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'Not love, possession': Hannah's mum tells of killer husband who treated kids like pawns

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For years Hannah Clarke treaded carefully around her controlling husband who treated his family as possessions and his children as pawns, an inquest has been told.

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She was scared of what Rowan Baxter might do if she left him and, once they separated in late 2019, she feared for her life and worried he would take their three kids from her.

“She was always walking on eggshells and trying to toe the line,” her mother Sue Clarke told the Coroners Court in Brisbane on Thursday.

But the 31-year-old was strong and would have fought anyone to save Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey.

Mrs Clarke was giving evidence at the inquest into the deaths of her daughter and grandchildren, who Baxter ambushed and set alight in suburban Brisbane on February 19, 2020.

Baxter won over the family after Mrs Clarke initially disliked him, but around the time Laianah was born he would belittle Mrs Clarke and called her names.

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

Baxter once dropped Mrs Clarke on her face while training in the gym, cutting her lip.

He thought it was hilarious, telling her to “harden up”, Mrs Clarke said.

“He lacked empathy with everybody,” she said.

Baxter called his wife a “fat pig”, wouldn’t let her wear shorts or pink clothing – “because that’s for children” – and had to win races with his young kids.

He punished Hannah for “misbehaving” by not letting the children go to their grandparents because it would upset his wife.

“It was safer for Hannah to say nothing,” Mrs Clarke said.

After talking to police in early December, Hannah seemed to understand what she was experiencing was family violence, even though Baxter hadn’t physically assaulted her.

After the couple separated, Baxter still saw his children, but on Boxing Day he fled with Laianah, disappearing for more than two days.

Police intervened, returning Laianah to Hannah.

The week before Hannah was killed she spoke to her mother about having a will, saying: “When he kills me, he’ll be in jail and what happens to the children?”

Baxter set alight her car with the children – aged six, four and three – inside just after she left her parent’s Camp Hill home to take them to school.

The badly burnt adults escaped the vehicle, but Baxter, 42, stabbed himself with a knife, dying nearby.

Hannah died later the same day in hospital.

Asked about Baxter’s actions that killed his estranged wife and children, Mrs Clarke said she didn’t think he knew how to love.

“His form of love is as a possession,” she said.

Mrs Clarke told the inquest Hannah was “a beautiful soul”, bright, bubbly and full of empathy.
She wanted people to know her daughter was strong, loved her children and “would have fought anyone to save them”.

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