Lloyd and Sue Clarke: 'Coercive control laws could have saved Hannah and her three children'

Their learning curve in 2020 has been steep and brutal. Now the parents of Hannah Clarke, murdered with her three children, want to raise awareness

Grief’s timetable plays out in myriad ways. It’s nine months since Lloyd and Sue Clarke lost their daughter and three grandchildren in a most appalling murder that shocked a nation and, for them, their pain has accrued at different rates, in different ways.

For Sue, first there was surreal denial. She would watch videos of her daughter Hannah, and her grandchildren Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4 and Trey, 3, to keep them close in the vain hope that they might one day come home.

Now, denial is slowly giving way to the reality of the terrible day when her son-in-law set fire to his family in their car on a suburban Brisbane street, killing them all, and each day feels harder and harder.

“I struggle. I’m very edgy without them. They were a big part of my life,” she says. “Hannah and I spoke at least once every day of her life.”

Lloyd Clarke’s grieving has been different. On day one he saw the stark chasm of their loss and for some time could not bear to look at videos and photos of Hannah and the children. “It brought back horrible memories of the day.”

But as those first weeks have turned to months in their toughest of years, Lloyd and Sue Clarke are bound together in their grief. Still processing what happened to their family, after the strange relief of largely being left alone because of Covid-19, they are speaking up now in an effort to prevent other families going through the hell of their loss.


The Clarkes’ learning curve in 2020 has been steep and brutal. They have learned about things they never imagined, the most important thing – the thing that might have saved their daughter and their grandchildren – is understanding the concept of coercive control. It’s something they want to raise awareness about now.

They are speaking from their kitchen in the family’s Camp Hill home – it’s this home where Hannah sought refuge when she separated from Rowan Baxter, frightened for her life, knowing the increased risk, and yet needing to keep her children safe. When she arrived to be with her parents at the end of 2019, she and her children had 50 days to live.

a framed photo of Hannah and her three children
The Clarkes did not recognise the signs that signified their daughter was in danger. ‘We want people to be aware of what Hannah went through,’ Sue says. ‘And if there’s anybody going through similar things, to be aware that it can be quite dangerous and to seek help.’ Photograph: David Kelly/The Guardian

The Clarkes are both grateful for that consolation now. In those days, their house was filled with noise, laughter and squeals of delight as everyone crowded into the kitchen, sitting around the sturdy dining table.

It is around this table – now so much quieter – that Lloyd and Sue are speaking about the legacy they want for their daughter and grandchildren.

“We never wanted to be in the national spotlight and be in this situation but now that we are, can we do something to help?” Lloyd Clarke says. “It has just been so horrific. There are just no words for it.”

“We want people to be aware of what Hannah went through,” Sue says, “And if there’s anybody going through similar things, to be aware that it can be quite dangerous and to seek help.”

By the time Hannah realised her life was in danger, it was too dangerous to stay and too dangerous to leave. She asked her mother in the weeks before she was killed if she should write a will, instinctively aware of the grim reality of domestic violence homicide. Where there is a cluster of three risk factors in relationships – coercive control, violence and a recent separation – women have a 900% increased risk of intimate partner homicide, according to research by the US National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The family did not recognise the danger signs.


Rowan Baxter, 30, spotted Hannah, then 19, at a Police Citizens Youth Club in 2008. He lied from day one, telling Hannah that he was single when he wasn’t. He moved very quickly, according to the Clarkes, love-bombing Hannah and pursuing her in a whirlwind romance.

They married quickly, but vital background knowledge about Baxter’s past was revealed slowly – his troubled childhood and adolescence, his mental health issues and his plans to kill his previous partner and child. While they were together, Hannah reported no incidents of physical violence to either her parents or police. Meanwhile, the most dangerous aspect of domestic abuse was overlooked.

Coercive control includes 25 types of behaviours including isolation, deprivation, demeaning behaviour, surveillance, threats to harm and actual harm that are already recognised as crimes in the UK.

Hannah Clarke with her children Aaliyah, Trey and Laianah.
Hannah Clarke with her children Aaliyah, Trey and Laianah. Baxter belittled Hannah with insults about her figure and her mothering ability. Demeaning behaviour is one of the signs of coercive control. Photograph: David Kelly/The Clarke Family

Before the murders, the Clarkes were unaware of the term coercive control, and for the sake of awareness raising – and the hope that others might be spared their sorrow – they go through the list of behaviours with Guardian Australia and find Baxter’s behaviour raised 17 red flags:

  • He isolated Hannah from her family and friends and limited her access to them.

  • Baxter had previously been charged with assault in New Zealand and was charged in Australia with kicking in a car door.

  • He deprived Hannah of basic needs such as food, clothing and sleep.

  • He controlled her daily life: where she could go, who she could see, what she must wear.

  • He prevented her from attending doctors for her medical needs.

  • Baxter belittled Hannah with insults about her figure and her mothering ability.

  • He made up rules for her to obey and punished her for disobeying his rules.

  • Baxter monitored Hannah’s phone and cancelled her Facebook account.

  • He stalked her, monitoring her location using mobile phone tracking software and devices and followed her to different locations.

  • He tracked other members of her family, spied on them and confronted them in public places.

  • He had threatened to kill his previous wife and son.

  • He threatened to kill himself as a means of trying to force Hannah to stay with him.

  • At least once Baxter held Hannah down on the ground and told her that he could kill her.

  • Baxter printed and shared intimate photos of Hannah.

  • Baxter demanded sex from Hannah every night – a course of conduct that amounts to rape.

  • When he drank, Baxter drank to excess and became violent towards other people.

  • Even when he was sober he destroyed mobile phones and his children’s watches. He destroyed household goods; he threw away toys belonging to his children as punishment for not putting them away.

“If we would have had that list to tick the boxes, that would have confirmed this was more than just a marriage breakup,” Lloyd Clarke says.

Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke, parents of Hannah (Baxter) who along with her three children Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey were killed by husband and father, Rowan Baxter.
UK criminologist Jane Monckton-Smith’s research has identified eight stages of domestic violence that lead to murder. Lloyd and Suzanne say they can now see how these stages played out in the murder of their family. Photograph: David Kelly/The Guardian

In Britain, where coercive control became a crime in 2015, an analysis of crime statistics shows that 97% of those charged with offences were male, and while there has been no empirical analysis of convictions since the laws were introduced, one 2019 study that looked at media reports of coercive control cases in England and Wales found 75% of offenders were jailed for up to four years.

If coercive control laws were enacted in Australia, Baxter could have been charged for any or all of these offences. As it stands, an incident-based model of policing prioritises evidence of physical violence, rather than patterns of behaviour.

But research by UK criminologist Jane Monckton-Smith has shown that intimate partner homicide is not always characterised by previous violence. Her research also shows that patterns of behaviour make this type of murder the most predictable form of homicide. She has analysed 372 intimate partner homicides and identified eight stages of domestic violence that led to murder in every single case.

Lloyd and Sue Clarke say they can see how these stages played out in the murders of their family:

1. Pre-relationship Offenders have left a previous relationship where they have coercively controlled their previous partner. Baxter admitted that he had taken a rope, climbed a tree and planned to kill his previous partner and child.

2. Early relationship Baxter initiated the relationship with Hannah very quickly and demanded a demonstration of commitment very early in the relationship.

3. Relationship Baxter’s behaviour was marked by control, possessiveness, jealousy and paranoia that his wife was being unfaithful.

4. Triggers When the victim leaves the relationship, the offender escalates their control. Griffith University criminologist Associate professor Molly Dragiewicz who is internationally recognised for her research on coercive control said some authorities believe the risk of coercive control ends at separation, when in fact the control usually escalates.

“Many abusers use technology to continue monitoring, harassing their partners in an effort to regain control,” she says. “It’s also common to use children to continue the abuse.”

Baxter insisted on seeing the children and threatened family court action. He forced Hannah to agree to shared time with the children, giving him ongoing access to her and enabling him to use the children to control her.

The final four stages can play out over years or can move very quickly, over weeks, days or even hours.

5. Escalation Baxter’s abuse escalated in frequency, severity and variety. Hannah believed Baxter could kill her. When Baxter suddenly took one of the children, Hannah reported him to police. Baxter fled with his four-year-old daughter Laianah to NSW.

That abduction should have activated a police search, according to Dragiewicz. “Child abduction should be the biggest red flag for homicide and it’s just not recognised.”

6. Decision to kill Stage six is the killer realising the relationship loss is irretrievable. Rowan Baxter phoned the night before the killings and spoke to Hannah and the children and was crying uncontrollably – the Clarkes believe now this was him saying goodbye to the children.

7. Plan to kill Baxter borrowed his aunt’s car – Sue and Lloyd Clarke believe he did this so he would not be recognised at the scene of the murder.

8. Homicide: Stage eight is the murder itself.

Lloyd Clarke believes Baxter’s plan was to ambush Hannah on the way to school, force her to drive at knife point out of the city to secluded bushland and murder Hannah and the children but escape himself, staging the scene to look like a murder-suicide by Hannah, but that Hannah foiled his plan by stopping along the street and calling for help from a neighbour. Baxter was caught at the scene of his crime.

After setting fire to the car, he used a knife to prevent bystanders from saving his children, and then killed himself by stabbing himself in the chest.

Despite sustaining fatal burns, Hannah gave police a detailed statement before she was sedated and taken to hospital.

An inquest into the deaths will be held early next year to find out what happened over the last days and weeks of their lives to determine what might have been done to save them. The Clarkes are hoping there will be strong recommendations for coercive control laws. Around Australia, state governments have the issue on their agendas, but no coercive control laws have been passed into legislation.

“We want to make sure the community gets to know about coercive control. Education needs to be brought in – not just state, but nationally. But we can work on Queensland first because we’re here,” Lloyd Clarke says.

“I’m sure it would have saved her,” Sue Clarke says.


Lloyd and Sue Clarke still hold on to their consolations. They have each other, of course: “Right at the very start, we didn’t hold back. If we wanted to have a good howl, we did,” Lloyd Clarke says. His wife finishes his sentence, “and we’d both be blubbering. We just held each other and cried”.

Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke, parents of Hannah (Baxter) who along with her three children Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey were killed by husband and father, Rowan Baxter.
After police returned Hannah’s phone, Lloyd and Sue found messages from their grandchildren that had never been sent. ‘It’s just beautiful,” Sue says. “It breaks my heart, but also makes me very happy.” Photograph: David Kelly/The Guardian

When Sue looks in her husband’s eyes, she says, she finds the strength she needs in him. “I just know Lloyd is always there. He’s just my constant. He’s my rock.”

Looking back at her, Lloyd sees his wife “hurting badly”: “I just see sorrow … I’m so gutted that I’ve lost my little girl, but I know it hurts Sue a lot more.”

After the initial trauma of the murders, the police returned Hannah’s phone to the family. They found video messages from the children that they hadn’t seen before. The kids would often take their Mum’s phone and send love messages to their grandmother, “Nini”, but these ones were new.

“We found a lot on her phone that they had made but never sent – which was wonderful to find – messages that they love me. It’s just beautiful,” Sue says. “It breaks my heart, but also makes me very happy.”

“I miss them like crazy,” Lloyd says. “Hearing that voice again, hearing their little squeals.”

“But we’ve got to get through this. We can’t just sit in a hole. We have to live. We try and be strong.”

• If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au

• Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636


Amanda Gearing

The GuardianTramp

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