An inquest into the death of a New South Wales girl crushed by a sandstone Anzac Day monument has heard its headstone had not been properly secured.
Indy Lee Henderson, three, was crushed by the monument at the Black Head Bowling Club at Hallidays Point on the mid-north coast of NSW in 2016.
She was there for her grandmother’s birthday party.
Her devastated family on Monday travelled from Sydney to Newcastle courthouse for a four-day inquest into her death.
Her mother Tamica Harrower sobbed as the counsel assisting Anna Mitchelmore SC said she anticipated the evidence would show that the sandstone headstone had been unsafe.
“The fixing used to secure the monument was not adequate and not done in accordance with best practice when working with sandstone,” Ms Mitchelmore said.
The monument was built in 1997, and the inquest was told it had two sandstone slabs lying flat on the ground and a larger slab embedded in the ground.
There was a 425-kilogram headstone, or upright, that sat perpendicular to the base.
“The critical issue relates to how the headstone was fixed to the base,” Ms Mitchelmore said.
“It may be common ground that it should have been fixed using cement bedding and two metal dowels and secured with a fixing agent.
“In the present case it was fixed by an insufficient bedding of cement mortar, and it left only silicon as the fixing agent and silicon is not sufficient.”
Inquest hears boy rode monument like a horse
The inquest heard children had been running around the monument and playing on it before it collapsed.
Former staff member Lisa Robbin said she had been worried when she saw a boy straddling it and riding it like a horse.
“The reason I was watching was that one child was sitting on top, rocking back and forward almost like he was riding a horse and it caught my eye because it didn’t look safe,” she said.
The former waitress and barmaid said after the boy fell off there was a commotion because the monument had collapsed.
“I saw the little boy come off the top and then I saw a lot of people run over,” Ms Robbins said.
“I didn’t see it fall on top of her and I thought he had just come off it, but there was a lot of commotion.”
Another witness, Lavinia Cronin, said she also saw a child sitting on the top of the structure.
“I looked up and I saw children playing on the war memorial and sitting on top, and it appeared a child was doing a swinging motion while seated on the monument.”
Ms Mitchelmore said the rocking motion and the use of the silicon as the fixing agent made the structure unsafe.
“There was no rigidity to resist a lateral movement when the headstone was rocked by a child or more than one child,” she said.
Concerns around safety standards for monuments
The inquest is looking at the construction, maintenance and inspection of the monument.
“There is the issue of standards of construction of the monument,” Ms Mitchelmore said.
“There will be evidence that there is no Australian standard that directly governs the construction of monuments outside of a cemetery.
“Standards Australia will confirm that these standards don’t technically apply, but there is however a general standard into loads and structural design.
“It would appear that specialist knowledge is required to ensure monuments are constructed to ensure their ongoing stability, and an engineer should be involved.”
Ms Mitchelmore said the maintenance of the monument would also be examined, amid claims no one had inspected the structure for at least a decade before Indy was crushed.
Deputy state coroner reaches out to family
Deputy state coroner Elizabeth Ryan is presiding over the inquest and has reached out to the family.
She offered her condolences.
“Indy was a much-loved child and described by her mother as a happy kid, a sweet child, who was always laughing and having a joke,” Ms Ryan said.
“Her tragic death was a devastating shock for her devoted family and her absence is keenly felt.
“She lived in Western Sydney and had started at an early learning centre in 2016. She was a fluent talker who had spoken from an early age.”
The inquest is expected to run until Thursday.