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An Australian police detective investigating the murders of Hannah Baxter and her children has been stood down from the case over comments that were seen as “victim shaming”.
Baxter and her children died when her estranged husband set their car on fire with them inside. He also died.
In comments to the media on Thursday, Det Insp Mark Thompson had said it could be a case of a man “being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered”.
The remarks caused fury in Australia.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said on Friday that Det Insp Thompson had been “distraught” over his comments and “how it came out”, and had volunteered to stand aside.
Hannah Baxter and her children were in the car in Brisbane with her husband, Rowan Baxter, on Wednesday when it caught fire.
Rowan Baxter and the three children – Laianah, aged four, Aaliyah, six, and Trey, three – died in the car. Hannah Baxter died in hospital later from severe burns.
Witnesses said she had jumped out of the car screaming that he had poured petrol on her.
It later emerged that Hannah Baxter had repeatedly sought police help over domestic violence and had secured court orders, sparking anger about some of the media treatment of the incident.
‘Victim-blaming at its worst’
In a news conference on Thursday, Det Insp Thompson had suggested it could not be assumed the case was straight forward and that it was investigators’ job “to keep a completely open mind”.
He appealed for anyone with information about the family to come forward.
“We need to look at every piece of information and, to put it bluntly, there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side to take, so to speak, in this investigation,” he said.
“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is this an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues that he’s suffered, by certain circumstances, into committing acts of this form?”
Commissioner Carroll told ABC Radio Brisbane that the comments were “victim-blaming at its worst” and offered her sincere apologies to the community and victims.
“The phraseology was completely wrong, and the words and way it was said should not have been used.”
She said Det Insp was “an exceptional good police officer” and was “distressed” by the impact of the comments, but that “we want to remove the noise and concentration on the issue”.
“So, the issue is there is a murder, there is a mother and three children who have been murdered. And I want to concentrate on that.”
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