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Family's long wait for coronial inquest due to end in early 2024

Jess Whaler -

After thirty-five years of fighting for the truth, the family of Mark Anthony Haines, a 17-year-old Gomeroi boy who died under suspicious circumstance in the late 1980s, now await a date for a fresh coronial inquest.

In 2018, Mark Anthony Haines' death was brought to the attention of the public nationwide, predominantly due to the Blood on the Tracks podcast featuring the investigative efforts of journalist and Muruwari man Allan Clarke, which played a crucial role in Haine's case being reopened.

A date for the new coronial inquest is expected to be set for early 2024, with the Haines family now having the added support of the team at the National Justice Project.

Stepping up to the fight is Karina Hawtrey, a Kamilaroi solicitor who has previously worked on two coronial inquests in Western Australia, both of which involved the untimely deaths of two Aboriginal persons; Noongar Yamatji woman Cherdeena Wynne and Noongar man Roderick Narrier in 2019.

Ms Hawtrey advised that both cases involved police using the prone restraint and both victims had died from cardiac pulmonary arrest and/or stopped breathing due to positional asphyxia.

She is currently working on two additional inquests; Todd McKenzie a person suffering from psychosis at the time he was shot dead by police and George Campbell a young Aboriginal teenager, who had died whilst in state care.

In regards to the Mark Haines inquest Ms Hawtrey advised: "a new investigation was opened around 6-8 years ago, and I understand that there has been police resourcing on it and can't comment at this stage. We hope it has been done to a much better standard and will reserve judgment until we see that evidence."

She told National Indigenous Times that some of the historic failings included; a failure to take fingerprints of the car (noting limitations at the time and that it was raining), dropping evidence on the ground resulting in family bringing it to the police, not checking the car boot mat, not check witnesses' alibis and proposing a police theory that didn't make sense of the evidence. In addition, a failure to reinvestigate the matter for some time as 35 years has passed since Mark's death.

The prior inquest into the death of Mark Haines resulted in open findings, yet vital evidence has not been discussed at trial.

"The subdural haemorrhage or haematoma was noted in the forensic report of Dr Oettle who was the forensic pathologist at the first inquest and gave evidence but he thought the haematoma or haemorrhage was caused by the train hitting Mark's head. The more detailed theory about the haematoma being caused by a car accident and then Mark being hit by a train later was developed or theorised by Dr Duflou and that evidence wasn't heard at the first inquest," Ms Hawtrey said.

Professor Duflou previously advised the ABC that it is unusual for the impact of a train to cause a subdural hematoma.

"When you look at it from that perspective you realise, well, could that subdural hematoma have developed as a result of some other event? Could there have been a car crash?"

Tamworth was well-known for being a small country town in the 1980's, the kind of town where everyone knew everyone and since the initial investigation, more witnesses have come forward shedding new light onto the case.

"Family members were told, 'you never know what a 17-year-old Aboriginal boy would do'," Ms Hawtrey said.

She said the family and National Justice Project are expecting a new brief of evidence to come through in the next month or so.

The New South Wales Police Force have been investigating the case under Strike Force Puno since 2018, operating in both New South Wales and Queensland and are still offering a $500,000 reward for information.

"If you have information that may help detectives with information surrounding the circumstances of Mark's death, please do the right thing and call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000," Acting Superintendent Jeffrey Budd has said.

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