The sons of a multiple sclerosis sufferer who weighed a skeletal 30kg when she died have told an inquest they had limited contact with their mother in the months leading up to her death, but at the time trusted their father was caring for her properly.
Robert and Alexander Devine were 22 and 19 respectively when their mother Janene Devine died in March 2007 at her Bull Creek home. Coroner Dominic Mulligan is investigating whether neglect contributed to her death. Mrs Devine was being cared for full-time by her husband Andrew Devine, who had been a registered nurse.
Her sons said they lived at the Bull Creek house on and off in the two years before their mother’s death as they had a volatile relationship with their father.
Alexander Devine conceded the house was “disorganised” and “dirty” but he was not concerned at the time about the care his father was providing to his mother, saying he appeared to be attentive to her needs.
The brothers said they did not realise their mother was losing weight as they would only have brief contact with her in her bedroom where she was always under blankets and sheets.
Alexander Devine said his father did not want him and his brother to clean the house and told him not to go into his mother’s bedroom.
“I assumed it was to protect me to some degree,” he said.
The brothers said they never discussed their mother’s feeding regime with their father and told the inquest they could not recall the last time they saw their mother alive.
The inquest has heard that Mrs Devine received about half of the food that she needed over the last five months of her life.
Alexander Devine said his father told him his mother’s death was a result of the natural progression of MS.
Robert Devine told the inquest he could not recall specifically the state of the house at the time of his mother’s death or the smell from her bedroom, but agreed with his younger brother that their father actively discouraged them not to clean.
“He took control, he actively resisted our assistance … he explained that it wasn’t appropriate for me to assist at this stage of her care,” he said.
“I trusted my father’s level of care at the time.”
Police who arrived at the house after Mrs Devine’s death told the inquest the smell from the bedroom made it difficult to breathe.
Robert Devine had stayed overnight at his parents’ home when his mother died, but refused a police request to provide a witness statement. He said he was angry at the police presence during the emotional time and explained he had also refused the Coroner’s Court’s recent request for a statement because he did not want to relive the events.
Evidence at the inquest has now finished. Lawyers will submit written submissions before Mr Mulligan hands down his findings.
The inquest has been told that if Mr Mulligan is satisfied there is evidence of an indictable offence then he will refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Andrew Devine’s evidence remains suppressed because of the fear it could prejudice any future jury.