By: Rachel McGhee
A coronial inquest in central Queensland is considering whether neck compression or restraint that causes death should be treated in a similar way to one-punch strikes to the head.
QUEENSLAND, AUS – Coroner David O’Connell has been investigating the death of Gladstone woman Tracy Ann Beale, who died when her husband, James Andrew Beale, put her in a headlock during an argument five years ago.
Mr Beale was initially charged with manslaughter, but the director of public prosecutions dropped the charge, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove Ms Beale’s death was not accidental.
The coroner also is looking at whether neck compression in a domestic setting should receive legislative attention.
The Women’s Legal Service said the issues ultimately were a decision of government.
The barrister representing the service, Kylie Hillard, said the Queensland Attorney-General had been proactive on domestic violence reform.
“One of the things that arose during this inquest was that it [the neck compression] could have potentially been very momentary — it could have only been seconds,” she said.
“Whether that would be enough to be compression of the neck, or that would be enough to be strangulation, or what would fit within the current understanding of what those sections are, I guess it is really a matter for the Government to be able to have the opportunity to look at the evidence, and look at whether or not they want to change it.”
Domestic violence education campaign
The coroner is also considering whether there is a need for an education program to raise awareness about the dangers of some forms of neck compressions or restraint.
During the inquest, family and friends of Ms Beale said a domestic violence education campaign would have helped them to assist her.
The Women’s Legal Service said any education would assist, but strangulation and neck compression were not the only factors.
Ms Hillard said all of the risk factors were important.
“If people are aware of what the risk factors are, they can either know that they may be in danger and need to get help, or family and friends will be able to more readily identify ‘Hey, I need to step in and help that person’,” she said.
Husband says he did not want to hurt Ms Beale
Mr Beale told the inquest Ms Beale has been drinking the night before she died in January 2013.
He said she was mad at him and was hitting him in the face
“I remember she was throwing small punches at me … and I tried to push her to one side, and somehow I don’t know how, I got her in a headlock to try and calm her down.
“She was facing me, just striking me and I’m not sure, it just happened so quick.
“I sort of pushed her to one side and then just sort of held her there for a second and she just went limp,” he told the inquest.
Mr Beale said he wanted to calm his wife and did not want to hurt her.
He told the inquest when he realised Ms Beale was unconscious, he called triple zero, thinking she had passed out from alcohol.
While the official cause of Ms Beale’s death is neck compression, Mr O’Connell is also considering whether her death was due to asphyxia, reflex cardiac arrest, a combination of those factors or other causes.
He is also considering whether an underlying heart condition and/or alcohol consumption contributed to her death.
Family seeking case review
Ms Beale’s family told the coronial inquest they want the case re-examined, but they are also hoping it can prompt more action on domestic violence.
“No-one can bring her back from what’s happened, but we’d just like to see some laws change to make sure this doesn’t happen to another family,” her brother Gavin Loakes said.
“Just as a family, we’d like the Attorney-General to get involved in this case of domestic violence.
“We would like much further investigation by the DPP of what could be done here to stop other families going through what we’re going through now. It would be a start to change what’s happened.”
Barrister Michael Anderson, who is representing Ms Beale’s family, told the inquest the family was hoping for a recommendation for the DPP to again consider prosecution.
“The family want justice in the form of charges to be laid in relation to the conduct of Mr Beale on this particular evening,” he said.
“That there be some recommendation in relation to Mr Beale.
“Again it’s a matter for the coroner as to whether he makes that recommendation, however it will be on behalf of the family their strong position that there be indictment for criminal process.”
Mr O’Connell has reserved his decision and is expected to hand down findings in the coming weeks.