Police are reviewing the case at the centre of a Newsroom video investigation which revealed a substandard inquiry into the death of a three-year-old Southland boy. Melanie Reid and Bonnie Sumner report
Police have confirmed the “Otago Coastal Police” are conducting a review into the case relating to the death of three-year-old Lachlan Jones in Gore last year.
Lachie was found by a police dog and his handler in one of the council’s oxidation ponds more than a kilometre from his home on a hot summer’s night. He could not be revived.
According to his mother’s police statement, Lachie had run away from their house around 9pm on January, 29. She caught up with him outside a friend’s house a few doors away, but while his mother and her friend chatted briefly he disappeared again.
After searching for her young son she called the police just after 9.30pm. He was discovered less than two hours later.
Gore police concluded three-year-old Lachlan Jones’ death to be a tragic accident and closed the case, however many people in the Southland town don’t believe Lachie’s death was accidental.
Lachlan’s father, Paul Jones, is adamant his son did not walk the 1.2 km to the end of the second oxidation pond that night and is relieved at the news.
“We are obviously really delighted the police are reviewing the case. We have waited a very long time for this.”
Karen McGuire is Jones’ friend and “support person”. She and Jones work for courier companies next door to each other in the centre of Gore. “We now just hope that it will lead to a full and thorough investigation. Hopefully from some experienced out-of-town police.”
She told Newsroom she is grateful for the attention Lachie’s case is finally attracting. “If the police stamp ‘case closed’ on a file it’s bloody hard to get anyone to listen.”
Jones, too, is hopeful the review will lead to the case being reopened, “It is so hard losing a child but when you know in your heart of hearts the way police say he came to his death is wrong, then it makes it even tougher. I will not ever completely rest until the truth comes out. The whole truth.”
Substandard police practice highlighted by the Newsroom Investigates video story released yesterday included:
• Police did not secure the scene, nor conduct a full scene examination.
• No marks were found on Lachlan’s feet, despite a supposed walk of 1.2 km over rough terrain, a gate and long grass with thistles.
• Key witnesses were not interviewed until more than a month later.
• Police took so long requesting text messaging data from telcos, it was too late and no longer available.
• Cellphone location data showed inconsistencies about where key witnesses said they were.
• Police never followed up on inconsistencies in witness statements, including contradictory times given for sightings of Lachie.
As part of our inquiry into Lachie’s death, Newsroom engaged Christchurch-based private investigator Glynn Rigby to review our concerns. He was similarly unimpressed with the police investigation.
“It’s encouraging that police are prepared to acknowledge that any investigation has deficiencies and needs to be revisited. The issues in this case are quite jarring but it’s commendable that they have taken that on board and are prepared to conduct a review. I would also hope that review goes as far as re-interviewing key parties to overcome some of the obvious weaknesses in initial interviews.”
Responding on behalf of the police, Detective Inspector Shona Low told Newsroom once the review of the case is complete “any matters arising will be considered and addressed”, but would not comment further.
Worksafe is taking the Gore District Council to court as a result of Lachie’s death. The council has been charged under three sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the site was safe.
Newsroom understands the council is not convinced Lachie’s death was accidental and the cornerstone of the their decision to plead not guilty is a belief the police investigation was inadequate.
Worksafe said it was unable to comment while the matter was before the courts.
The Gore mayor, Tracy Hicks, said in a statement last night: “The Newsroom investigation has raised some interesting and significant questions. The council will follow any developments with interest. The council has also had concerns about aspects of this case, which contributed to our decision to plead not guilty to the charges brought by Worksafe. We are unable to expand on those concerns due to the court action.
“ This is a trying time for everyone involved in this tragic incident, and this investigation is likely to cause concern within our close knit community,” Hicks said.