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Department failed little Mason 'in every possible way' says coroner


Queensland’s child safety department’s handling of toddler Mason Jet Lee’s case was a failure in nearly every way, a coroner says.

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The 22-month-year-old was struck in the abdomen by his mother’s boyfriend, William O’Sullivan, so hard it ruptured his small intestine, which led to his death from an infection in June 2016.

Deputy state coroner Jane Bentley handed down her inquest findings in the Brisbane Coroners Court on Tuesday.

“I conclude that the department failed in its duty to protect Mason from the risk of serious harm that he faced in the months prior to his death,” she said.

“The errors and failings of the individual employees of the department were merely the component parts of the collective failure of the department.”

Mason was known to the state government’s child safety department but remained in the care of his mother Anne-Maree Lee and her boyfriend William Andrew O’Sullivan.

In the months before his death, concerned doctors raised the alarm about Mason after he was admitted to hospital with the worst injuries a veteran pediatrician had ever seen.

The doctor told the inquest that when he examined Mason in February 2016, he found the toddler had skin missing from his bottom in five areas and was “seriously unwell”.

He was also suffering from a fracture to his right leg, which had led to bacterial infection causing it to swell to twice its normal size.

Mason’s mother attributed the skin loss to a nappy rash but the doctor found this unlikely.

He told the inquest the wounds were much worse than a usual abrasion or rash and likely to have been caused by poor hygiene and care.

The doctor said he also found a tear to Mason’s anus during a follow-up examination two months later, which he suspected may have been caused by abuse.

A Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect team meeting in March 2016 – involving child safety officers, police and doctors – determined Mason’s case required a joint investigation.

Despite this, the inquest heard child safety officers failed to share critical information with police.

O’Sullivan and Mason’s mother, Anne-Maree Lee, are both serving jail sentences after pleading guilty to manslaughter and child cruelty.

Much of the latter stages of the inquest into the toddler’s death was held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.


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