“A Husband Being Driven Too Far?”: QLD Police Are Investigating Clarke Murder With “Open Mind”

The comments were instantly criticised for implying Clarke was to blame for her own murder.

Hannah Clarke and her children

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Queensland Police have been criticised by domestic violence survivor groups after comments that they were keeping an “open mind” on the motivations and context behind the brutal killings of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her husband.

— This article details domestic and family violence. —

Clarke, 31, died on Wednesday night at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospital, hours after her estranged husband Rowan Baxter poured petrol on his family’s car and set it alight, before stabbing himself to death. Their three children — Laianah, four, Aaliyah, six, and Trey, three – died in the car.

Clarke is the eighth woman in Australia to be killed by her partner in the past seven weeks.

On Thursday, Queensland Police confirmed that they 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.

Clarke and her children were living with her parents after leaving Baxter in December. Her sister-in-law Stacey Roberts has said Clarke’s family had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster”.

Despite their prior knowledge and actions to protect Clarke and her children, Queensland Police have said they are keeping an “open mind” as to Baxter’s motives.

As reported by The Guardian, Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said the police need to determine whether this was an instance of “a woman suffering significant domestic violence” or “a husband being driven too far”.

“We need to look at every piece of information and to put it bluntly,” Thompson said, “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 he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”

The comments, which appear to suggest there would be any justifiable or reasonable motive to kill your wife and children, were immediately criticised both online and by domestic violence support groups for victim blaming.

“I genuinely can’t fathom how police would look at a man who was allegedly capable of burning his wife and three children alive and think “yes but what if he’s a reasonable dude who just got pushed too far?”,” wrote journalist Sophie Meixner on Twitter, echoing the sentiment of many.

Speaking to The Guardian, Angela Lynch, the chief executive of the Women’s Legal Service Queensland, says Thompson’s language “plays into very dangerous ideas” around domestic violence.

The comments also mirror the way much of Australia’s mainstream media has valorised and centred Baxter as a “good man” and respected ex-football player, rather than a cold-blooded murderer who blocked civilians from helping Clarke and her children.

As live-Tweeted by ABC RN presenter Beverly Wang, Thompson’s statement was immediately clarified when pressed by a reporter. Thomspon says the police don’t endorse the view he was a man pushed too far, but were ‘acknowledging’ a public sentiment.

It’s unclear why that sentiment needs to be acknowledged, especially from an official.

The police have asked people with insight into the couple’s relationship to come forward to help with their investigation. “The dynamics of a family that are broken and estranged are particularly poignant to this investigation I guess,” Thompson said.

“And [it is] very hard to decipher without us being able to put some sort of clarification around what’s happened.”

Clarke’s family have requested that we refer to her by her maiden name. A Facebook fundraiser for funeral costs set up by Clarke’s sister-in-law has raised more than $100,000 dollars in a day.

“For all those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was, her children where her life,” the fundraiser reads.

“All she ever wanted was happiness. Her children were only a reflection of her. Gorgeous happy kids who held a massive piece in my heart and I’m sure many others cause that’s exactly what they were like. We will miss them all more than anything!”

If you need support, 1800 Respect is available 24 hours for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. Contact them on 1800 737 732.