This speech was delivered on 17.11.2016 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the original contribution here.
On 16 January 1988 in the early hours of the morning, a 17‑year‑old Aboriginal boy, Mark Anthony Haines, was found dead on the train tracks outside Tamworth. It had been pouring with rain that night. At all times Mark’s death has been treated as suspicious. The circumstances and manner of his death, however, have not been determined despite two coronial inquests, each of which returned open findings. The forensic and police accounts given at the inquests raise far more questions than they answer.
Mark was last seen saying goodbye to his girlfriend at approximately 3.30 a.m. that morning. Sometime after 3.30 a.m. a train driver travelling north from Werris Creek to Tamworth thought he had struck a sheep. He resolved to closely check the tracks when he returned over the same tracks heading south about an hour later. When he did, he saw a body lying prone between the tracks and called for assistance from the Tamworth station assistant. When the station assistant and paramedics arrived they found Mark’s body lying between the tracks with his head to the south, his feet to the north and, remarkably, his head resting upon a towel.
The working theory from police that was delivered at two coronial inquests was that Mark had travelled in a stolen car, which had crashed and turned over approximately 1.5 kilometres from where his body was found. Then in the pouring rain on a dark night he had walked away from Tamworth, climbed up a steep embankment and travelled along 1.5 kilometres of railway line, including over a narrow, dangerous bridge, carrying stolen goods. Mark was then thought to have laid down between the tracks and waited until the train arrived when he raised his head and was struck by the train.
The forensic evidence at the coronial inquests made it clear that Mark died from traumatic head injury and he had suffered substantial blood loss. The remarkable prospect from the forensic investigation was that Mark had tumbled under the train and ended up with his head resting on the towel after being struck by the train. Despite his substantial blood loss, when the paramedics removed Mark’s body and the towel they saw a stain of blood approximately only the size of a 50 cent coin under the towel. Despite it raining heavily that night, Mark’s shoes had no mud on them. Despite there being a significant number of objects nearby, many of them were collected by the family the following day and taken to police. None of the objects were fingerprinted. The stolen car 1.5 kilometres from Mark’s body was also not fingerprinted.
The investigation that was carried out by the Oxley Local Area Command could at best be described as substandard. Mark’s family continues to be critical of both the extent and the quality of the investigation. The working theory that was presented by police at the coronial inquiries is clearly utterly untenable. Mark’s parents and many of his family members have since passed away. One of his last remaining relatives, Uncle Don Craigie, a Gomeroi elder, has been seeking answers since 1988. He gave that commitment to Mark’s parents before they died. I met with Uncle Don in Tamworth last month. He still has a fire in his belly and is demanding justice for Mark. His commitment has been vitally important because without him Mark’s death may well have been forgotten entirely. As Uncle Don said, “It is sad but no-one cared about a dead Aboriginal teenage boy in Tamworth in the late 80s.”
Thankfully, fresh information continues to come to light. In 2001 fresh witnesses came forward giving evidence of a group of people being seen around the crashed car earlier that fateful morning, but nothing more was done by police. In April this year another witness contacted Crime Stoppers. Her details were provided to the Oxley Local Area Command. It was not the first time she had contacted police. To date, police have still not taken a statement from her. That witness and her daughter would be in a position to tell police that her own son had tragically taken his life a little over six months after Mark died. Crucially, he told his family he had driven the stolen car on the night of Mark’s death. He also left three notes before he died. One has since been destroyed but the other two are potentially still able to be obtained, at least if one looks. To find out this detail, however, it would be essential that police treat Mark’s death with the seriousness it deserves and, at the very least, interview the witnesses in person and take formal statements. It is hard to understand why that has not already happened.
Today I call on the NSW Police Force to recognise that the investigative efforts of the local area command have to date been inadequate. The case remains open, but for the family and community to have faith in the police investigation there needs to be a break with the past. For this reason I am today writing to the NSW Police Commissioner seeking to have the investigation into Mark’s death transferred to the homicide squad. A lot has changed in policing since 1988—I recognise that—but Mark’s family is still living with the failures of the past. Uncle Don Craigie will not rest till justice is done, and nor should any of us.