The Front Page: The death of Lachie – Could the case be reopened?

A father who lost his three-year-old boy in 2019 won’t accept the death was an accident.

Paul Jones has spent the last three years looking for answers to why his boy Lachie was found floating face-up in an oxidation pond south of his home in Gore on a warm summer evening.

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The Herald’s Christchurch reporter Kurt Bayer has been following this case closely and today he tells the Front Page podcast that there haven’t been many instances in his career when he has been left with so many questions.

“When you go to a murder trial and its conclusion, you come away thinking the jury or the judge have got it right,” Bayer says.

“At the end, you’re not left with much doubt. There are very, very few examples in my career where that’s happened – and I’ve covered probably 60 murder trials now.

“This is an unusual case, and given it’s a little kid it’s really distressing.”

The police investigation into the death ultimately found that the boy had walked alone for 1.2 kilometres from his home along a very rough, stony ground, covered with prickles and thistles, before ending up in a pond.

The police determined that there were no suspicious circumstances involved in the case, but this has never sat well with the father.

“He never thought that story added up,” Bayer says.

“He’s spent the last three years trying to work out exactly what has happened. He’s gone over screeds of interviews, he has the police file – and he’s really tried to see what other conclusions he could come to.”

So what exactly is it about the story that doesn’t add up?

“He doesn’t think that Lachie could have walked there alone. He says his little boy was clingy, he liked to be around people he knew and it was late at night… And then, for him to walk all that way – it is a very long way – in bare feet. And yet, he had no marks on his body according to the post mortem report and the funeral home. They found no scratches, no bruises. Nothing.”

Following work by Paul Jones and the Gore District Council (which had been charged by Worksafe for health and safety failures) the police did agree to reinvestigate the case.

“They brought in out-of-town officers to take an independent look at it. They went over it, re-interviewed the witness and took more statements. It was a case of fresh eyes going over it.”

In December last year, the officer in charge of that reinvestigation called in Jones and told him that nothing had changed and there were no suspicious circumstances in the case. This only emboldened Jones further, who commissioned a new lawyer and today he is still pushing for answers.

The police file will now end up with the Coroner for the case to undergo a coronial inquiry.

Asked whether he thought there was any possibility of this case being reopened and treated as a homicide, Bayer didn’t write off the potential of this happening.

“There’s a chance it could get reopened, and we’ve seen examples of that in the past,” he says.

“I remember the ‘black widow’ Helen Milner case in Christchurch a few years ago when her second husband died. The police turned up and it looked like a suicide – and that night they treated it like a suicide. They didn’t handle it any other way.

“Then when it went to the Coroner, she said: ‘Hang on a second. You guys need to take a second look at this.’ Then, a murder inquiry was opened and Helen Milner was charged with murder and is in jail now serving a life sentence.”

Whether anything is set to change in the case of Lachie Jones now lies in the hands of the Coroner.

“Although the case is three years old, it’s still early days,” says Bayer.

“There are still ongoing inquiries and there is ongoing court action. We might see something further down the line.”

The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald,available to listen to every weekday from 5am.

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