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Hannah Clarke inquest: Coroner shocked by chilling acts of ‘master of manipulation’ Rowan Baxter

A Queensland coroner is shocked by the clinical and calculating tactics of Hannah Clarke’s murderous husband, who she described as “a master of manipulation.”

Deputy Coroner Jane Bentley was visibly emotional as she finished reporting her findings after a nine-day hearing in March.

She said the man who brutally set his ex-wife and their children on fire, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, was not mentally ill, but extremely manipulative.

Ms Bentley said that when Rowan Baxter realized his ex-wife would not give in to his custody demands, he began to gain support from friends and professionals.

She said he started building his case as the aggrieved ex-husband who was abused by his former partner by denying access to his three children.

“He received money and support from a number of friends and relatives, who believed his lies that Hannah was mistreating him and that he was a victim of her,” coroner Bentley said in her findings.

“He would pretend to be the victim and tell the Clarkes that Hannah had mental health problems and that she was the cause of the problems.”

Mrs. Clarke and her three young children (pictured) were murdered by Baxter after he boycotted their morning school on February 19, 2020

Mrs. Clarke and her three young children (pictured) were murdered by Baxter after he boycotted their morning school on February 19, 2020

Baxter murdered Mrs. Clarke and her three young children after boycotting their morning school on February 19, 2020.

He splattered fuel into the car and set it on fire, before stabbing himself through the heart with a knife, in what the coroner described as a “last act of cowardice.”

The children’s bodies were found in the vehicle, while Mrs Clarke, 31, died in hospital the same day after suffering burns to 97 percent of her body.

Just weeks before the incident, the couple were engaged in a fierce custody battle over their three children.

A domestic violence warrant was issued in January 2020 after Baxter kidnapped his youngest daughter while spending time with the children on Boxing Day 2019.

Hannah Clarke's parents, Lloyd and Sue, said the coroner's finding was a good outcome

Hannah Clarke’s parents, Lloyd and Sue, said the coroner’s finding was a good outcome

Rowan Baxter buys flammable liquid at a hardware store before committing his evil crime

Rowan Baxter buys flammable liquid at a hardware store before committing his evil crime

The investigation revealed that Baxter had stuffed a ‘screaming’ Laianah into his car and drove across the border into northern NSW, where he stayed for several days.

Disturbing bodycam footage has revealed the moment the desperate mother detained Queensland police and reported the incident.

“He’s decided that because I told him ‘you have to wait before we can sort this out, they won’t stay with you because you won’t return them,’ Mrs Clarke is supposed to tell the police.

“The other two are absolutely beside themselves. She cried.’

Ms Clarke had refused to let the children stay overnight with their father before a protection order was issued, which infuriated the 42-year-old.

‘He took her to his friend’s house in New South Wales,’ said Mrs Bentley.

“The friend sent Hannah a text saying it was her fault and she couldn’t keep the kids.”

It took Queensland police three days to get the four-year-old girl back to her mother, after which officers knocked on Baxter’s door to issue him a police protection order.

He admitted that the protection order applied to his eldest daughter Aaliyah, who stood up to her father despite being terrified of him.

The burnt remains of Hannah Clarke's vehicle after her estranged ex-husband set it on fire with his entire family in it

The burnt remains of Hannah Clarke’s vehicle after her estranged ex-husband set it on fire with his entire family in it

However, he objected when officers said he should not be allowed to see Laianah, exclaiming that “she cannot” in reference to his ex-partner.

On January 31, Baxter violated a domestic violence order and assaulted his ex-wife after planting explicit photos of her in the back seat of her car.

“I’m very smart at what I do,” he told a police officer who came to talk to him about the breach.

On January 8, the 42-year-old appeared in court with two lawyers and a lawyer to challenge the domestic violence order.

He managed to convince all three of them to act pro bono for him after he cried to the victim and insisted he had money problems.

“He was acting pro bono because Baxter was friends with his brother and Baxter said he was struggling financially,” Ms Bentley said.

Days later, he posted on Facebook “thanks to his supporters and stated that it was crippling that his children were being taken from him and that he wouldn’t stop fighting to get them 50 percent of the time.”

Hannah Clarke's only worries in her final hours were for her beloved children (pictured with her eldest daughter Aaliyah)

Hannah Clarke’s only worries in her final hours were for her beloved children (pictured with her eldest daughter Aaliyah)

Ms Bentley said it was deeply disturbing that some of his friends and associates still insisted he had been a victim despite overwhelming evidence that he had been manipulative, physically abusive and controlling.

She said multiple statements had been made to police describing Baxter as a man who loved his wife and children and had been a wonderful father.

The coroner added that some felt he deserved sympathy for “losing everything” and that Mrs. Clarke kept his children away from him.

“Even when Hannah was extremely afraid of him, she continued to facilitate safe contact between Baxter and the children,” Ms Bentley said.

Ms Baxter’s bereaved parents said they are aware that the monster that ended the lives of their daughter and grandchildren still had supporters to this day.

Today Show host Allison Langdon asked if more needed to be done to teach victims’ families and friends the key signs that their loved one was being abused.

“You definitely think we need a lot more education about the red flags so that family and friends can recognize that,” Sue Clarke told the Today Show on Thursday.

CORONER RECOMMENDATIONS THAT REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ACTION:

1. Domestic Violence Police Training

2. Domestic violence training for all police officers

3. Lawsuit targeting domestic violence at police station

4. Financing Men’s Behavioral Change Programs

‘Yes, he still has quite a few supporters around. We need to educate people so that they understand exactly what a red flag is.

“One of those recommendations is also training offenders,” Lloyd Clarke told the hosts.

“So they’re going to get guidance, if they do a DV or DVO on them, they’re going to have specialized training to try to kind of rein them in and get into their minds and figure out what’s going on.”

Baxter wrote that it was “crippling” that his children were being taken from him and that he would not stop fighting for joint custody.

The inquest showed CCTV footage of Baxter buying cable ties, cleaning fluid, a jerry can and three Kinder Surprise chocolates days before the murders.

Samantha Covey was driving her kids to swimming lessons when she saw Mrs. Clarke’s car go up in flames.

She found Mrs. Clarke lying on the grass next to her car after heroic efforts to save her children and said, “My children, somebody get my children.”

“I can’t believe he did this. I have a DVO. I can’t believe he did this. Where are my babies, where are my children? How could he do this. Those are my babies in there,” she told Mrs. Covey.

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