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An inquest into the death of Hannah Clarke and her three children has heard that Ms Clarke did not tell police her husband had choked her.
An anonymous Brisbane domestic violence worker said Ms Clarke told her on December 9, 2019, that her husband, Rowan Baxter, had strangled her during sex in November.
Hannah Clarke, 31, her children – Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three – were killed when estranged husband Rowan Baxter doused their family in car in petrol and lit it on fire in suburban south Brisbane on February 19, 2020.
Baxter did not die in the initial fire but jumped out of the burning car – with burns to 80 percent of his body – and stabbed himself with a knife.
Hannah Clarke, 31, her children – Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three – were killed when estranged husband Rowan Baxter torched their family in a car on a suburban Brisbane street in 2020
On the worker’s risk assessment of the case she recorded that Ms Clarke said Baxter had ‘put his hands around Hannah’s neck during sex without her consent and would not remove them’.
However the worker did not inform police because ‘most women’ she is in contact with have been strangled by their partner and she assumed they would already be aware.
‘So unfortunately, this sort of information wouldn’t be something I’d usually share with police,’ she said.
‘I knew Hannah had been in regular contact with police. I think this information would have been information I assumed that the police would know as well.’
An anonymous Brisbane Domestic Violence Service worker said Ms Clarke told her on December 9, 2019, that her husband, Rowan Baxter (above), had strangled her during sex in November
However the inquest heard Ms Clarke had not informed police of her non-lethal strangulation and that it was a missed sign she was at extreme risk.
‘Again I think it really depends on the situation and I’m just making an assumption here … sometimes in those sort of situations where it’s sexual and there hasn’t been any pressure used, they might not consider that strangulation,’ the worker said.
The worker said in a recent separate case a young person had choked their mother but no action was taken by police.
‘Unfortunately DV services and police aren’t always as linked in as we would want them to be,’ the support worker said.
‘Sometimes I’ve had police that have been able to respond really well and go above and beyond.
The worker did not inform police because ‘most women’ she is in contact with have been strangled by their partner and she assumed they would already be aware
‘But other times I’ve had experiences where I’ve had to advocate and unfortunately a breach hasn’t been taken seriously.
‘I’ve had experiences where it hasn’t been so great.’
The worker said it took about six weeks for her to complete Ms Clarke’s risk and safety assessment due to an overload of victims seeking help from the service.
‘So in that situation I believe I had completed the risk and safety assessment with Hannah and it was pending allocation to a case manager,’ she said.
‘Hannah had reached out with some concerns with the respondent using technology abuse and I was able to provide that bit of case management before she was allocated her actual case manager.’
‘We get a range of high risk situations, we might get a call where someone has been strangled that day and the RASA needs to be completed so unfortunately I think it was a situation where we didn’t have the manpower to complete it in that week when I initially wanted to complete it.’
The non-lethal choking had been highlighted in Ms Clarke’s RASA because the worker felt it was important for other people working on the case to know
Domestic violence service workers had not moved Hannah Clarke to emergency accommodation because they believed she was safe staying with her parents Sue and Lloyd Clarke (above)
The worker also said the only training she had received for her position was a handover period from the last worker.
She said she received no training on how to share information with police or signs that indicate a lethal relationship.
The non-lethal choking had been highlighted in Ms Clarke’s RASA because the worker felt it was important for other people working on the case to know.
The worker also said she was unaware of times where her case RASA’s had been given to police and agreed that women contacting DV support services often have trouble getting police to charge their perpetrators.
Rowan Baxter killed Hannah Clarke and their three children after dousing them in petrol while inside their family car and setting it alight
A second DVS worker told the inquest two police officers had paid Ms Clarke a ‘short visit’ on January 8, 2020.
‘So my role in this particular instance was to follow up with Hannah to see if she required any wrap around support, ongoing support … whatever that might be,’ she said.
‘She did indicate that she would like to have support or be linked in with, I guess, a family law lawyer and counselling.’
She said a ‘red flag’ to her at the time was that Baxter had abducted four-year-old Laianah on Boxing Day.
‘Just the fact that her estranged husband had taken, abducted, the middle child, which alerted us. I mean, that’s a huge red flag,’ she said.
A DVS worker said there was no reason in the months before her death for Ms Clarke to be categorised as being in ‘imminent risk’
‘It’s not normal behaviour … it’s just, who does that?’
Despite this, the worker said there was no reason at the time for Ms Clarke to be categorised as being in ‘imminent risk’.
‘If we assessed an aggrieved was at imminent risk in our absence if we were on annual leave we would hand it over to another case worker,’ she said.
‘I didn’t believe Hannah was at imminent risk because the police were involved, we were involved. I know she had left her estranged husband. I didn’t realise she was living with her parents but I did know her parents were there as a social support.
‘There was nothing glaring for me that I could assess her as being at imminent risk.’
A third DVS worker said she had been in contact with Ms Clarke just days before her death and she seemed positive about her future.
A DVS worker said she had talked to a hopeful Ms Clarke over the phone on January 29 and they met on February 4, prior to her death on February 19 when Baxter set the family car on fire
She said she had talked to Ms Clarke over the phone on January 29 and they met on February 4, prior to her death on February 19.
‘I can recall that she was upbeat, she was looking forward to sort of moving on with her life,’ she said.
‘She was very forward focused.’
However, Ms Clarke did tell the worker that Baxter’s behaviour had escalated and disclosed he had injured her arm while visiting her parents house with private photos spread on the back seat of his car.
The worker had agreed it was an escalation in behaviour and recommended Ms Clarke’s parents collect her kids from school but did not feel she needed to be moved to emergency accommodation.
‘What I keep in mind in this situation was that Ms Clarke identified that she was feeling supported living with her family and that’s where she felt best,’ she said.
‘In Hannah’s scenario, yes, there was absolutely a risk, and a high risk there – and I don’t deny that,.
‘But the system was working as it should have been.’
Source: Daily Mail