'INCONTESTABLE': Woman's death raises reasonable suspicion
A WAVE of emotion crashed through the courtroom as family and friends left the Gladstone Courthouse after a three-day inquiry into Tracy Ann Beale's death.
Today's conclusion of the proceedings held in the Coroners Court was the shortest of the three days and saw all legal counsellors give their individual submissions on what caused Mrs Beale's death and if further action needed to be taken.
Mrs Beale, 45, died at 1.06am on January 21, 2013, after she was placed in a chokehold by husband James Andrew Beale at their house on Phillip St.
The coronial inquiry was established by Coroner David O'Connell in May 2016 to determine what aspects were at play in Mrs Beale's death and if further action needed to be taken.
He today told the court "his greatest difficulty is what was the medical cause of this poor lady's death and how can we improve the law".
It was hoped the inquiry would also uncover whether Mrs Beale's pre-existing heart condition (dilated cardiomyopathy) or the consumption of alcohol prior to her death played a role, and by how much.
If a Coroner forms a suspicion a person has committed an offence during a coronial inquest, they must refer the matter to the Director or the Office of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or the responsible authority.
Mrs Beale's brother, Gavin Loakes today told the media he and his family would "like the Attorney General to get involved" in the case.
"This case is preceding the domestic violence laws from 2016 so they're not applicable to this case but we'd like a much further investigation by the DPP ... to stop other families going through what we are going through now," he said.
No one can bring her back, from what's happened... We'd just like to see some laws changed to make sure that this doesn't happen to another family."
John Aberdeen, counsel assisting the Coroner, today said it was, in his submission, "incontestable" that this case raised enough suspicion to have the matter referred to the DPP.
Mr Aberdeen said it was his submission that the cause of death was a vasovagal attack (reflex cardiac arrest) and asphyxia, against a background of dilated cardiomyopathy and a high blood alcohol concentration.
I have not attempted to reduce that to indicating that either the vasovagal attack or asphyxia was a dominant or predominant cause," he told Mr O'Connell.
Mr O'Connell emphasised to the court and the family that if his findings led him to refer the case back to the DPP, it would be at their discretion to determine what happened next.
Reiterating Doctor Nigel Buxton's admission in court on Wednesday, he said "it may be sometimes that medicine can't provide the answers in the way that the law would prefer them to be available".
Mr Aberdeen said there should be further education (in the form of an awareness campaign), particularly stressing the serious nature of neck compression of any degree.
In some cases a death of this nature may be caused with very little compression of the neck," he said.
He told Mr O'Connell it was his belief a submission to the Attorney General should be made, and that the case of Mrs Beale's death be referred to the domestic violence of the death review unit of the Coroners Court of Queensland.
In the submission of Andrew Boe, barrister for Mr Beale, it was put forward to the court the most likely and preferred mechanism was a vasovagal attack.
He said Mrs Beale's heart condition and possibly her blood alcohol level contributed too.
"Mr Beale's account of his interactions with Mrs Beale was consistent with what was found in post-mortem examinations," Mr Boe said.
In particular, the finding of neck bruising (which) was significant in excluding other possibilities such as spontaneous heart arrhythmia due to the pre-existing dilated cardiomyopathy."
Barrister for Mrs Beale's family, Mr Michael Anderson, argued there was only one unequivocal fact presented in court: That Mrs Beale suffered from a heart condition.
"There is a significant degree of uncertainty and conjecture as to the substantial underlying conditions contributing to the death," he said.
Mr Anderson told the court he would be submitting on partial asphyxia and fatal arrhythmia as the medical aspects causing Mrs Beale's death.
Arrhythmia, like a vasovagal attack, cannot be identified during an autopsy.
He argued the suddenness of Mrs Beale going limp only seconds after being placed in a chokehold was consistent with a fatal arrhythmia being the prominent medical cause of death.
Mr Anderson said Doctor Alex Olumbe (the pathologist who did Mrs Beale's autopsy) had "shifted" his evidence since releasing his initial report, which referred to a vasovagal attack as a possibility but not necessarily a primary cause.
He also drew on Dr Buxton's conclusion that various experts in the same field would differ in opinions in relation to a death as complex as Mrs Beale's.
The Coroner's decision is set to be released within the next three weeks.