More work to do: coroner

Wed, May 15

Five years after the Lachie Jones case was closed, a coroner has said there is further work for police to do.

Last Wednesday marked the end of phase one of Coroner Alexander Ho’s inquest into the 2019 death of the 3-year-old.

The first police investigation concluded the boy had drowned after he was found face up in a Gore oxidation pond 1.2km away from his home.

But after police admitted they had "missed steps" in the initial investigation, a second investigation opened.

Detective Inspector Stu Harvey, the officer in charge of the second investigation, yesterday gave evidence there were still things to examine and the investigation remained open.

"We’re still doing inquiries in regards to information coming in," he said.

Mr Ho directed that further information regarding the composition of the water and the slipperiness of the pond floor be provided by the Gore District Council.

He also asked that information about currents in the pond and wind in the area be looked into.

During the hearing, a neighbour gave evidence about a shirtless man running near the ponds after Lachie’s disappearance. Police never established who that might be.

The court heard bodies usually sank in fresh water, but there were lots of variables that could affect the buoyancy of the water.

Det Insp Harvey said he did not make inquiries into chemicals in the pond, or any other variables that could have caused Lachie’s body to float.

He said he also did not thoroughly look into the currents in the pond.

Det Insp Harvey said the reinvestigation included taking measurements of the pond, which was 80cm deep where Lachie was found.

Lachie was 1 metre tall at his last doctor’s visit and a forensic pathologist said Lachie could have simply stood up; although if he was submerged in the water suddenly he may have inhaled water and become unable to recover.

Sergeant Hua Tamariki, who was involved in the initial investigation, said it would be "almost impossible" for someone to climb out of the pond due to the slope near the edge and the surface of the ground, but Det Insp Harvey’s investigations found the rough concrete around the edge of the pond and under the water "felt secure under foot".

An oversight in the first investigation was a lack of electronic data.

Counsel assisting the coroner Simon Mount, KC, asked Det Insp Harvey if he obtained messages via social media from Lachie’s half-brothers Jonathan and Cameron Scott.

"I can’t recall whether that was done, but I do know that ... some of them had different cellphones."

He said data from messaging platforms could be "very difficult to back-capture".

Max Simpkins, counsel for Lachie’s father Paul Jones, asked Det Insp Harvey why he had not interviewed the council employee who gave evidence that he saw three people near the ponds on the night Lachie died, including one wearing a hi-vis vest.

"I would’ve thought that if there was any information from any council workers, that would be reported back to us," Det Insp Harvey replied.

Det Insp Harvey’s evidence marked the end of the first phase of the inquest, and expert witnesses will be called in August.

The coroner said he had not lost sight of the fact it was more than five years since Lachie died.

"We continue to work, I believe, for Lachie."