Break-in led to flood deaths, inquest told

·3-min read

An inquest into the deaths of two Indigenous men in a stormwater drain during 2019 flooding in Townsville has heard how an attempt to break into a bottle shop led to their deaths.

The bodies of 23-year-old Troy Mathieson and Hughie Morton, 21, were found as water receded in the Townsville suburb of Aitkenvale after hundreds of homes were inundated during the 2019 floods.

In opening remarks to the inquest in Townsville on Tuesday, counsel assisting the coroner Melia Benn said one of its issues was whether a grate installed on the storm drain would have changed the outcome.

Police response and management of the scenario was also analysed on the opening day of a scheduled three-day hearing, as well as the decision to treat the pair as wanted persons instead of missing persons, and whether that would've been outcome changing.

Brother and cousin of the two men, Russell Parker, told the court he was drinking with Troy and Hughie on February 3, 2019 before they decided to get "more grog, more drinks, do whatever we could do," to obtain more alcohol.

They walked for up to 90 minutes trying two different venues before setting upon a Dan Murphy's, with Mr Parker telling the court he had a bolt cutter on him.

After going to the back of Dan Murphy's, a roller door's bolt was cut when alarms went off. The men then hid before trying another door roughly 20 minutes later.

Police were alerted to the situation and three officers - Senior Constables Warren Davies, Simon Wylie and Grant Stallard - arrived, with dash cam footage from their vehicle showing Troy and Hughie scaling the back fence and fleeing.

Senior Constable Davies, who was at the front of the shop away from his colleagues, said he saw two men enter a flooded creek adjacent to the property.

He said the water was "waist high" and he lost sight of the pair when he changed his position, as he thought they'd traverse the water and find land, where he could then cut them off.

But the men never resurfaced and were considered suspects, Sen Const Davis told the court.

"That's what we were investigating at the time was the break and enter, then once they've entered the water they were still being treated as suspects," he said.

He said he expected grates across the culverts in the creek and didn't think the men could have gone into the storm drain because they appeared not to be struggling or yelling, "nothing at all," in the brief amount of time he had eyes on them.

Sen Const Wylie said police asked people in nearby homes if they'd seen the men as he too thought they'd made it across the water.

But Sen Const Stallard said while the assumption police were operating under was that the men had climbed out of the water, they were treated as missing persons in the search the day after the incident.

The inquest presided over by State Coroner Terry Ryan continues on Wednesday.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting