Hannah Clarke feared getting a domestic violence order against her volatile estranged husband would antagonise her situation, an inquest has been told.
Ms Clarke spoke to officers when husband Rowan Baxter took one of their three children after the family met at a Brisbane park on Boxing Day 2019.
Footage of the conversation the sobbing mother of three had with officers has been shown at an inquest examining the 2020 deaths of Ms Clarke, children – Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three – and Baxter, who torched the family in a car on a suburban Brisbane street.
In the footage Ms Clarke said she and Baxter had been separated a few weeks, but he had been at her parents’ house on Christmas Day.
The following day they met for the children to skateboard, but Ms Clarke refused to let Baxter have the kids overnight fearing he wouldn’t return them.
“He said, ‘OK, well I didn’t want it to be like this’ and then started to storm off with (Laianah),” Ms Clarke is heard telling Senior Constable Luke Erba and another officer.
She said Baxter put the four-year-old unbuckled in the front seat of the car.
Telling officers Baxter was “just a psycho”, Ms Clarke added: “(He) just called me now and said … you either bring the other two back or I keep (Laianah).”
“They were in my care. I was doing a good thing by letting them see him.”
Ms Clarke said Baxter’s behaviour stemmed from the separation.
“There’s been a lot of domestic violence, not physical, but emotional, controlling me … and it just got too much, I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.
The 31-year-old said she had spoken to police previously about whether to get a domestic violence order.
“The only reason I didn’t is because I was scared that it would antagonise the situation,” she said.
Senior Constable Erba, who testified at the inquest, told Ms Clarke that without any family orders there was not much police could do, although they would speak to Baxter to try to resolve the situation.
“Because he’s the biological father of the child, we can’t go and just seize the child,” he said.
Baxter took his daughter to NSW for more than two days before Laianah was returned to Ms Clarke following police intervention.
The inquest has been told Ms Clarke was unaware she was in a domestic violence relationship when she first spoke to police on December 6, 2019.
Days later, Ms Clarke unexpectedly saw the same officer, Senior Constable Kirsten Kent, at the Carindale Shopping Centre sports shoe store where she worked.
Ms Clarke was immediately “so fearful” thinking something had happened to the children who were with Baxter.
“Her level of fear was like, I have not seen such authentic fear from an aggrieved (person) before,” Senior Constable Kent told the inquest.
A police protection notice was put in place against Baxter on December 29, beginning the process of getting a permanent domestic violence order which Senior Constable Kent knew was going to be “an uphill battle”.
“I’d started to build up a bit of a picture of what type of man he was.”
Baxter breached a temporary order on January 31, when he grabbed Ms Clarke’s wrist during an altercation while dropping their son off at Ms Clarke’s parents’ home.
The breach frightened Ms Clarke, according to text messages read to the inquest.
“I know given the opportunity he wouldn’t hesitate to kill me, I can see the look in his eyes,” Ms Clarke wrote to Senior Constable Kent.
Asked whether she appreciated how serious Ms Clarke’s situation was, the officer told the inquest: “I’m still not sure what further action I could have done at that point.”
Ms Clarke was leaving her parents’ home in Camp Hill to take her children to school when Baxter got into the car, poured fuel inside and set it alight on February 19, 2020.
Baxter, 42, then stabbed himself with a knife, dying nearby.
Ms Clarke died later the same day in hospital.
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