9 August 2022

Brontë Haskins' family calls for blame to be laid as coronial inquest into death closes

| Claire Fenwicke
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Janine Haskins

Janine Haskins lost her daughter Brontë in 2018 to suicide, but she thinks opportunities were missed to save her. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

WARNING: This story has references to suicide. If you need immediate help, call 000. For support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Brontë Haskins’ family has called for adverse findings to be made against three people who were involved both before and after the 23-year-old took her own life.

ACT Coroner James Stewart invited final submissions ahead of his deliberations on Friday (5 August).

Brontë’s family submitted a former AFP officer, an Access Mental Health triage line nurse and Brontë’s ex-partner should have adverse findings made against them which would suggest they were in some way at fault for her death.

Her family argued the former AFP officer had returned a CCTV recorder containing footage of the moments before Brontë’s death to her ex-partner, in which about 45 to 46 minutes of footage was missing.

The family wanted the adverse finding “with a view to make it clear to the AFP and investigating officers that such mishandling of coronial exhibits is unacceptable”.

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They also argued a mental health nurse Brontë’s mother Janine Haskins had called a few days before her death had triaged her case incorrectly.

Their statement described the nurse as an “unimpressive witness”, and said she had “repeatedly refused to accept she had incorrectly triaged Brontë as a ‘Category G'”.

“Had [the nurse] not incorrectly triaged Brontë as ‘Category G’, Brontë would have, more likely than not, been assessed face-to-face by a trained mental health clinician within 72 hours and certainly prior to her death,” their submission said.

“Brontë should have been properly triaged by [the nurse], regardless of the triage scale which applied, as at least a ‘Category C’ or ‘Category D’.”

A Category G rating meant more information was needed to determine whether Mental Health Services intervention was required.

The nurse maintained in her oral evidence she believed Category G was the correct triage category based on the information she had at the time.

“She accepted that, in hindsight, Brontë should have been triaged as a Category D or above,” the Territory’s submission said.

“The Territory accepts that there should have been some follow-up of the call.”

The triage policy has been changed since Brontë’s death.

Brontë Haskins’ death in 2020 is the subject of a coronial inquest. Photo: Instagram.

Counsel assisting Andrew Muller also found that Brontë would have received some face-to-face interaction with mental health services prior to her death has she been assessed correctly.

“It is also evident that what may have occurred thereafter is a matter of speculation, and the effectiveness of further interaction with Brontë by mental health services was highly dependent on her level of cooperation, absent Brontë being assessed as falling into an emergency category, that is, at risk of harm to herself or others,” his submission said.

“What is material is that on any view of the available information, Brontë was incorrectly assessed for triage purposes.”

In the case of the AFP officer, Mr Muller said his actions “fell short of warranting adverse comment”.

He also wrote there was “nothing arising from the evidence” which suggested Brontë’s ex-partner played any “direct positive role” in her death.

“His contribution to Brontë’s demise was in the form of lack of care and concern and no more,” Mr Muller said.

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Brontë’s family requested the Coroner make a number of recommendations, including recording all calls to the Access Mental Health line, regularly auditing the triage scale, more transparency in passing on details to the Coroner’s Court if a mental health service user dies, increasing the number of bail compliance officers, and directing AFP officers to activate their body-worn cameras no matter what incident they’re attending.

Coroner Stewart adjourned the inquest until his results were published.

He offered his sympathies to Brontë’s bereaved family.

“I can only hope this process has gone some way of assisting you on the terrible path of grief that suicide leaves behind,” he said.

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