Northern Territory Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie leaving Darwin Local Court after the coronial inquest.
Northern Territory Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie leaving Darwin Local Court after the coronial inquest.

Officer takes ‘personal responsibility’ for deaths of kids

NT Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie takes personal responsibility for the deaths of three Aboriginal children who died after a long history of petrol sniffing despite having contact with the health department, a coronial inquest has heard.

Dr Heggie gave evidence at a coronial inquest into the deaths of - Ms B, 17, Master W, 12, and Master JK, 13 - in the Darwin Local Court on Thursday.

 

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The families of the children asked that their full names not be used.

Mark Thomas, the barrister for the family of Ms B, asked Dr Heggie why Ms B's case was not elevated to him within two weeks - as the relevant legislation stipulates because Ms B was considered to be at "high-risk" of serious harm.

Dr Heggie admitted a mistake had been made by department staffers in not alerting him to Ms B's situation "in a consolidated way".

"I'm sad I really feel for the family because they were reaching out, as Ms B was, for someone to keep her safe," Dr Heggie said.

"I can only say to the family I wish I'd been aware of all this together.

"For me personally, I take responsibility that this young person lost her life."

Dr Heggie said a lot of the problems arose because incidents involving the children were sometimes treated in isolation instead of altogether, and because case workers for the Health Department had such a heavy workload.

"I can see (on Ms B's file) that the information was not either validated or corroborated," Dr Heggie said.

"They were busy, under the legislation looking at the low-risk cases."

The inquest also heard evidence from Territory Families Northern Region executive director Karen Broadfoot, who said several incidents involving Ms B reported to the department were "screened out" when they should have been investigated further.

This includes when Ms B reported being raped by a family member who was living in her house, and she was not removed by the department.

"I consider this to be a significant failure on behalf of (the department)," Ms Broadfoot said.

The inquest continues.

Originally published as Heggie takes 'personal responsibility' for deaths of three kids, inquest hears


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