Wearing her daughter’s necklace, grief-stricken Sue Clarke was embraced by her family’s supporters when she arrived at the Queensland coroner’s court.
Clarke was preparing to tell an inquest about her daughter, Hannah Clarke, and grandchildren Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, for whom she gave heartfelt tributes.
But inside, she spoke of what they endured at the hands of her estranged son-in-law Rowan Baxter.
Armed with a knife, Baxter jumped in the car with Hannah Clarke and her three children on Feburary 2020, dousing them in petrol before setting them alight in Brisbane’s Camp Hill.
At the time, Hannah Clarke had been wearing the necklace, engraved with her children’s names.
A month earlier, Hannah Clarke discovered a threatening note on her estranged husband’s phone that said her children “will miss you I’m sure”, the inquest heard on Thursday.
“I have told the kids that you loved them. They will miss you I’m sure,” counsel assisting the coroner Jacoba Brasch QC told the inquest, reading from the note found on Rowan Baxter’s phone.
“You destroyed my life and I cannot move on. I hope all this was worth it for you and your family.”
Clarke told the inquest details about how Baxter attempted to exert control over his wife and their children, on one occasion attempting to break her wrist after dropping their youngest child, Trey, home.
She also spoke of another incident, where Baxter had dropped his estranged mother-in-law during an exercise at the gym, causing her face to split open.
“He laughed at me and told me to ‘harden up’, that it happens all the time if you play football,” Clarke told the inquest.
Clarke said after he dropped her, Baxter continued laughing at her until other members at the gym pointed out that it was inappropriate.
“He lacked empathy with anybody,” she told the inquest.
In the years since, Clarke’s parents, Sue and Lloyd Clarke, have worked tirelessly to bring attention to domestic abuse and coercive control.
Queensland is now considering making coercive control a criminal offence.
Clarke told the inquest that her daughter “walked on eggshells” around Baxter and that if she did something Baxter classed as “misbehaving”, he would not let her look after her grandchildren.
“If I spoke out I would get phone calls in tears,” she said, referring to her daughter.
“‘Please Mum, apologise’. She’d be so distraught that I’d have to ring and apologise.”
She told the inquest that Baxter would refer to women as “fat pigs” and would not let his wife wear shorts or the colour pink.
Hannah Clarke’s best friend Nicole Brooks told the inquest Baxter once choked his wife and warned: “You have no idea what I’m capable of”.
Just six days before he killed the family, Brooks said she went to the police station as her friend told her she was fearful that Baxter would kill her and the children.
“[I said to the police] he’s going to take them out,” Brooks said.
She said Baxter was “abnormally rough” with the children and once uploaded a Facebook post of him putting the children into an ice bath, despite his two-year-old Trey “screaming hysterically”.
“Rowan held him … right up to his neck in there. And Trey was frantic. His eyes were bulging in his head with fear,” Brooks told the inquest.
“And he thought that was funny enough to post.”
Lynne Kershaw, a member at Clarke and Baxter’s gym, said Baxter was “always moody” but his fuse grew increasingly short as time went on.
She said he would mutter to himself, yell at members during workouts and once told her, “you don’t want to get inside my head, it’s a very messy place.”
Kershaw said Clarke told her on Friday nights when Baxter had been drinking heavily, he would threaten to kill himself if she refused to have sex with him.
“He would take a hose with him because he was going to asphyxiate himself but he’d often… just drive around and then come back,” Kershaw told the inquest.
Kershaw said Laianah once confided in her that she had nightmares “about daddy killing mummy.”
She said Baxter was jealous of his wife, who she believed was capable of being an elite CrossFit athlete if given the right training.
“He withheld training from her because he didn’t want for her to be better,” Kershaw said.
Sue Clarke said she wanted her daughter’s legacy to be about raising awareness about what coercive control involves.
“[Hannah was] bright, bubbly, full of empathy … it was never about her,” Clarke said.
“She was strong, she loved her children … and would do anything to save them.”
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org