Father hopes inquest finds answers to son’s death

Lachie Jones.

Almost five years after Gore boy Lachie Jones was found dead in an oxidation pond, Paul Jones hopes an inquest will ‘‘uncover the truth’’ about what happened to his son.
The 3-year-old was found in a Gore District Council oxidation pond on the night of January 19, 2019, about two hours after his mother told police he was missing.
After two police investigations he has called ‘‘sub-standard’’, Mr Jones hopes the inquest in Invercargill next year will answer ‘‘a lot of unanswered questions’’.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed this week a 15-day hearing would begin on April 29.
After its first investigation, police concluded Lachie walked 1.2km from his mother’s home to the southernmost of the two ponds, and that his death was an accident.
They reopened the investigation on October 2020 at Mr Jones’ request, but a year later wrapped up the case and referred it back to the coroner.
Mr Jones has always doubted his son walked that far, at that time of night, with bare feet, and has called for the case to be relaunched as a homicide investigation by police from outside the region.
He found it reassuring that Lachie’s death would finally be scrutinised by someone other than the police.
‘‘If it was a police process I wouldn’t be turning up, because I’ve got no faith in them.’’
In a memorandum ordering the inquest, coroner Alexander Ho said Mr Jones had obtained a report from a forensic pathologist concluding there was insufficient evidence to support the postmortem finding that Lachie died from drowning.
Another report, from retired United States crime scene investigator Karen Smith, alleged deficiencies in the police investigations, and advanced a hypothesis that ‘‘other individuals had greater involvement in [Lachie’s] disappearance than police investigations concluded’’.
Mr Ho said among the issues to be considered were whether the drowning finding was established by the evidence, the circumstances leading to Lachie being found in the pond, whether the evidence supported the contentions of Mr Jones and Ms Smith that other individuals were involved in Lachie’s death, and if neglect was a factor in the circumstances leading up to the tragedy.
In August, police admitted they ‘‘missed some steps’’ in investigating Lachie’s death.
Southern police district commander Paul Basham requested a national investigations overview of police’s handling of the original investigation to ‘‘provide reassurance that police have done everything possible to find answers about Lachie’s death’’.
Police also self-referred the matter to the IPCA to ensure an independent process was carried out.
In March, the Gore District Council was sentenced on a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act for having inadequate fencing around the ponds.
The judge ordered the council to pay Lachie’s parents $55,000 each in reparation and the costs of WorkSafe’s investigation, but did not impose a fine.