Inquest into Morcom death begins
THE inquest into the death of Jai Morcom, who died following a playground fight at Mullumbimby High School in 2009, starts this morning at Lismore Courthouse.
Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon will preside over the inquiry that is expected to take two weeks.
Approximately 40 witnesses will be called to give evidence.
During the first week, the inquest will hear from current and past staff and students of the school.
The second week will be spent hearing from expert witnesses.
Magistrate Dillon has ordered that the identities of all students, past and present, be suppressed from publication.
The inquest comes as a relief of sorts for Jai's father, Steve Drummond, who has been publicly critical of the investigation and continually campaigned for more witnesses to come forward.
He also advocated for the inquiry, going so far as to collect his own evidence and submit it to the Coroner.
In March last year he even met personally with the NSW Education Minister, Verity Firth, to express his misgivings about the case and wider worries about youth violence in schools.
At that meeting – organised by Member for Ballina Don Page – Mr Drummond delivered 1400 signed letters to the minister from community members concerned about the investigation.
“The minister showed genuine concern and said she was 100 per cent behind me finding out the truth and that she supported the coronial inquest to achieve that,” Mr Drummond said at the time.
Two months after popular 15-year-old Jai's death, a week-long high-level Education Department review of Mullumbimby High School's student welfare and communication systems found no significant problems at the school.
Jai Morcom sustained serious head injuries in the schoolyard fight on August 28, 2009.
He was rushed to Gold Coast Hospital in a critical condition but died the next day.
The subsequent national media frenzy in Mullumbimby was widely criticised.
The death devastated family and friends and shattered the Mullumbimby community that has since struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.
Community members have been critical about the length of time the investigation has taken.
The deadline for the police report, originally due in December 2009, was extended three times, initially because of delays in receiving the autopsy results.
Though the police investigation was in NSW, Jai died in Queensland so the Queensland Coroner had to perform the autopsy.
Subsequent delays were due to difficulties police had in encouraging witnesses to come forward.
Tweed-Byron Local Area Command crime manager Shane Diehm fended off criticism at the time, saying the investigation could not be rushed if it was to be conducted properly.
The Coroner received the police report in March last year and announced the inquest in June.
A Coronial Inquest is not a trial between opposing parties but, in this case, an inquiry into Jai Morcom's death.
Its focus will be to establish what happened that Friday afternoon, rather than attributing blame.