Hannah Clarke’s parents have revealed more of the ominous warning signs her husband displayed before the mum-of-three was doused with petrol and burnt alive in a killing that shocked Australia.
Suzanne and Lloyd Clarke, who decided to lift the lid on the ‘red flags’ as a warning to other victims, are calling for coercive control to become a criminal offence in Queensland.
The grieving parents lost their daughter and three of their grandchildren almost six months ago when Hannah’s estranged husband Rowan Charles Baxter ambushed the family on their morning school run in Brisbane.
Baxter doused their car in petrol and set them on fire. Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, perished at the scene.
Hannah, 31, jumped from the driver’s seat of her car screaming ‘he’s poured petrol on me’. She later died in hospital with burns to 97 per cent of her body.
Suzanne said there were a lot of ‘little things’ Baxter would do that she didn’t realise were coercive control at first.
‘He [Baxter] would sulk and not speak for days, he would threaten to kill himself, go through her phone, go through her handbag,’ she told the ABC.
‘She would lock up the gym and he would ring within 10 minutes saying, ”Where are you? You should be at this point by this time”.’
Coercive control is an ongoing form of oppression used by perpetrators to manipulate their victims emotionally, mentally and financially.
Suzanne hopes coercive control will become punishable by law in Queensland, while domestic violence advocates want petrol dousing to become an offence in the state.
Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ) CEO Angela Lynch said some violent men have been making that threat of, ‘You’re going to end up like Hannah’.
‘If there’s actually a petrol-dousing offence, it means that the victims have much more steady ground to work from in relation to advocating actual criminal action being taken,’ she said.
Petrol-dousing would be punishable under laws covering assault and grievous bodily harm, former Queensland Law Society president and criminal lawyer Bill Potts said.
The Clarkes also spoke in detail with the Q Weekend as a warning to other victims, in the hope that no one else has to suffer in the same way Hannah did.
Suzanne said the ‘red flags’ in Hannah’s husband had been ‘gradual’.
‘He took over Hannah’s Facebook, they had to have a joint Facebook account. She wasn’t allowed to wear shorts, she couldn’t walk off the beach in bikinis,’ Suzanne said.
The grandmother didn’t think too much of it at first. She thought a shared Facebook would make sense as the couple posted the same pictures and in terms of the bikinis, she simply thought Baxter was a bit of a ‘prude’.
At this time, Baxter was a ‘nice’ addition to the family, who they got on well with. He would share a beer on a Friday afternoon with Lloyd and the family would enjoy Thai takeaway over a weekend.
But Suzanne said Baxter’s behaviour gradually became more obsessive and possessive.
‘He would go through her phone, he would check phone calls. Certain clothes she couldn’t wear. He tried to control everything,’ she said.
The Clarkes believe that anyone who begins to notice red flags should speak up and seek professional help through domestic violence services.
Lloyd said the family tried to speak with Baxter about his increasingly controlling behaviour but to no avail.
‘We had a few mini-interventions. We went over there, we tried to talk to him about it. ”You need help, you need to see someone” but that sort of fell on the wayside a bit and seemed to make him angrier,’ Lloyd said.
Before Hannah was murdered by Baxter, the 31-year-old and her three children had moved back in with her parents.
The heartbroken parents described their daughter a strong and committed mother whose smile would always light up a room.
Lloyd said Hannah always put other people first. He said very few knew about her struggles at home because she would always put on a brave face.
In one final courageous gesture, Hannah used her last moments alive to give police a detailed account about Baxter and his horrific abuse.
Despite suffering burns to most of her body, Hannah walked herself to a stretcher, while recounting the shocking events that had transpired.
She passed out on her way to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital but awoke in ICU, where she told the story of Baxter’s attack again.
Lloyd said his daughter wanted the ‘monster’ to be caught for the murders and likely didn’t know he had died.
Hannah and the kids were killed on February 19 when Baxter hid in the front garden of her parent’s place in Camp Hill, where she and the kids were living, and ambushed them as she drove the children to school and daycare.
The children died in the car while Hannah managed to free herself but died later in hospital. Baxter died at the scene from self-inflicted knife wounds.
The attack that killed Hannah and her family has sparked calls for greater efforts to bring an end to domestic violence.
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