Mum found to be ‘risk of injury’ prior to child deaths

Rex Martinich |

Officials had concerns about Kerri-Ann Conley’s methamphetamine use affecting her daughter’s safety.
Officials had concerns about Kerri-Ann Conley’s methamphetamine use affecting her daughter’s safety.

Authorities were concerned a girl would be injured due to her mother’s drug-fuelled neglect years before she was left to die in a hot car, a coroner has heard.

A Queensland Department of Child Safety officer on Thursday testified that she documented concerns that Kerri-Ann Conley’s methamphetamine use would lead to her falling asleep while was the sole carer of her then-infant daughter Darcey.

The officer said in early 2018 she “copy and pasted” details from a previous report as she believed they still applied to Conley’s attempt to maintain custody of Darcey.

“Child Safety is worried that Kerri-Ann will use ice (methamphetamine) or other substances when she is the only one looking after Darcey-Helen. She will fall asleep and not pay attention to Darcey-Helen (who) will become hurt or injured as a result,” the report stated.

Tributes outside the home where the girls died (file image)
Darcey and Chloe-Ann were left in a car for over nine hours as the temperature reached 61.5C inside. (Glenn Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Nearly two years later, Conley left Darcey, then aged 2, and her sister Chloe-Ann Conley, 18 months, in the car at 4am on November 23, 2019 at her home at Waterford West, south of Brisbane.

Conley had driven with the toddlers to her friend’s home at 11.32pm and consumed methamphetamine.

She fell asleep after getting home and left the girls to sit in the car and suffer fatal overheating while it reached an estimated temperature of 61.5C by the time she woke up at 1.15pm.

Conley pleaded guilty in February 2023 to two counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to nine years’ jail to be eligible for parole in November 2024.

The inquest at Brisbane is examining the appropriateness of the Department of Child Safety’s response, and adequacy of its policies and procedures before the girls’ deaths.

The Child Safety officer, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, testified on Thursday that Conley consented in 2018 to an intervention with parental agreement (IPA) to take back custody of Darcey.

“I believe she consented out of being scared that her daughter would be removed. I don’t believe she was grasping what the IPA consisted of and I felt as though she was saying ‘yes’ out of fear,” the officer said.

The officer said Darcey had been temporarily taken into care and Conley constantly said she was being given an ultimatum.

The coroner on Wednesday heard from a different child safety officer, who said she made the wrong decision and did not refer Conley for investigation into allegations of child neglect in part because of the department’s high caseload.

A senior team leader testified on Thursday that the department had made considerable improvements in staffing levels and allowing extra time for difficult assessments.

A  support officer said she was aware in November 2017 of allegations that Conley was selling methamphetamine to support her own drug use but denied the new mum had admitted using synthetic urine to pass drug tests.

The inquest is due to conclude on Friday.