The mother of an 11-year-old boy killed by his father at a cricket ground in Victoria has spoken of her shock, and revealed her estranged partner had a history of mental illness and was the subject of an apprehended violence order (AVO).
Luke Batty was killed in front of horrified onlookers after a cricket training session at the oval in the small town of Tyabb, south-east of Melbourne, on Wednesday evening.
His 54-year-old father Greg was shot by police at the scene and died in hospital early this morning.
Luke’s mother Rosie Batty was at the cricket ground when the tragedy unfolded.
Speaking to reporters this afternoon, she said she was feeling “shock” and “disbelief” and said her estranged partner was a man who loved his son but had suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness for two decades.
“Luke was nearly as tall as me. He was sensitive. He enjoyed his footy, he enjoyed his cricket,” she said.
“He was effervescent, he was funny. He wasn’t the best scholar but he was intelligent. He enjoyed his school.”
She says Luke loved his father and “felt pain” because he knew he was struggling.
“He was a little boy in a growing body that felt pain and sadness and fear for his mum, and he always believed he would be safe with his dad,” she said.
“[I told him] ‘you’ll always love your dad. You won’t always like what they do or say, but you’ll always love your dad, and he’ll always love you’.”
Father had long history of mental illness
Ms Batty says she had known Greg for 20 years, and over that time his mental health deteriorated.
“His mental health has declined over those 20 years from someone who brushed off losing a job to someone that was unemployable,” she said.
“He was in a homelessness situation for many years. His life was failing. Everything was becoming worse in his life and Luke was the only bright light in his life.”
She had an AVO against her husband, but says he loved Luke and there were no signs he would ever hurt their son.
“You’re dealing with someone who’s always had problems, and they start out small and over the years they get bigger, but he’s still the father,” she said.
“He loved his son, and everyone that’s involved with children would know that whatever action they take is not because they don’t love them.”
She says people thought she was the one at risk.
“[Doctors and police] said to me, ‘why don’t you go back to England and live there? But Luke wanted to be here,” she said.
‘Family violence happens to everybody’
Ms Batty says if the tragedy has a silver lining, it will be increased awareness about the issue of family violence.
“I want to tell people that family violence happens to everybody, no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are,” she said.
“When you’re involved with family violence, friends, family judge you, the woman. The decisions you make, the decisions you don’t make.
“You’re the victim, but you become the person that people condemn.
“The people here will say why didn’t she protect him, why didn’t she make certain decisions.
“But what I want people to take from this is that it isn’t simple. People judge you, people tell you what you should do. You do the best you can.”
Mother thought it was an accident
Ms Batty says her son died after what was “just a normal cricket practice”.
“Most of the kids and parents had gone. Luke came to me and said, ‘could I have a few more minutes with my dad’ because he doesn’t see him very often and I said, ‘sure, OK’,” she said.
“There was no reason to be concerned. I thought it was in an open environment.”
She says when she realised something was wrong, she thought an accident had happened and tried to call an ambulance.
“I tried to ring but couldn’t ring because I was too stressed. I looked for help and I ran towards help, screaming ‘get an ambulance, this is really bad’,” she said.
“I thought Greg had accidentally hurt him from a bowling accident. I was screaming, I was inconsolable.”
Paramedics called to the sports ground on Frankston-Flinders Road treated the boy but were unable to revive him.
Police are refusing to give more details of the incident, but some witnesses say a cricket bat was used.
Ms Batty says it was only later that she realised that what happened to Luke was not an accident.
“What I saw that I thought was Greg comforting Luke and helping him with what I thought was an accident, wasn’t necessarily what I saw,” she said.
“The full extent of what happened I don’t want anyone, other than the [coroner], to know.
“Luke was killed by his father. No-one else including myself needs to know the details of what he actually did.”
She says she does not regret allowing Greg to pursue a relationship with his son despite the problems, as her “guiding star” was ensuring Luke knew he was loved by both parents.
‘Police acted the way they needed to act’
Homicide detectives have spoken to several children who saw Luke die and then watched as police then shot his father.
Officers say they shot the man in the chest after he threatened them with a knife. Police say they tried to subdue him with capsicum spray but that did not work.
Greg, from Chelsea Heights, was flown to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, where he died about 1:30am.
Ms Batty says police did not do anything wrong.
“The police acted the way they needed to act. In the past Greg has been confrontational and difficult,” she said.
“The police had no other option.”
She says Greg had not violated terms of the AVO by attending the event.
“It was allowed from the intervention order. It was a public place, I believed he was safe,” she said.
“It was just a little cricket practice. There was people there, I believed he was safe.”
Ms Batty says she is grateful for the support of loved ones, and will soon be joined by family who are travelling to Australia from England.