The fate of Hannah Clarke and her children may have been different if she received more guidance from police, an inquest has been told.
Domestic violence expert Heather Douglas says she understood Ms Clarke was fearful of what her estranged husband Rowan Baxter might do if she applied for a protection order after they separated in late 2019.
But Prof Douglas said Ms Clarke may have potentially had Baxter arrested and in police custody on charges such as stalking, if officers had asked the right questions.
“If the police officers were really aware of risk factors and had explained clearly to Hannah about her safety issues and encouraged her to make charges and to support charges we might have had a different outcome,” she told the inquest into the death of Ms Clarke and her children.
“People can’t be expected to really know what their risk factors are but police should be expected to know and be able to articulate them to a victim.
“And with full information someone like Hannah may have actually made a different decision, especially if she thought serious charges might lead to a refusal of bail.”
Prof Douglas said there are often opportunities where alleged perpetrators can be charged with criminal offences, but instead the officers’ initial focus is often on domestic violence order breaches.
“They (police) may have decided to charge differently and magistrates confronted with … 29 out of 39 risk factors may well have also decided that bail shouldn’t have been granted,” she said.
There “was a lot that went wrong” in Ms Clarke’s case, Prof Douglas said, advocating for trials of different approaches to domestic violence.
Ms Clarke was leaving her parents’ home in the Brisbane suburb of 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 on February 19, 2020.
The inquest was told Baxter received a “glowing endorsement” from psychologist Vivian Jarrett barely a month before he torched his family and then fatally stabbed himself.
Dr Jarrett wrote a reference saying she had no concerns about Baxter’s mental health.
She told the inquest on Wednesday that she agreed Baxter was at a high risk of harming others.
Dr Jarrett was also aware Baxter may be trying to “pull the wool” over her eyes during their six sessions from December 2019, to create good evidence for the family court in a bid to regain access to his children. But she did not detail those concerns in her notes.
Instead she wrote a favourable reference and provided police a statement a day after the family’s deaths saying Baxter was “level headed” and “low risk”.
“I did not have any evidence before me to say he was an unfit parent,” Dr Jarrett said.
The inquest is set to come to a close in Brisbane on Thursday.
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