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Tragic Details Unveiled as Landmark Inquest Begins: NT Coroner’s Court Sheds Light on Fatal Domestic Violence Attack

The first day of hearings in a series of inquests into the deaths of four Aboriginal women at the hands of their partners has heard horrifying details of one victim’s death in a house fire lit by her partner.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains the names of Indigenous people who have died, used with the permission of their families.

This story also contains graphic details that some readers may find distressing.
Hours before her partner lit a house fire that ultimately claimed her life, 34-year-old Kumanjayi Haywood sent a devastating series of text messages to a loved one, the NT Coroner has heard.

“[He’s] going to kill me tonight love you so much don’t cry for me,” she wrote.

“[He’s] going to kill me tonight love you so much … always and forever in my [heart emoji].”

The fatal attack on November 5, 2021, at the Hidden Valley Town Camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs, was the culmination of years of domestic violence suffered by Ms Haywood at the hands of her partner Kumanjayi Dixon, who also died because of the fire, the coroner heard.

The coroner heard Ms Haywood was hiding in a bathroom from her partner when he poured petrol outside the door and urged her to come outside, before lighting the fuel with a cigarette lighter and igniting a “massive explosion in the toilet, bathroom and living area”.

Ms Haywood suffered burns to 90 per cent of her body, while Mr Dixon suffered burns to 70 per cent of his.

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NT Coroner Elisabeth Armitage on Tuesday opened a monumental series of inquests examining the deaths of four Aboriginal women at the hands of their partners.

Over six weeks of evidence, spread across six months, the court will examine each death separately, before two weeks of expert and institutional evidence is called in October to detail systemic issues in the Northern Territory’s response to domestic, family and sexual violence.
In opening the inquest into the death of Ms Haywood and her partner Mr Dixon, Counsel Assisting the Coroner Peggy Dwyer described, in horrific detail, 40 reported incidents of domestic violence between Ms Haywood and Mr Dixon throughout their 20-year relationship.

“If it is relentless for us to hear about in court, then imagine how relentless it must have been to endure, month after month and year after year,” Dr Dwyer said.

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“It might bring us closer to an understanding of how relentless it must have felt to be involved in that cycle of violence.”
Dr Dwyer described to the coroner brutally violent incidents involving weapons such as knives, rocks and furniture, as well as emotional abuse, and told the court it was likely there were other incidents which had gone unreported.
The court heard on one occasion Mr Dixon stabbed Ms Haywood in the leg 15 times — and on another, 10 years before Ms Haywood was killed, he attacked her while they were both inside the Alice Springs Correctional Centre.

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The court heard the level of violence perpetrated by Mr Dixon had escalated throughout their relationship and that he exhibited “clearly recidivist, concerning and increasingly violent behaviour”.

At times, Dr Dwyer noted, Ms Haywood became the perpetrator, after years of abuse.

Dr Dwyer told the court that without acknowledging all aspects of the violence it was “impossible to understand” the complexity of their relationship.
Family safety framework
Dr Dwyer foreshadowed that the evidence throughout the inquest would show the relationship between Mr Dixon and Ms Haywood, at times, “should have prompted a referral to the Family Safety Framework”.

The Family Safety Framework (FSF) was introduced by the NT government in 2012, and Dr Dwyer said it was developed to “coordinate a response to the scourge of family violence” in the territory.
She told the coroner the FSF and other systems in place throughout the NT, including police and other departmental responses to domestic violence, would be examined throughout the inquest.
The coroner heard the effect that vicarious trauma had had on first responders would also be a focus.

“Our systems have failed not only the victims [and] their families … but the systems have failed the individuals working in that environment as well,” Judge Armitage said.

Counsel for NT Police, Ian Freckelton KC, told the inquest domestic violence call-outs made up “well over half” of the work of NT officers, and that police were “not seeking any sympathy”, but wanted to explain the difficulties of their work.

“This is a national problem which has no simple solutions,” Dr Freckelton KC said.
Judge Armitage agreed, but told the court there was an “over-representation” of domestic violence rates in the NT, which required a “national response … particularly in relation to funding in accordance to need”.

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‘Every one of those deaths is preventable’: Coroner
Judge Armitage opened the inquest with a sobering series of statistics, telling the court that in the NT, “for the past 23 years, on average, more than three Aboriginal women have been killed” by either a current or former partner each year.

“Every one of those deaths is preventable, but sadly the terrible, terrible carnage continues … we must not look away,” she said.

Dr Dwyer also welcomed a handful of Ms Haywood and Mr Dixon’s family members to the inquest and acknowledged that despite the violence, there “must have been some good times” for the couple and their families.

“We don’t forget that, even though this inquest has to focus on the sad bits,” Dr Dwyer said.

The inquest continues.


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