No sign body frozen, dog handler tells court

Simon Mount, KC. PHOTO: SOUTHLAND TIMES / STUFF
Simon Mount, KC. PHOTO: SOUTHLAND TIMES / STUFF
The dog handler who pulled Lachie Jones’ body from the water said there was no indication the boy had been in a freezer.

The first phase of coroner Alexander Ho’s inquest into the death of the 3-year-old finished last week after 13 days of evidence.

Police concluded the boy had drowned after he was found face up in an oxidation pond 1.2km from his home.

Due to health reasons, the public and media were excluded from the court while Constable Lachlan MacDonald gave his evidence.

A transcript of the evidence released on Monday detailed how Const MacDonald’s dog, Gee, found Lachie’s scent about 40m from his body.

Counsel assisting the coroner Simon Mount, KC, asked if there was anything about the body that might have indicated it had been in a freezer.

"No, I don’t think so. No, I don’t know. No, there’s nothing that stands out to me. It was a boy in a cold pond, that’s the way it came across to me at the time," the witness replied.

"It wasn’t really anything that had crossed my mind at the time. The child was in a pond and I was trying to save his life. That’s all I was thinking of at the time and trying to bring him back to his family."

He also did not notice Lachie’s body showing any signs of rigor mortis.

The witness said after Gee failed to find a scent on Grasslands Rd, he arrived at the gate near the oxidation ponds.

He said he jumped the small fence next to the gate and lifted Gee over it.

"Upon arriving at the gate, I did not see Gee indicate or give any change of behaviour that would indicate to me a person had gone over the fence," Const Macdonald said.

He explained Gee was not trained to search for a specific person’s scent and could not, for example, be given a piece of Lachie’s clothing to know who to search for.

He said the amount of people who had been on Grasslands Rd searching for Lachie would have contaminated the area.

"Because of the disturbance from other people, the search I completed on Grasslands Rd was more about ascertaining if Lachlan was in the vegetation on the side of the road, rather than trying to track his foot and scent movements," Const MacDonald explained.

"At the time, my primary focus was to locate Lachlan and observe anything Gee could show me to achieve this."

He said when the dog found Lachie his face, torso and nappy were under the water, but his knees were breaking the surface.

Mr Mount asked if the witness had noticed any ducks around the pond.

"It stood out to me at the time that there was a lot of ... bird life around," he replied.

Counsel for police Robin Bates asked him about backtracking Lachie’s scent to establish a path he may have taken.

Const MacDonald explained it would have been difficult to backtrack because the area was contaminated.

"I had contaminated the scene by myself walking there," he said.

The inquest will continue in August when the court is expected to hear from expert witnesses.

felicity.dear@odt.co.nz