can reveal troubling inconsistencies with the police investigation, including:

*The pair were still at a local bar drinking at 4am.

*A woman walking her dog along the cliff-face just after 5am heard a short scream, or shout, as if someone had received a fright. She has not spoken to police.

*A local man told News Corp he had been drinking with the couple at a bar before leaving at 2am and going home alone.

*But the owner of a second bar said she had seen the local man drinking with Mr Kearns and Ms Benson at her bar until 4am. Neither the local man, nor the bar owner, have been spoken to by police.

*There is no evidence the pair were taking a selfie, and indeed it seems unlikely on a dark cliff-face in light rain.

*Police have no witnesses to their final moments, and have not sought any CCTV images. Their bodies were found around 7.40am by a beach-cleaner.

*The Policia Judiciaria, the Portuguese investigative police who handle serious cases such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, came to Ericeira on Portugal's west coast, to investigate the deaths, but returned the same day to Lisbon, and have not been back.

*Ms Benson was found to be clutching hairs in her hands when her body was found on the beach.

News Corp spoke to several people who spent time with Mr Kearns, a miner from Perth, and Ms Benson, a British woman living in Australia and working for the Sea Shepherd organisation, in the hours before their deaths.

Every person interviewed said they were a happy, easy-going, loving couple who shared drinks and conversations with everyone around them.

The pair checked into the Vinnus guest-house in central Ericeira around 3pm on Monday and dropped their bags, heading out 10 minutes later to explore the lovely old village, with its white-washed houses, blue doors and terra-cotta tiled roofs.

Around 4pm they took a waterfront table at the Sete Praias restaurant and bar at South Beach, where waiter Tazio De Maio served them until he finished work at 8.30pm.

Ms Benson took a photograph of Mr Kearns and posted it to Instagram, and the pair ordered a whole fish, and several drinks as they enjoyed the sun.

"He had a few beers, she had some wines,'' Mr Di Maio told News Corp.

"They were really, really easy, really nice.

"They were really mellow and finding it good here after a few days in the Algarve, they said it was noisy there and they couldn't sleep but here they were at peace.''

"I said to them 'have a good one.'

"They said 'we will probably see you tomorrow'.''

The pair then walked to a local pizza restaurant a few doors from their guesthouse, La Pizza, for dinner, before heading to a late-night tourist pub, Adega Bar 1987, with a local man they met at the pizzeria.

The cliff wall at Praia dos Pescadores (Fishermen's Beach) in Ericeira where Michael Kearns and Louise Benson fell. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas
The cliff wall at Praia dos Pescadores (Fishermen's Beach) in Ericeira where Michael Kearns and Louise Benson fell. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas

The man told News Corp he left them at 2am when the bar closed and went home.

However, a woman who owns a family-run bar nearby, Bar Neptuno, said the local man had come to her bar shortly after a group of young people, including Mr Kearns and Ms Benson, had arrived about 2.20am.

Maria Fernanda "Cher'' Vieira, who has owned Bar Neptuno for 31 years, said Mr Kearns and Ms Benson were laughing, drinking and hugging each other as they hung out with the other young people, who appeared to be English and German.

"This boy was in love with the girl,'' she said of the Australian couple.

She said the local man, who she knew well, was drunk, and she had warned him: "be careful or you're out. Too much noise and everybody is out.''

She said the group left together about 4am, and she did not see them again.

News Corp has decided not to name the local man and is not suggesting he is in any way connected to the couple's deaths.

Interviewed a second time, and told the Neptuno owners said they had seen him there, he appeared confused, questioned the information several times and said "no, no.''

Another witness, who asked not to be named but works at a different business in town, told News Corp she had been walking her dog near the cliff-top just after 5am when she heard a voice shout, or scream, as if in fright. She did not think much of it until she heard about the deaths the next day. She has not spoken to the police.

Speaking to Portuguese media several hours after the pair's bodies were found, Captain Rui Pereira da Terra of the Cascais Port maritime police said: "Everything seems to indicate that the fall happened when they were probably trying to take a selfie.

"It seems they dropped their mobile phone and fell down while leaning over to retrieve it."

Lusa news agency reported the captain as saying the time of death seems to have been between 1am and 6am.

The beach at the bottom of the cliff where the couple died. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas
The beach at the bottom of the cliff where the couple died. Picture: Franck Bessiere/Hans Lucas

A police source told News Corp the theory about the selfie was an "assumption'' by one of his colleagues, which had been passed on from the maritime police to the commander, to the Policia Judiciaria and the media.

He said the time of death had been estimated by forensic tests.

Firefighters retrieved an iPhone from a small ledge part-way down the cliff and handed it to police.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the accident told News Corp Ms Benson had been holding hairs in her hands when she was found. The Policia Judiciaria took a number of samples from the scene for forensic investigation.

The police source also said the pair, who were fatally injured when they struck a large sign at the base of the cliff, appear to have been holding each other closely as they fell.

No comment could be obtained from the Policia Judiciaria.

Additional reporting Kate Campbell.



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