Warning: this article discusses suicide. If you or anyone you know needs help, you can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support.
The mother of a young woman who suicided two years ago fought back tears when telling a court about the grief her family has faced since her loss, remarking how “the system let our beautiful Brontë down”.
Hearings for the inquest into the death of Canberra’s Brontë Haskins, who died in February 2020 when she was only 23 years old, began in the ACT Coroner’s Court on Monday (31 January).
“To know Brontë is to love her. We love you, Brontë, now and forever,” her mother Janine Haskins said, reading a statement from her family while wearing a purple t-shirt with the words ‘Justice for Brontë’ printed on it.
Ms Haskins said their family had fought to get help from police and health services for her daughter, known as ‘Poppy’, in the lead-up to her death, but “no-one listened to us, nor appeared to care”.
“She and our family have been treated appallingly, and I reiterate appallingly, throughout this ordeal,” she said.
“Effectively, it feels as if we have been blamed for Poppy’s untimely death.”
She said she believed Brontë’s illicit substance use was likely related to traumas from her early years, and this affected her mental health, describing it as a “co-morbidity”.
When police arrived at her home on 15 February 2020, she said it had been three-and-a-half hours after she initially called them over concerns her daughter was experiencing a psychotic episode.
Police assessed her daughter as lucid even though she believed Brontë was “acutely unwell”.
Ms Haskins said her husband called police the next day over concerns for Brontë, but officers again assessed her as fine when they arrived 37 hours after the call.
She called an ambulance on 17 February when she could not rouse her daughter. When paramedics arrived, she explained to them she had possibly overdosed.
But she was again told Brontë was fine, although Ms Haskins said she wasn’t told drug paraphernalia had been found in her daughter’s flat.
Andrew Muller, counsel assisting, said Bronte went for a hairdresser’s appointment on 18 February 2020 and the hairdresser reported while she talked about being frustrated with her living situation, she was also optimistic about her future and was making plans, including another appointment in the near future.
He said Bronte went to her ex-partner’s home in Higgins that afternoon where closed-circuit television recorded them having a short conversation, after which she was visibly distressed.
Soon afterwards, she took her own life.
Mr Muller said the inquest would address several key issues, including her incarceration at the Alexander Maconochie Centre and the bail conditions that allowed her release, the actions in February 2020 of the AFP and mental health workers, and her interactions with people at a unit in Higgins that month.
The hearings for the inquest are expected to run into early February and Coroner James Stewart will announce his findings in the future.
When Ms Haskins addressed the court, she warned that “Brontë is not the only one that’s been let down by these systems”.
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you are concerned about someone’s immediate safety or wellbeing, call 000.