Hannah Clarke inquest: Coroner says ‘no one’ could have stopped killer Rowan Baxter


A coroner investigating the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children recognised the mother’s ‘astounding’ bravery, saying it was unlikely anyone could have stopped Rowan Baxter’s murderous plans.

Coroner Jane Bentley’s voice broke as she finished handing her findings in a Southport court on Wednesday following a nine-day hearing in March.

Ms Bentley said Baxter was not mentally ill, but a ‘master of manipulation’.

‘I find it unlikely that any further actions taken by police officers, service providers, friends or family members could have stopped Baxter from ultimately executing his murderous plans,’ she added.

Ms Bentley said police training required ‘immediate attention’ to prevent similar deaths occurring.

Hannah Clarke and her three children Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, are pictured above 

Vile Rowan Baxter buys flammable liquid from a hardware store before committing his evil crime

Vile Rowan Baxter buys flammable liquid from a hardware store before committing his evil crime

Her recommendations included a five-day face-to-face training program for specialist domestic violence police officers ‘as a matter of urgency’, a mandatory face-to-face domestic violence module for all officers and state government funding provided urgently for men’s behaviour change programs in prisons and communities.

She also called for a multi-disciplinary specialist domestic violence police station to be trialled for a year.

The station should include specialist officers including a detective, a support worker, a lawyer to advise police and victims, and representatives from the departments of child safety, housing and health.

Ms Clarke was leaving her parents’ home in Brisbane’s Camp Hill suburb to take Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, to school when estranged husband Baxter jumped into her vehicle on February 19, 2020.

The 42-year-old splashed fuel inside the car and set it alight, before stabbing himself with a knife, dying nearby.

The children’s bodies were found in the vehicle, while Ms Clarke, 31, died the same day in hospital.

The inquest was shown CCTV footage of Baxter buying zip ties, cleaning fluid and a fuel can days before the killings.

He also bought three Kinder Surprise chocolates – presumably for his children – when he purchased fuel.

Hannah Clarke's parents, Lloyd and Sue, said the Coroner's finding were a good outcome

Hannah Clarke’s parents, Lloyd and Sue, said the Coroner’s finding were a good outcome

Counsel assisting the coroner Jacoba Brasch QC told the hearing Baxter may have initially intended to kidnap Ms Clarke, burn her, then give his children chocolates and it ‘would all be happy families’.

But he turned to ‘plan B’ once the 31-year-old defied him by asking a bystander for help when Baxter ambushed her, she said.

Ms Clarke’s parents Sue and Lloyd Clarke said at the end of the ‘unthinkably confronting’ hearing they hoped the inquest will help others avoid the same fate.

The Coroners Court was told there were systematic failings in police communication and training.

But Mr Clarke said nothing would have stopped Baxter.

‘He was just one of those people … so callous and used everyone as a pawn in his monstrous ways,’ he said outside court after the hearing.

Sue Clarke added: ‘Every now and then I think a true monster is born and you can’t stop them’.

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said earlier on Wednesday she hoped the legacy of the inquest will be ‘a much stronger system’.

‘It is incredibly distressing … when we hear about these horrific murders and we have to do more to prevent (them from) happening,’ she told 4BC radio on Wednesday.

‘I often say we have to start responding to the red flags before more blue police tape surrounds the family home.’

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Hannah Clarke’s powerful legacy: Huge change to DV laws in wake of the horrific firebombing murders of brave mum and her three children

The horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her monstrous husband has resulted in landmark changes in domestic violence laws in Queensland, with the coercive control of a partner or family member is set to be a criminal offence.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced plans for the bold new legislation in a stirring speech on Tuesday, telling state Parliament: ‘We have listened’.

The major reform was a key recommendation of the landmark Hear Her Voice report handed down in December by Justice Margaret McMurdo’s and the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce in the wake of the quadruple murder-suicide.

Rowan Baxter, 42, killed the young mother, 31, and her children Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, as they set off for school at Camp Hill, in Brisbane’s south, on February 19, 2020.

He doused the inside of the vehicle with petrol and then set it alight before fatally stabbing himself on a suburban street in front of horrified residents.

The disturbing case shocked Australia and sparked outrage about how domestic violence is policed across the nation.

The major reform was a key recommendation of the landmark Hear Her Voice report handed down in December by Justice Margaret McMurdo's and the Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce in response to the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children (pictured).

The major reform was a key recommendation of the landmark Hear Her Voice report handed down in December by Justice Margaret McMurdo’s and the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce in response to the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children (pictured).

WHAT IS COERCIVE CONTROL? 

Coercive control is the most common factor leading up to intimate partner homicide.

Its tragic outcome was most recently seen in the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children.

It includes isolating a partner from family and friends, monitoring their movements, controlling access to money and psychological and emotional manipulation.

‘Last year thousands of women marched through our streets here and around the country demanding to be heard,’ Premier Palaszczuk told Queensland Parliament.

‘The march for justice had many goals but none more emphatic that we listen to women particularly their experience of domestic, family and sexual violence because it’s women and children who suffer most from these crimes.

‘Mr speaker I am proud to say that our government is listening. Our government will make coercive control a crime.’

While an exact legal definition of the offence will not be established until the end of 2023, it will centre around the toxic behaviours which commonly coincide with domestic violence.

‘Coercive control is telling a woman what she can wear, where she can go, who she can see and what she can spend,’ Premier Palaszczuk said.

‘It is the most common factor which leads to an intimate partner murder.

‘It was what Hannah Clarke suffered before her and her three children were so brutally killed.’

An inquest into the quadruple murder-suicide found she had been trying to escape the abusive relationship when she and her children were incinerated.

But despite repeated efforts to leave, Baxter continued to track her down and make contact.

Jacoba Brasch, the counsel assisting the coroner in the inquest, determined from witness statements that in the final moments of her life, the brave mother died desperately trying to save her children.

Rowan Baxter, 42, killed the young mother, 31, and her children Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, as they set off for school at Camp Hill, in Brisbane's south, on February 19, 2020 (pictured together)

Rowan Baxter, 42, killed the young mother, 31, and her children Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, as they set off for school at Camp Hill, in Brisbane’s south, on February 19, 2020 (pictured together) 

The burnt remains of Hannah Clarke's vehicle after her estranged ex-husband set it alight with his entire family inside

The burnt remains of Hannah Clarke’s vehicle after her estranged ex-husband set it alight with his entire family inside 

As part of the announcement, the Queensland government will set aside $363million for a community awareness campaign, better training of police and an expansion of support services.

It also includes $106million to improve safety for victims attending court. 

Ms Palaszczuk said another priority is a police pilot program.

‘In addition, the police service will trial a collaborative co-response model involving police and specialist DFV services working together in a number of locations,’ she said.

The disturbing case of Hannah Clarke shocked Australia and sparked outrage about how domestic violence is policed across the nation. Pictured: Protesters march during the Women's March 4 Justice in Melbourne on March 15, 2021

The disturbing case of Hannah Clarke shocked Australia and sparked outrage about how domestic violence is policed across the nation. Pictured: Protesters march during the Women’s March 4 Justice in Melbourne on March 15, 2021

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said a ‘shift’ in thinking has been needed for a long time.

‘Our systems need to respond better to this unique form of violence and we need to shift our focus from responding to single incidents of violence to the pattern of abusive behaviour that occurs over time,’ the Attorney said.

‘We will also explore options to improve availability and accessibility of intervention programs for DFV perpetrators. Intervening to help perpetrators change their behaviour is essential to keeping victims safe from violence.

‘We will look to continue and expand trials of online perpetrator interventions and programs addressing violence perpetrated by young men against a parent.’

Tasmania was the first and only state in Australia to outlaw coercive control. NSW state government last year committed to outlawing the behaviour.

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