Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Christopher Webster, Coroner, having investigated the death of
Marcus Deane Lovell
have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into his death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed his identity, the time, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how the death occurred and the particulars needed to register the death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
I Find :
(a) Marcus Deane Lovell (Mr Lovell) died on 1 April 2009 at Andrew Street, New Norfolk, Tasmania, aged 31 years.
(b) Mr Lovell was born in Melbourne, Victoria, on 9 October 1977. He was unemployed and had a young daughter who did not reside with him.
(a) Mr Lovell died as a consequence of asphyxia due to smoke inhalation that occurred during a house fire.
Mr Lovell was a single man who lived alone in a unit at New Norfolk. He grew up in the Bridgewater and New Norfolk area, residing with his mother and siblings in a transient lifestyle for a large part of his childhood. During his teenage years, Mr Lovell commenced recreational use of illicit drugs, including cannabis and morphine. In his latter years he also used amphetamine. He is said to have had a violent and unstable nature and when aged around 16 to 17 years of age he is said to have attacked a former family friend with a piece of wood with nails in it.
Mr Lovell spent various periods in detention and was a regular user of illicit drugs and the excessive consumption of alcohol throughout the most of his adult life.
During 2005 Mr Lovell was in a relationship with a woman with whom he had a daughter. The relationship ended during 2006 after Mr Lovell was charged with family violence offences, which included the discharge of a firearm. Mr Lovell was involved in further family violence matters in 2008 with another female.
In 2008 Mr Lovell moved into his own unit near to his mother in New Norfolk.
Mr Lovell had a history of violence and it was noted his level of aggression would increase with his consumption of alcohol and illicit drug use. It was noted that Mr Lovell had increased his alcohol consumption in the months prior to his death and some persons close to him were concerned at this, particularly when it was associated with his illicit drug use.
In early March 2009 Mr Lovell was arrested and charged with family violence and firearms offences and was remanded in custody during the court process but was released in late March upon receiving a suspended sentence. While in custody he received limited psychological attention however he was released prior to a formal psychiatric assessment taking place.
On the 31 March 2009, for reasons unknown, Mr Lovell and Mr Norman Miller (Mr Miller) were together at Mr Miller's unit in Andrew Street, New Norfolk. The two men were observed by neighbours to be both inside the unit and outside on the front patio, together, during the evening. About 9:15pm they were observed to leave in Mr Miller's vehicle. It is not known when they returned but they were observed on the front porch of Mr Miller's residence, drinking alcohol and laughing, between 11:00pm and midnight.
Between midnight and 2:00am on the 1 April 2009, for reasons unknown, Mr Lovell attacked Mr Miller inside the unit, using a large kitchen knife and tomahawk (small wood axe). Mr Miller appears to have died as a result of the injuries he sustained during this attack. Mr Lovell then used the weapons to sever Mr Miller's right hand, before wrapping it in towels and taking it across the road to a neighbour's house.
Mr Lovell knocked on the door of Mr Mathew Miller, the neighbour but no relation to Mr Norman Miller. On seeing Mr Lovell, Mr Mathew Miller thought he appeared to be intoxicated, as he walked inside and kept stumbling over in the loungeroom. Mathew Miller noted Mr Lovell was wiping blood from his hands and face with a towel and his clothes were covered in blood. He thought he had been assaulted or involved in a fight but was angry he had come to his house in the middle of the night.
Mr Lovell said to him words to the effect of, "Don't fuck with me" so Mr Mathew Miller told him to leave. After changing into clothing belonging to Mr Miller, Mr Lovell threw his soiled clothing into the fireplace to burn and left the house saying "I'll probably see ya tomorrow". After Mr Lovell left Mr Mathew Miller realised he had left his boots, which had blood on them, and the towel he had been using when he arrived, in the loungeroom.
Mr Lovell has then returned to Mr Norman Miller's unit. It is unknown whether Mr Lovell set the fire in a front room of Mr Miller's house before he left initially, or when he returned after changing clothes. It is possible that the fire was started prior to his leaving and when he returned due to the unit not being alight, his opening the door again has provided sufficient additional fresh air to reignited the smouldering fire.
Tasmania Fire Service personnel attended the reported fire about 3:30am. During a search of the residence Mr Miller was located in the hallway. He was removed from the burning building but was unable to be resuscitated by Ambulance Tasmania personnel. Mr Lovell was located by Fire Service personnel slumped over the bathroom sink. He also was unable to be resuscitated and it appeared that he has been overcome by the smoke in the unit.
Tasmania Police personnel were in attendance when they were approached by a distressed Mr Mathew Miller who indicated to them that he just discovered a human hand wrapped in a towel at his house. He indicated that it had been left there by Mr Lovell. Police took possession of the hand which was later confirmed by the forensic pathologist to belong to Mr Miller.
A comprehensive police investigation was conducted into the incident and it was determined that Mr Lovell had murdered Mr Norman Miller, inside the unit on the morning of the 1 April 2009. He then set the unit alight, most likely with the intention to conceal the crime. Upon his return to the unit, either to light the fire or to check on why it had not burnt as hoped, Mr Lovell appears to have become disorientated and succumbed to smoke inhalation. A small hand axe and a large kitchen knife, located in the debris of the burnt out unit, were later forensically identified as the weapons used in the assault of Mr Miller.
A post mortem examination was conducted on Mr Lovell by Forensic Pathologist, Dr Donald Ritchey. He determined the cause of his death to be asphyxia due to smoke inhalation that occurred during a house fire.
Toxicology of a post mortem blood sample was markedly elevated for carboxyhaemoglobin. According to Dr Ritchey this is, "indicating that Mr Lovell was alive at the time of the fire and died as a result of smoke inhalation".
Toxicology also revealed the presence of:-
'alcohol (ethano ) - 0.261g/100mL;
Carboyhaemoglobin ¨C 55% saturation: within reported fatal range;
Amphetamine ¨C 0.06mg/L:therapeutic;
Diazepam ¨C present; less than 0.05mg/L:sub-therapeutic;
Nordiazepam ¨C present;
THC ¨C indicated: illicit drug; and
THC-COOH ¨C present. '
Psychiatric/medical and prison history:-
Dr Chris Wake, the Clinical Director of Correctional Primary Health Services and with an area of expertise in Prison and Forensic Medicine, provided a report outlining the treatment of Mr Lovell while under his care at various times between October 2006 and March 2009. Dr Wake noted Mr Lovell had also received treatment at the Wilfred Lopes Centre during his periods in custody, particularly between 2006 and 2008, where he underwent an intensive psychiatric workup and two admissions. He further stated;
"His (Mr Lovell) mental health profile is defined as follows:
Childhood abuse and associated complex post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]
Antisocial personality disorder with suicidal traits and behaviour
Major depression treated by electroconvulsive therapy at WLC 2006
Polydrug abuse in particular amphetamine, morphine, alcohol and marijuana
Mr Lovell was also said at various times to have schizophrenia and bipolar disease. The opinion of our specialist psychiatrists is that this was not the case. Any paranoia or delusional behaviour or thought exhibited by Mr Lovell was more likely due to his drug use, complex PTSD and depression.
Over the period 2006 to 2009 Mr Lovell was treated with medications as well as Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT). These medications included various drugs from the following four main groups:
A. Oral antidepressant medication;
B. Atypical antipsychotic medication;
C. Benzodiazepines; and
D. Mood stabilizers.
During his final imprisonment term, which commenced on the 18 March 2009, he was placed within the Crisis Support Unit due to concerns for his safety expressed by the sentencing magistrate. Mr Lovell was reviewed by Dr Wake the following day, who commented, in part "Marcus looks to have lost a little weight due to his speed use but does not exhibit features of mental illness to my eye at the moment." Mr Lovell was referred for review by Dr Wood, a Hobart practising psychiatrist, however he was released without this having occurred.
As part of the investigation, Dr Wake also provided a 'Reportable Incident Brief', generated by him due to the incident occurring a short time after Mr Lovell's release from prison. Dr Wake states in the report:-
"Patient was well known in the prison system and whilst distressed upon admission on the 18 March he settled quickly and was not considered to be a SASH risk, despite the Magistrate's concerns. In my opinion his death is not likely to have been related to factors related to imprisonment per se although it may well be related to his drug abuse and potentially to his mental illness. The latter was judged to be stable during his admission and his Amisulpride dose was resumed at 400 mg bd. I do not find matters in regard to his treatment in prison that could have been done differently to alter this unhappy outcome."
Dr Wake further commented on the post discharge process as follows:-
"I do not think that this incident requires an RCA or other major investigation. As previously reported I do think that the significant number of deaths in the immediate post discharge period from prison over recent years does warrant a general review process. This would specifically target matters relevant to mental health care, drug and alcohol care and follow up of prisoners returning to the community. This case should be included in that process when it occurs."
It appears Mr Lovell was not subject to any ongoing treatment regimes or therapy when he was not in prison. It seems his behaviour and mood usually stabilised during imprisonment, however the investigation has shown he was usually non-compliant with his medications both in and out of prison.
Findings & Comments :
I find that a comprehensive and thorough investigation into this incident was conducted and that revealed the involvement of no other person, other than Mr Norman Miller and Mr Lovell, in the circumstances that resulted in their deaths.
I find that I am unable to determine whether the circumstances of this incident were preventable but the lack of ongoing support and treatment in the community for Mr Lovell is disturbing.
I agree with the comments of Dr Wake and recommend that a general review of the process adopted, relevant for the immediate period after discharge, with a view to establishing support services to assist their integration back into the community.
I conclude this matter by conveying my sincere condolences to Mr Lovell's family.
DATED 3 January 2012 at Hobart in Tasmania.