Eye-witness bombshell

Lachie Jones
Lachie Jones
Coroner Alexander Ho’s inquest into the January 2019 death of Lachie Jones continued in Invercargill last week. The Ensign reprints coverage from the ODT across the next three pages.

Tuesday, May 7

A man says he saw a small person wearing high-vis with two others near the Gore oxidation ponds where a boy was found dead.

The bombshell came on Tuesday, May 7, during the second week of coroner Alexander Ho’s Invercargill inquest into the 2019 death of 3-year-old Lachie Jones.

Police quickly concluded Lachie — who was wearing a hi-vis vest and a police hat when he went missing — had drowned after he was found over a kilometre away from his home face up in a sewage pond.

But throughout the hearing, witnesses have been questioned over whether foul play was involved.

Near the end of the day, Dave McKewen, who was an animal control officer for the Gore District Council in 2019, revealed stunning new evidence.

He said he saw one small person in high-vis with two other people he believed to be teenagers, based on their size.

The witness said he saw the people from about 300m away as he was leaving the dog pound about 3.30pm.

"I always thought it was significant," the witness told counsel assisting the coroner Simon Mount, KC.

"Right from the day we found out how [Lachie] died."

He explained to the inquest he never told police because he was waiting to be asked to make a statement and senior management would need to give him permission.

He said he was overwhelmed with work at the time, so did not make a specific request to speak to police, but discussed what he saw in an unrelated work meeting.

"After I found out someone had died in the area, the next day I wrote in my work diary what I had seen," Mr McKewen said.

He said he no longer had the notebook, which would have included more detail about the people he saw, as he threw it out while moving house.

He said he only provided the information to the court because Max Simpkins, counsel for Lachie’s father, Paul Jones, had contacted him about it.

Earlier in the day, Mr Simpkins questioned Jade Vigers, a friend of Lachie’s half-brother, Jonathan, whether he would help him out if he was "in trouble".

The witness said he thought of Mr Scott as a brother and would "absolutely" help him out if he was in need.

"Johnny needed a hand that day because his brother had tragically lost his life and I’m suggesting that you already knew Lachie was deceased," Mr Simpkins said.

"You can suggest anything you want mate, it doesn’t make it true," Mr Vigers said.

Mr Simpkins also suggested that the witness was involved in disposing of Lachie’s body.

"You should be ashamed of yourself for saying that. It’s disgusting," Mr Vigers responded.

Kimberley Rogers was next up in the witness box and explained she was a "best friend" of Lachie’s mother, Michelle Officer, for 17 years — although Ms Officer disputed this in her evidence.

The witness said Lachie’s mother talked about her son getting away from her on the night he died.

"Well, that’s really bizarre because she was fit and strong enough to keep up with that little man ... it does not make any sense at all," Ms Rogers recalled thinking at the time.

She said after Lachie’s death she only saw Ms Officer become upset when Lachie’s coffin was lowered.

"I didn’t really see any tears or any grief," Ms Rogers said.

The witness explained that three weeks after the toddler’s death she cut ties with Ms Officer "because of her lies".

She described Lachie as bright and "so full of life", but in the months before his death she noticed he had become "quite withdrawn".

Ms Rogers said she wondered if it was because of his parents’ relationship breakdown.

She told police she had had conversations with Lachie since his death in a spiritual capacity, but coroner Ho said that evidence would be inadmissible.

She said while she never saw Lachie run away from his parents, he was fast and strong.

"You definitely had to watch him," she said.