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Boy's death prompts second criminal neglect investigation

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An SA Police taskforce examining the death of six-year-old Charlie is now looking into another case of suspected criminal neglect following the death of a seven-year-old boy earlier this year, prompting the Premier to appoint a former Police Commissioner to head an independent inquiry.

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SA Police revealed earlier this afternoon that a boy called Makai died on February 10 after he suffered a health complaint.

His father took him to the Lyell McEwin Hospital, but he was later transported to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital where he died.

A postmortem found he died from several serious health issues, but police have refused to confirm his interim cause of death.

Police are now investigating whether Makai and his five siblings – aged between seven and 16 – were criminally neglected.

The siblings have been removed from their father’s Craigmore home and are now being cared for by the Department for Child Protection.

Makai’s death was initially investigated by Northern District Police detectives as a coronial investigation, but by late July, police suspected criminal neglect or abuse was involved.

The case has been transferred to Task Force Prime – the same body which is investigating whether suspected criminal neglect was involved in the death of six-year-old Munno Para girl Charlie last month.

Police Detective Superintendent Des Bray told reporters a short time ago that Makai suffered suspected “neglect and abuse which we believe has occurred over a period of time”.

“The provisional cause of death, although it was unusual because you don’t expect children to die, that’s your starting position. But, it was not… cause for immediate concern,” he said.

Bray said Makai’s family had contact with the same Department for Child Protection office which had dealings with Charlie’s family, but the two investigations were separate and Makai did not share “the same characteristics” as Charlie’s death.

“There is neglect and abuse which we believe has occurred over a period of time and we’re investigating that, but it doesn’t have all of the same characteristics of Charlie, but I won’t go into that for operational reasons,” he said.

“I can say there are likely people within government and private agencies or perhaps neighbours, and notwithstanding we haven’t provided you the full name, there will be people who know who Makai is and who we’re talking about.

“There may be neighbours, friends, acquaintances, people who have information.

“I’d encourage all of those people to contact CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000 and to support the police in this investigation.”

Bray said Makai’s family had contact with the same government departments which also had contact with Charlie’s family, including the Departments for Education, Housing, Child Protection and Human Services.

He said police had spoken to one person as part of its investigation, but he refused to say whether they were a family member.

Makai’s father had been looking after Makai and his siblings since November 2020, with his mother not living with the family at the time of death.

Bray said government agencies held an “enormous amount of records” about the family, including a “very large amount of documentary evidence from child protection”.

“Nobody wants to see children die. Every death needs to be fully investigated,” he said.

“There’ll be a wide-ranging investigation and it’s going to take time to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

“Nobody’s immune from investigation in relation to their dealings with the children.”

Criminal neglect causing death carries a maximum term of life imprisonment.

Premier Peter Malinauskas told reporters he was informed about the second death at midday today.

He said Makai’s death was first reported to the former Marshall Government in February, but his government was not aware of it until police decided to launch a criminal investigation.

“One was shocking, two is desperately heartbreaking for every parent across the state,” he said.

The Premier said he was then briefed by Police Commissioner Grant Stevens about expanding Task Force Prime.

“I’ve cleared my diary this afternoon to add my effort and weight into what more my government can do to address the investigation into how government agencies operated in respect to these tragedies,” Malinauskas said.

“I have made a decision to initiate a whole of government review into how government intersected with these families.”

Malinauskas said he this afternoon appointed former Police Commissioner Mal Hyde to conduct an inquiry into the deaths, looking specifically into the dealings between government agencies and the families of the dead children.

Former SA Police Commissioner Mal Hyde. Photo: Tom Miletic/AAP

Hyde, who was SA Police Commissioner from 1997 to 2012, will takeover the existing review established by the government last month, which was being conducted by the Department for Premier and Cabinet.

The terms of reference for this review will remain the same but the scope will be expanded to cover both Charlie and Makai’s deaths.

“Now that we have two tragic deaths I think it needs to be an independent review with a dedicated resource,” Malinauskas said.

“I think the news of Task Force Prime’s extension means we need a wholly dedicated reviewer to lead this exercise.

“That needs to be led by someone that every South Australian has complete confidence in their ability to do such a thorough examination and I think Mal Hyde fits that bill.”

Malinauskas said the review would consider whether there were “any failures of systems that could be addressed or should be addressed”.

He said he wanted the review to be “timely”, but the government had not put a time constraint on it.

“The predominate matter for examination here is whether or not there were any failures in systems that may mean there are other tragedies unfolding int he community as we speak that are preventable,” he said.

“It’s hard to comprehend that tragedies such as these occur – two innocent children losing their lives potentially because of criminal neglect. That’s beyond sad.

“We know about it and we have to respond.”

Asked if any government workers could lose their jobs following the police investigation and inquiry, Malinauskas said: “Potentially, yes”.

“The last thing we want to do is arbitrarily make a decision on some worker within DCP (Department for Child Protection) who is doing nothing but their level best and really difficult circumstances without actually knowing the fact.

“Whether it’d be a person in DCP, or the chief executive of DCP, but all need to be held to account – none more so than senior management.”

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