Letters: Inquest into boy’s drowning

Saturday October 19, 2019 Published in Letters to the Editor
Lapana Tupou with his family, from left, father Junior, sisters Metuakore and Mehau, mother Matapo, and sister Danina. 19092061 Lapana Tupou with his family, from left, father Junior, sisters Metuakore and Mehau, mother Matapo, and sister Danina. 19092061

Dear editor,

Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt (“Police discuss inquest into missing boy”, Oct 14) mentioned there were “legal complications” in investigating the death of a missing person, as they could not be formally declared dead for 7 years.

 

With deference to Trevor Pitt’s comments I would like to point out some facts that relate to the Tupou family tragedy. It is agreed that little Lapana was drowned at sea when he fell overboard from the ship Lady Moana.

He is not lost in the sense he can be found alive. That is not the case. Sadly, he has passed on and now after these many days his body will never be recovered.

The Coroners Act 1979-80 clearly covers eventualities such as this and I quote Section 8: “Where a coroner has reason to believe that a death has occurred in such circumstances that an inquest ought to be held and … inquest cannot be held except by virtue of the provisions of this section (refers to viewing of a body) he may report the facts to the Minister of Justice.”

The section says the Minister of Justice may then direct an inquest to be held. So, there is clear way forward here to get an Inquest up and going.

I would expect that the police have already obtained statements from witnesses who live overseas and their investigation is well underway. But this investigation does not have to be fully completed and every avenue exhausted before the opening of an inquest.

Opening an inquest and a ruling on death are two different matters. Trevor Pitt also mentions the point that a missing person could not be formally declared dead for seven years. I am aware of cases here in the Cooks where this seven-year formality was waived by the Coroner and death certificates were issued well within that timeframe.

Finally, the practice of proceeding to inquests into sudden deaths has been largely ignored here in the Cook Island. It is a pity that Crown Law or some other Government Authority has not stepped up to clarify this fundamental right of every Cook Islander who has lost a loved one in tragic circumstances such as in this case.

Rod Henderson

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