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Inquest into historical death of Mark Haines begins in Tamworth

Dechlan Brennan -

The coronial inquest into the historical death of Mark Anthony Haines began in Tamworth on Monday to examine the suspicious circumstances that led to the 17-year-old's death 36 years ago.

The inquest, which has come after tireless campaigning by Mr Haines’ family, will examine the circumstances that led to the Gomeroi teenager being found dead on train tracks south of Tamworth on the morning of January 16, 1988.

Despite the initial police investigation into Mr Haines' death concluding he died by suicide, having been struck by a train, and a coronial inquest in 1989 returning an open finding, the circumstances that led to his death remain a mystery to his family, as well as the wider Tamworth community.

The Haines family held a smoking ceremony on a stretch of isolated rail line on the southern outskirts of Tamworth on Monday morning.

Speaking outside of the courthouse, Uncle Don Craigie said he hoped for answers. 

“Hopefully at the end of these two weeks there will be a better understanding about the circumstances involved around Mark's death," he said.

"We don't know where this journey will lead us, whether it stops here or it will continue in another facet."

An autopsy showed Mr Haines died from a traumatic head injury, having suffered significant blood loss, however it is not certain if these injuries occurred on the tracks because of being hit by a train, or if his body was placed there.  

During his opening remarks, counsel assisting the coroner Chris McGrorey said one of the key questions of the inquiry was how Mr Haines came to be on the train tracks. 

"What was the ground like on that day,” Mr McGrorey said, “was the soil muddy because of the rain?" 

Noting the previous inquest heard Mr Haines’ shoes were perfectly clean despite the inclement weather and mud, Mr McGrorey asked: "If Mark accessed the train line during this weather, would it be reasonable to expect some marks on his clothes?"

“I expect that [the] evidence, at the very least, will call into question the finding that Mark’s severe head injury was caused by impact with Train 2… it seems difficult to conceive that Mark came to be in that location he was on his own,” Mr McGrorey said. 

“Assuming that to be true, someone likely has or has had direct knowledge of those circumstances.”

He said to anyone who had information, this was the time to come forward.

“It is of critical importance for Mark and his family.”

Mr Haines was found just after 6am by a train crew passing through the region having last been seen by his partner at approximately 3.30am. 

The inquest is being held before New South Wales Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame, who said it was likely new information will emerge during the inquest. 

Addressing the family in the Tamworth Courthouse, Ms Grahame said she was taking the task of finding out what happened to Mr Haines "extremely seriously".

"I know how long you have been working towards this day and I acknowledge your perseverance and resilience," she said.

Mr Haines’ sister, Lorna Haines, said they never believed Mr Haines had committed suicide, or that he had gone to the train tracks alone on the morning of January 16. 

“We wanted there to be a proper investigation into what might have happened,” she said. 

“We are hoping that other families will not have to go through the same situation as our family has endured over the 36 years of not knowing.”

It is understood legal advocates will highlight to the coroner the manner of the police investigation, arguing the finding of suicide failed to properly consider evidence of a third-party involvement, as well as whether racism played a role in the investigation. 

In November 2022, the NSW Coroner confirmed that the court was reviewing Mr Haines' death, before it was announced in May last year a second coronial inquest would be held.

NSW police also announced last year a $1 million reward for information relating to Mr Haines' death.

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