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Everything We’ve Learned From The Hannah Clarke Inquest

Her story opened the nation's eyes to the impacts of coercive control.

Content warning: this article discusses assault and domestic violence and may be distressing to some readers.

The unthinkable murder of Hannah Clarke changed the course of our nation’s history—her horrifying story left Australians shocked, appalled and distressed at what she went through, and it also exposed a disturbing truth about domestic violence in Australia. 

Hannah and her three children, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, were ambushed and set alight by Hannah’s estranged husband Rowan Baxter on February 19 2020. 

The horrific act of domestic violence made headlines around the country at the time, but it wasn’t until later that the story of the young mother’s heroic actions were finally told. 

“Though she had burns to 97 per cent of her body, Hannah still managed to give police a clear and articulate statement,” Sue Clarke, Hannah’s mother told Marie Claire.

“Afterwards she passed out, but when she came to for a brief period, she pushed herself to repeat it. The police were in awe. It was truly to make him pay—she didn’t know he was dead. She was going to fight for her babies to the end.”

For years, Hannah was bullied and tormented by Baxter, and after her death, her parents set about raising awareness about coercive control—an act of domestic violence where someone controls major elements of their partners life, including where they go, who they see and what they do. Hannah’s story, and her parents’ efforts in raising awareness eventually led to the criminalisation of coercive control in several Australian states. 

Now, an inquest in Hannah and her childrens’ deaths is being held at the coroner’s court in Brisbane. Its aim is to consider what could have been done to prevent a crime like this from happening. Here, everything we’ve learned so far. 

Sue and Lloyd Clarke with Hannah. (Credit: Grace Smith; Sue Clarke’s Hair and Makeup by Erin Bigg/Arc Creative.)

Hannah’s bravery after suffering fatal burns

On the first day of the inquest, the court heard from witnesses who described how they tried to help Hannah after Baxter climbed into the car with a knife and petrol.

“Call the police, call the police. He’s trying to kill me. He’s put petrol on me,” witnesses recalled Hannah saying.

One then described seeing an explosion in the car—and when Hannah got out, she rolled on the grass to extinguish the flames. 

Several ran forward with hoses and a fire extinguisher to stop the flames. 

After this, she apparently yelled, “My kids, someone get my kids.”

“I’ve got a damn DVO,” she told another witness. 

At the time, Hannah had burns to 97 per cent of her body, which she later died from. But still, she managed to call the police and give a detailed run-down on what her estranged husband had done. 

“My ex-husband, he got, he got in the…” Clarke told Senior Constable Skaines, who spoke at the inquest.

“What’s your ex-husband’s name?” he asked her.

“Rowan Baxter,” she replied, “There’s a protection order against him. We got in the car to go to school, and he jumped in the front seat with me, and had a jerry can.”

She also told him that Baxter had tried to break her wrist a fortnight ago. 

The fact she was able to speak to the police in such detail, despite the horrific injuries she’d sustained shows incredible bravery—something that witnesses emphasised at the inquest. 

“[She was] amazingly strong for what she went through,” one witness said. 

Sue Clarke’s testimony

Hannah’s mother Sue also described how Hannah had to “walk on egg shells” around Baxter. In one instance, he dropped Hannah on her face while training at the gym. 

“He thought it was hilarious, telling her to ‘harden up’. He lacked empathy with everybody.”

Baxter also used to tell Hannah she wasn’t allowed to wear pink clothing because that was “for children”, and he would punish Hannah for “misbehaving”. 

Sue added that Baxter “disliked” his mother-in-law. 

“He treated me terribly. He disliked me immensely,” she said.

But despite being faced with unthinkable trauma, Hannah remained a “beautiful soul” who would have “fought anyone to save” her children.

Baxter considered abducting a previous partner

The inquest also heard that Baxter had considered abducting a previous partner at knifepoint. 

Martin Coll, who knew Baxter for around five years, told the inquest that Baxter was completely self-absorbed who thought he was “a victim every time”. 

He explained that Baxter had once confided in him about a relationship that was breaking down. He told him he was contemplating an abduction at knifepoint.

“He had rope in his car, he was going to take them out somewhere and end it all, including himself,” Coll recalled. 

Baxter also became increasingly suspicious and paranoid about Hannah, whom he was estranged to in the months before the deadly attack.

The inquest is expected to continue into next week. 

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or other unwanted behaviour, please contact Full Stop Australia.

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