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Clarke family inquest enters final phase

The inquest into the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children, who died after estranged husband Rowan Baxter torched the family in a car, is drawing to a close with a focus on what can be done to avoid a similar tragedy.

Seven days of evidence has been heard in the Coroners Court in Brisbane, with domestic violence workers, Baxter’s psychologist and an expert set to take the stand on Wednesday.

Ms Clarke was leaving her parents’ home in Brisbane’s Camp Hill to take her children – Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three – to school when Baxter got into the car, poured fuel inside and set it alight in February 2020.

Baxter, 42, then stabbed himself with a knife, dying nearby.

Ms Clarke died later the same day in hospital.

Coroner Jane Bentley will consider the nature and extent of contact Ms Clarke and Baxter had with domestic violence or counselling services and the appropriateness of their responses, as well as those of Queensland police.

She will also consider responses by relevant agencies to the safety and welfare of the three children.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers told the inquest domestic and family violence is single most prevalent call for service in policing in the state – with some officers potentially spending up to 90 per cent of their time on such cases.

He said many frontline police responding to domestic violence calls were junior officers with the least training and experience.

“For our junior police, especially over the COVID times, the training has been limited and I believe they are put at a substantial risk … (and) that certainly puts victims at a substantial risk as well,” he told the inquest on Tuesday.

“A lot of police feel like, with the lack of training, they’re actually letting victims and the community down through no fault of their own.”

The inquest also heard from Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board manager Susan Beattie, who said most officers dealing with domestic violence orders and breaches work in general duties and were not specialist investigators or detectives.

“In an ideal situation – and bearing in mind obviously resourcing and individual officers and their level of training et cetera – the strategies that are effective in responding to domestic and family violence is yes, supporting victims … but it’s also being able to maintain, monitor and swiftly respond to the perpetrator,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of programs for people committing domestic violence.

The inquest is due to conclude with submissions from legal practitioners on Thursday.

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