A woman, who killed her three children in their home before setting it alight, told them “Babies, I don't want this to hurt anymore” before stabbing and strangling two of them, and smothering a third.
Margaret Dale Hawke, 36, appeared in Western Australia’s Supreme Court on Friday, where she was sentenced to three life sentences over the murders of her daughter, 10, and son, 7, before smothering her other son, just four months old, at a property on Anderson St in the Pilbara town of Port Hedland on July 19.
The children were not named in court for cultural reasons.
Hawke was given a non-parole period of 25 years, and also handed a sentence of two years, eight months over a charge of arson.
The court was told on Friday Hawke made the chilling final comments to her children before stabbing her daughter five times in the chest and her son three times in the chest, before strangling both with an electrical cord.
She then tried to drown her infant son in a sink, but failed, and instead smothered him, before walking to a nearby beach where she disposed of the blade used in the murders, before returning home and starting two fires in the property’s bedrooms.
Witnesses reported Hawke being calm as she walked out of her burning home, before becoming manic, pacing back and forth, and said repeatedly “I love my babies, I did it to my babies, why, why.”
Sentencing Justice Michael Lundberg, who himself was born and raised in Port Hedland, said the deaths had affected those outside Hawke’s immediate family.
“Those who responded on the day … the classmates of your two oldest children … and no doubt on the community of Port Hedland,” Justice Lundberg said.
Outside court, a member of Hawke’s family said they weren’t happy with the sentence.
“She should have gotten life without parole. We’re not happy. We’re not happy that innocent kids are dead,” they told reporters.
Reading the facts of the case, Justice Lundberg revealed Hawke had been “taking a combination of methamphetamine, cannabis and benzodiazepine,” in the days before the killings – the same drugs were present in her system following her arrest.
It was during this time police were called to Anderson St, Hawke’s daughter reporting her mother had hit and tried to strangle her.
The children were taken to live with their grandmother, Hawke’s mother, but were returned the day before their deaths, the final day of the school holidays.
As the gruesome details of the actual slayings were read aloud, Hawke, sitting in the dock and flanked by bailiffs, sobbed and bowed her head, her hands holding a wad of tissues to her face.
In previous hearings, Hawke banged her head against the dock and cried loudly. The court was also told she banged her head against the wall during one of her two police interviews.
“Recounting the events … has an obvious emotional impact on you,” said Justice Lundberg on Friday.
In earlier sentencing hearings the court heard Hawke had presented at a women’s refuge with her children the night before the murders, but was turned away because the refuge was full.
Defence lawyer Alana Woldan said her client wasn’t coping with the responsibilities of motherhood and suffered from a life full of “dysfunction and difficulties”.
The court was told Hawke had been introduced to drugs and alcohol at an early age and felt like she was a failure as a mother due to the perception others were intensely judging her.
Justice Lundberg said he took this into account when considering mitigating factors.
“As an Aboriginal woman born in the Pilbara in the mid-1980s, you faced a number of disadvantages,” he said, detailing how Hawke was abandoned by her parents until she was 18 months old, suffered violence at the hands of her parents from the age of seven and was kicked out of the family home at age 16 once she started receiving Centrelink payments.
“It is likely because of your methamphetamine use as a coping mechanism, and your displacement from the family home at age 16, meant you were unable to break the cycle,” Justice Lundberg said.
He said Hawke was also a repeated victim of domestic violence at the hands of three separate partners, one of whom beat her with a metal pole and a golf club.
The court heard she opted to stay with one partner because he wasn’t as violent as another, a comparison that Justice Lundberg noted was “as terrible as it sounds”.
Family members were present in the public gallery on Friday, while Hawke’s mother watched proceedings via video link from South Hedland — sobbing and holding her head down through much of the hearing.
The home on Anderson St has since been torn down, and a community garden will be built on the site.