Dad freed days before killing

By Janelle Miles, Jasmin Lill and Margaret Wenham

January 03, 2008 02:00am

  • Qeensland Health did not report man
  • Family known to Department of Child Safety
  • Man's family said he was back to normal
A MAN was cleared by a psychiatrist to leave a Brisbane hospital's mental health unit just nine days before he allegedly raped and murdered his 10-year-old daughter.

But Queensland Health did not report the man - who had spent two weeks as an involuntary patient in the hospital's mental health unit - to the Department of Child Safety. This was despite him having sole custody of his four children aged between six and 10.

The family was known to Child Safety after complaints in previous years from neighbours as well as by a teenage child in the family.

The man, 39, sat expressionless in the dock of the Brisbane Magistrate's Court yesterday when he appeared on charges of rape, murder and indecent treatment.

It is believed the Bardon man - who cannot be named for legal reasons-- lost his job as a funeral director several weeks ago and had since been unemployed.

The gruesome rape and murder - during which the girl was bound and her head roughly shaved - allegedly took place in a bedroom of the family's rented holiday home on Bribie Island on New Year's Eve.

Defence lawyer Neil Lawler told the court his client had been subject to an involuntary treatment order but did not currently need to be transferred to a mental health facility.

The Courier-Mail has learned the man was admitted to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital as an involuntary patient on December 8 after police picked him up at Brookside Shopping Centre during a "manic" episode. He had tried to charge $17,000 on a credit card with a much lower limit, and had to be subdued by capsicum spray after becoming aggressive.

An officer was injured during the incident, receiving bruising to his back and to his neck.

Until this incident, the man had been unknown to mental-health authorities.

A psychiatrist at RBWH assessed the man as fit for discharge on December 22.

His family had reported him as being "back to normal" during two days' leave as part of his treatment and he had returned to the hospital for further observation before being released.

The release of all patients subject to involuntary treatment orders is assessed by the Mental Health Review Tribunal. It was unclear last night whether the man's case had come before the tribunal.

He had previously suffered throat cancer, a condition which - in some cases - can be linked to manic episodes.

The man was released on medication, including an anti-psychotic drug known as Risperidone, but it was unknown whether he continued to take the drug after discharge.

Child Safety last night insisted it was unaware of the man's mental health problems. But doctors said they were under no obligation and had no reason to report the man to Child Safety authorities.

A Child Safety spokesperson said the family was known to authorities as a result of "low-level concerns which did not meet the threshold for an official notification".

It is understood that two of the complaints about the father came from an older child in the family.

The Courier-Mail was told that a small group of neighbours had met two years ago to discuss concerns about the level of verbal abuse that the children allegedly suffered from their father.

A neighbour said Child Safety was contacted and departmental officers had visited the house. The department last night did not answer questions put to it about the neighbours' alleged concerns.

The department's handling of the case will be reviewed and an independent child death review will be conducted.

The review will then be scrutinised by the Child Death Case Review Committee, chaired by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Elizabeth Fraser.

But acting Opposition Leader Mark McArdle said: "I'm not satisfied with an internal investigation.

"There is now an overwhelming case for a full investigation into the department and for any inquiry to be held."

Outside the court yesterday, Mr Lawler said the man had been assessed by a mental-health worker after the murder but further investigation would be needed into his mental state.

Magistrate Chris Callaghan adjourned the case for another mention on March 10 when the accused man will not have to appear.

He was remanded in custody and must apply to the Supreme Court if he wants bail.

The man will be housed at the Arthur Gorrie Remand and Reception Centre in the meantime, where he will be psychiatrically assessed and treated.

"It's a near certainty that (this case) will proceed to the Mental Health Court and that it will take some significant time for that to be arranged," Mr Lawler said.

It is understood the man was divorced from the dead girl's mother - who still lives in Brisbane - and that he has cared for their children for several years.

The mother is believed to have a serious criminal history.

The three surviving children - boys aged seven and nine and a girl aged six - are in the care of their grandparents.

Additional reporting: Jodie Munro O'Brien