/ 30 June 2022

‘A true monster’ who couldn’t be stopped

Image source: Supplied
Image source: Supplied

It’s unlikely that Rowan Baxter could have been stopped from murdering his estranged wife Hannah Clarke and their 3 children, the Queensland’s Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley has found. She’s handed down a 150-page report after a 9-day inquest in Brisbane from late March to early April about what happened in February 2020. To recap: Baxter ambushed Clarke and their children – Aaliyah (6yo), Laianah (4yo), and Trey (3yo) – as they headed out on the school run from her parents’ home in the Brissie suburb of Camp Hill. He jumped into the vehicle, poured petrol around and set it alight. The kids died in the blaze, and Baxter died soon after from a self-inflicted stab wound. Hannah succumbed to her injuries in hospital. Choking back her tears as she offered her condolences to Clarke’s parents, Bentley also said that Baxter was “not mentally ill – he was a master of manipulation.”

Bentley said that everyone Clarke dealt with – police officers, service providers, friends or family members – failed to recognise the “extreme risk” she would be killed. “That failure probably came about because Baxter had not been violent and had no relevant criminal history,” she said. As for the police response, she said there were missed opportunities, but Clarke was dealt with appropriately. But urgent changes have been recommended, including a 12-month trial of a specialist domestic violence police station in Logan (near Brissie) or Kirwan (near Townsville) – places where the rates of domestic violence are high. Bentley says there’s also the need for more domestic violence training for police and more funding for men’s programs.

Deputy State Coroner Bentley also said there are some issues regarding community attitudes to domestic violence. She said that even after the tragedy, “a number of people continued to give statements to police in which they stated that Baxter loved his wife and children, he was a great father, and that his actions were somehow excused or explained by the fact that he was losing everything” in his separation from Clarke. So a better/broader understanding of coercive control is needed, Bentley said. That’s the use of extreme manipulation and controlling behaviours to attempt to limit a victim’s freedom and rights – and experts say many domestic homicide cases were preceded by coercive control, not physical violence. And that’s why Clarke’s parents, lawmakers and family violence prevention advocates say it’s a big issue to address. The Queensland Government has announced plans to criminalise coercive control.

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