Detective slammed for 'dangerous' comments about reason behind car fire tragedy

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

The Queensland Police Service has come under fire for a detective’s comments saying they are keeping an “open mind” while investigating the tragic deaths of a mother and her three children who were doused in petrol by and set alight in their car by her estranged husband.

Detective Inspector Mark Thompson addressed media on Thursday regarding ongoing investigations into the death of Hannah Clarke and her three young children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, at the hands of Rowan Baxter, who took his own life by plunging a knife into his chest.

“Our job as investigators is to keep a completely open mind,” he told reporters.

Detective Inspector Mark Thompson speaking to media on Thursday. Source: 7News

Det Insp Thompson was on the scene in Camp Hill in the aftermath of the horrifying incident on Wednesday morning and despite all the witness accounts and evidence at hand at the time, he reminded reporters the incident could have been a “tragic accident”.

And he continued a similar narrative on Thursday, suggesting the deaths of Ms Clarke and her young children was potentially a result of her own actions.

“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence, and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband?

“Or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”

Hannah Clarke with her husband Rowan and their three young children. Source: Facebook

While Queensland Police have been reluctant to outright declare they are dealing with a murder-suicide, Mr Thompson’s comments was the fuel behind a barrage of criticism that appeared on social media afterwards.

One woman called the comments “disgusting”.

“The audacity of the Queensland Police to entertain the idea that the vile excuse for a person who murdered his family was “driven too far” leaves me speechless,” she said.

“Wake up Australia "she made him do it" is not an excuse,” another said.

Another Twitter user said women would have no trust in the police service regarding domestic abuse if its attitude is to justify homicide.

“He has just given permission/ justification to others to commit family violence,” one person said.

Police’s comments ‘dangerous’, victims’ advocate says

Victims’ advocate Renee Eaves who has previously worked with domestic abuse victims in Queensland, told The Guardian such narrative was “dangerous” for future victims.

“This narrative is the most dangerous thing that exists for victims who doubt themselves after an attack that maybe they were partly responsible,” she said.

“If police are now implying that a murdered woman might be at fault, then that to me raises critical questions about whether they took the threat to her safety seriously enough.

Investigations at the scene following the incident. Source: AAP

“Even when the worst has occurred, they’re still questioning the woman, and still looking for reasons to justify this man’s behaviour.”

However not all were critical of Mr Thompson’s wording.

Inspector ‘gutted’ over wording

Responding to a tweet which shared a transcript of Mr Thompson’s comments, Dr Terry Goldsworthy, a former police detective of 28 years who earlier this month published an article on The Conversation about filicide, questioned the practice of depicting what Mr Thompson had said.

“So you are happy to publicly degrade the officer who led the investigation at the scene, saw the bodies and spoke to the family and had to deal with the impact on his staff and others.

“He was probably worked 24 hrs straight on this and all you can do is snipe at his use of terms.”

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll apologised on Friday for what was said, adding the phrasing was wrong and Det Insp Thompson was gutted about the comment made during the 13 minute press conference. 

Ms Baxter pictured with her three children. Source: Facebook

Det Insp Thompson had earlier acknowledged the police’s response was causing concern from the public.

"Our investigations have shown us quite clearly that there is a palpable sense of grief and mourning amongst the community," Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said. 

Police knew of domestic abuse within the family

Queensland Police have revealed Hannah and Mr Baxter had been previously referred to support services, and police had received reports of domestic violence within the family over several months.

A Brisbane court granted at least one domestic violence order against Mr Baxter.

Manja Whaley, who said she has worked in domestic violence sector for 10 years, spoke to Ms Clarke prior to her death and told Nine’s Today Show Ms Baxter would check her social media accounts and accuse her of cheating.

“She would get dressed and she would be picking up her clothes and he would say things to her 'like look at your stomach, that's just disgusting'," Ms Whaley said.

According to Ms Whaley, Ms Clarke left Mr Baxter on December 5.

"My hope is that people are more aware of domestic violence... just because you haven't been beaten doesn't mean that there is no domestic violence," she said.

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