The decision not to hold an inquest into the Afghanistan death of Corporal Douglas Hughes has been defended by the chief coroner, after it was criticised by the dead soldier's mother.
Coroner Gordon Matenga followed proper procedure, Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said today.
The mother of Hughes, who killed himself in Afghanistan, was upset the coroner never contacted her family to ask whether they wanted an inquest into her son's death.
Venus Poa, of Northland, has called for an open inquiry into the death because she believes a defence force Court of Inquiry was a ''whitewash''.
Coroners did not have to hold an inquest if they were satisfied another authority had conducted its own thorough investigation, Judge MacLean said.
Matenga had been satisfied the matters legally required to be established by a coroner had been covered by the Court of Inquiry, he said.
''There was nothing more he could usefully add by holding an inquest, which would only duplicate aspects of the Court of Inquiry.''
The Court of Inquiry found Hughes killed himself just hours after confessing his feelings for a male soldier, and was in the care of his sergeant right up until his death.
At one point, the sergeant frisked Hughes for a weapon.
The inquiry found that the death was not preventable as no one person could have known Hughes was going to kill himself, but Poa does not accept that and believes a coroner's inquiry could look into that issue as its main focus.
She said the family had been waiting for a coroner's inquest and were surprised when it was announced none would be held, as it would not be able to add anything to the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) inquiry.
''We would have thought he would have rung us or contacted us to hear our version and what we have to say, but we never got that chance.''
She was surprised to learn this week that Matenga had put in a submission against the gay marriage bill.
Poa said any inquest should investigate the actions of the sergeant, who called a meeting with Hughes and the trooper he had confessed feelings for.
''My son was in a volatile stage, the sergeant, knowing that, should have gone and got some other high ranking officers to come in on their meeting.''
She said the fact that he frisked her son for a weapon suggested her had concerns.
Poa was also critical of the way the NZDF had handled the case. She believed the army had pushed the sexuality issue to the forefront in the report, knowing the family would be too embarrassed to go public.
''We believe they were using that for us to be quiet.''
She was also angry that the army had burnt her son's clothing as it was considered ''bio waste'', shredded mortuary papers ''that were the most important part of the investigation'' and failed to make an inventory of her son's possessions.
''There are a lot of flaws in this case.''
The family was still confused about Hughes' sexuality. He had rung a former girlfriend while in Afghanistan to say he wanted to ''make a go of it'' when he returned to New Zealand.
The Court of Inquiry report contained recommendations which the coroner accepted, Judge MacLean said.
It was standard in cases involving suicide for coroners to prohibit some details being published, he said.
''If a party is unhappy with a coroner's finding, there are several ways they can ask for it to be looked at again,'' he said.
''The Solicitor-General has the power to order a coronial inquest, while a High Court judge can conduct a judicial review to see if proper processes have been followed.''
Judge MacLean also defended Matenga making submissions against the gay marriage bill.
As a private citizen, Matenga was entitled to make submissions on legislation before Parliament, he said.
''I can see no connection between his personal views and how this case was dealt with. If members of the public are unhappy with the conduct of a judicial officer, they can raise the matter with the Judicial Conduct Commission.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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