A Queensland coroner will try to determine if anything could have been done to prevent Hannah Clarke and her three children being killed in a horrific act of domestic violence.
Hannah Clarke and her children – Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three – were doused in petrol and burned alive by estranged husband Rowan Baxter in Brisbane on February 19, 2020.
Just before 8.30am, Ms Clarke was leaving her parents’ home in Camp Hill with her three children when Baxter intercepted the car, climbing in the passenger’s seat armed with a knife and a can of petrol, a pre-inquest hearing in Brisbane was told on Tuesday.
“Hannah screamed at Baxter to get out of the car. Her screams were desperate and fearful – we know this because a worried neighbour recorded them,” Dr Jacoba Brasch QC told the coroner.
Baxter ordered Ms Clarke to drive as he poured petrol over her and through the vehicle’s cabin.
She made it 200 metres before she pulled into a driveway where a man was washing his car, begging him to call the police.
Then the car exploded.
“The explosion was so loud, it rattled windows across the street and some thought they heard a gas explosion.”
Ms Clarke freed herself from the car but was engulfed by flames. She died that afternoon from injuries so severe they couldn’t be treated.
Baxter was badly burnt but still able to grab his knife from the burning car and impale himself on the blade, puncturing his heart.
The murders were meticulously planned – Baxter was driving a borrowed car and brought the fuel with him that day.
“The evidence indicates that Baxter’s actions that morning were not a sudden nor snap decision,” Dr Brasch said.
“Two days earlier, on the morning of 17 February, 2020, Baxter went to a Bunnings store and bought black cable ties and a plastic jerry can.”
The court will also hear evidence from Baxter’s previous partners of his “controlling and dominating influence”.
“Baxter used a highly manipulative combination of threat, intimidation, guilt, shame and raw anger to influence Hannah’s actions, her choices and her other personal and professional relationships.
“The evidence will shine a spotlight on this form of domestic violence; a form which is subtle and nuanced, even imperceptible to all but the most expert eyes, yet has devastating consequences.”
Dr Brasch described the murders as an act of “unimaginable cruelty” but said the hearings were necessary to determine if Ms Clarke and her children’s lives could have been saved.
“The purpose of this inquest is not to identify the deceased, the cause nor the place of their deaths, or even the perpetrator who took their lives.
“The evidence on those matters is abundant and tragically, painfully clear.
“This inquest must look backwards, at the warning signs which were missed or, if identified, whether appropriate actions were taken at the time to address those risks.”
Outside court, Ms Clarke’s parents Lloyd and Sue Clarke hoped the hearings would bring some form of closure.
“It will be good to have it finally over and hopefully it will fill in a few missing pieces for us,” Sue Clarke said.
“If we can save just one more life through things that are found out, that would be great.”
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Lifeline 131 114