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Woman's death after police visit raises agonising questions about response


The death of Doreen Langham in a Browns Plains fire police that have deemed “suspicious” has prompted calls for domestic violence reform.

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Police found the 49-year-old’s body in the charred wreckage of her townhouse, south of Brisbane, alongside her ex-partner Gary Hely.

The blaze, which police believe was deliberately lit, engulfed the home on Moyla Street in the early hours of Monday morning.

Authorities have since revealed police had attended the townhouse “after midnight” following a call Langham made to police on Sunday evening.

Police said the fire broke out about four hours later.

Less than two weeks before the blaze on February 9, Langham was granted a temporary protection order at the Beenleigh Magistrates Court.

But on Tuesday, police confirmed they had received “some reports” of breaches to the domestic violence order.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski will lead a review into the police response and suggested most incidents were dealt with appropriately.

“The one thing that goes wrong really, really gets to us, it’s distressing,” Gollschewski said.

“I don’t know what more Doreen could have done. I don’t know.”

Police said Langham lived in a gated complex that had CCTV surveillance.

A coronial inquest will investigate the tragedy and be overseen by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Tributes posted to social media describe the 49-year-old as “the best mum in the world” who had an “infectious” smile.

Langham’s death came days after the first anniversary of the death of Hannah Clarke and her three children at the hands of her estranged husband.

Centre for Women & Co CEO Stacey Ross said the timing was devastating.

“We are thinking of Doreen and her family and her friends and our deepest sympathies are with her family at this time,” Ross said.

“She was a mother, a friend, a daughter and a woman who deserved to live her life.

“We know we still have much more work to do.”

Ross said Langham “did everything by the book” to protect herself.

She described the systems designed to stop domestic violence as “broken”.

“Services did everything that we possibly could to make sure that she was safe — she was doing everything right,” she said.

“We have laws in place that are not being enacted properly or effectively, so the measures that are currently in place to keep perpetrators accountable aren’t working.”

“When is it going to be the perpetrator of the abuse actually being accountable for, and doing everything they can to not, actually hurt somebody?” she said.

Ross asked when the onus would be placed on perpetrators not to abuse, rather than on women to protect themselves.

“Why does it have to be on women who just want to live their life free of violence?” she said.

“Ultimately, the perpetrator needs to be held to account.”

Ross said women had been reporting an “increase in the severity” of violence during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know that further education and early intervention support and resources is what is needed,” she said.

“We hear all the time though that funding DV services is a black hole and it doesn’t really make a difference.

“But if we don’t educate and build the capacity of our community as a whole, then we will forever be fighting this battle.”

Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Shannon Fentiman said any death from domestic and family violence was “absolutely unacceptable”.

“Our government’s resolve to end the scourge of domestic and family violence is stronger than ever,” she told Parliament.

It came after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last week announced an independent taskforce would be established to investigate possible coercive control legislation.

“This commitment is a significant step forward in taking action against coercive control and illustrates our determination to end domestic and family violence,” Fentiman told Parliament.

She said while all of the 140 recommendations of the Not Now, Not Ever report into domestic and family violence had been implemented, “we know we still have much more work to do”.

She said she and her fellow government ministers would do “everything we can” to better protect victims and hold perpetrators to account.

Logan District Chief Superintendent Brian Swan said the coronial inquest was “an independent process”.

“It will examine the entirety of the situation with the couple, their relationship and the police interactions throughout and before the incident and in the early hours of Monday, right through to the early hours of Monday morning,” he said.

“There was a temporary protection order in place under the Domestic and Family Violence Act and all aspects of that order will also be considered as part of the coronial investigation.”

– ABC / Emma Pollard

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