A POLICE detective has sparked global outrage after suggesting the horrific murder-suicide of an Australian mother and her three children may have been a case of “a husband being driven too far”.
Queensland Police face widespread condemnation following a press conference held just 24 hours after Rowan Baxter killed his estranged wife Hannah Clarke and their three young children.
While Detective Inspector Mark Thompson confirmed police had had “a number of engagements” with the couple relating to prior domestic violence incidents, and that domestic and family violence orders had been placed against Baxter, it was his comment on the motivations and context behind the brutal killings that infuriated the public.
The detective said investigators were keeping an “open mind” on the tragedy as they prepared a report for the coroner, appealing to people who knew the couple to come forward to understand the killers’ motives.
He went on to say: “We need to look at every piece of information and, to put it bluntly, there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side, so to speak, to take in this investigation.”
“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence, and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband?”
“Or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he's suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”
Detective Inspector Thompson went on to say some “scorned” men in the community may claim it was the latter.
Social media erupted over his choice of words, with domestic violence campaigners claiming it was in fact victim blaming.
Renee Eaves, a victims’ advocate who has worked extensively with domestic abuse sufferers in their interactions with the Queensland police, said she could not believe the comments that were made.
Ms Eaves said: “This … is nothing short of a flashing billboard about the mindset by some police around domestic violence.”
“A calculated monster has killed a woman and her children in the most abhorrent way anyone could imagine. Even when the worst has occurred, they’re still questioning the woman, and still looking for reasons to justify this man’s behaviour.”
Queensland Police were quick to apologise for the widely condemned comments, saying Detective Thompson was “distraught” and “gutted” over what was said.
Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll added: “He is a man who has protected the Queensland community all his life and has worked endless hours, and when he looks back he cannot believe the way he has phrased that.”
Hannah Clarke, 31, and her children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3 all died when her estranged husband Rowan Baxter, 42, ambushed the family car on a morning school run, before dousing the young family in petrol and setting the car alight.
Baxter stabbed himself in the chest and died beside the burning SUV.
Ms Clarke was taken to hospital but tragically succumbed to her injuries later that night.
A good Samaritan who risked his own life to save the children was also taken to hospital with burns to his face and hands.
The estranged couple had separated before Christmas last year, and members of both families have painted a picture of a violent and controlling relationship.
They said Baxter's actions had been the end of a "downward spiral" of "frightening and monstrous" behaviour.
The police apology came as Baxter’s Facebook page was removed after it became a memorial page, with users flooding the comments labelling him “evil” and “putrid scum”.
In the weeks before the fatal fire, the former Australian rugby player had been posting photos of his children, with tributes and loving captions.
The deaths have prompted an outpouring of grief from friends and family as well as shrines of flowers and cards at the scene and outside the Baxters' marital home.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said: "My heart goes out to the families and community going through this tragic time and the emergency responders confronting what would be a shattering scene".
Hannah Clarke is the eighth woman in Australia to be killed by her partner in the past seven weeks.
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