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Coroner slams police response to domestic violence

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A coroner investigating the deaths of a woman and her ex-partner in a fire he started has called for urgent reforms to address the “inadequate response” of Queensland police to domestic violence.

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Doreen Langham died after Gary Hely started a fire intending to kill the 49-year-old and himself, and set alight her townhouse in Browns Plains, south of Brisbane, on February 22, 2021.

Coroner Jane Bentley found there were numerous missed opportunities for police to respond to Hely’s escalating behaviour.

The response to complaints was inadequate and police officers failed to protect her and prevent her death, Ms Bentley said in her findings handed down in the Coroners Court sitting in Southport on Monday.

“It is possible that had every complaint been dealt with in accordance with relevant duties and obligations Mr Hely would not have killed Ms Langham or himself.”

The experience Ms Langham received “fell far short” of the basic expectations of the police response to domestic and family violence.

Bentley found the poor response indicated a “serious lack of training and consequently understanding of the complex nature of domestic violence by police officers”.

Specialists within the Queensland Police had also not recognised the seriousness of Langham’s complaints and some reviews did not take place because of a lack of staff.

“A holistic investigative approach would have revealed that Mr Hely had concerning domestic violence history interstate and that the frequency and severity of his behaviour was escalating,” she added.

Bentley said officers did not act out of malice, but their “inadequate response was the result of inadequate training and acute under-staffing in the Logan district coupled with an ever increasing demand for services.”

The coroner called for urgent reforms to address the inadequate response and for the state government to provide funding to trial a specialist victim-centred police station in Logan.

Hely went to Langham’s townhouse complex about 2.30pm the day before their deaths and was at the front of the home when Langham called police about seven hours later.

Police responded about four hours after her call.

At the time Hely was at the rear of the unit.

He waited for the officers to leave, then another two hours before entering Langham’s home.

Once inside the pair struggled before Hely doused Langham with petrol and ignited the fire in the lounge room about 3.30am.

Langham died very soon after the fire began.

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