24 Aug 2023

Lachlan Jones case: Police admit mistakes made in investigation, review ordered

5:00 pm on 24 August 2023
Southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham

Southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The most senior southern police officer has admitted mistakes were make in the initial investigation into the death of Gore toddler Lachlan Jones.

Southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham has ordered a review into the investigation of Lachlan's death.

The 3-year-old was found dead in a Gore District Council sewage pond in 2019.

Police determined the boy accidentally drowned after wandering off from his home, however, his father disputed that and believed foul play was involved.

A police spokesperson said Basham had requested national investigations to review the investigation.

"In ordering the review, Superintendent Basham is working to provide reassurance that police have done everything possible to find answers about Lachie's death. Ultimately, the cause of death and circumstances surrounding his death are for the Coroner's Office to rule upon," the spokesperson said.

"Police are well aware of continued reporting and concerns raised by some parties about our investigation and reinvestigation of the case. To address that concern, we have asked one of police's three national investigation leads, Detective Superintendent Darryl Sweeney, to lead this review, to provide a senior and objective analysis of the police investigations.

"His work will include reviewing the police file, police decisions and actions in the early stages of the original investigation, and the subsequent re-investigation by a detective inspector.

The spokesperson said the matter had also been referred by police to the Independent Police Conduct Authority "to ensure an independent process is also carried out".

"There are aspects of this case that are simply not appropriate for police to comment upon because these are matters for the coroner. However, it is appropriate to acknowledge that our reinvestigation identified some steps that were missed in the original investigation. Ultimately, our reinvestigation arrived at the same conclusion.

"We are mindful that every investigation and public commentary has an impact on the families, particularly Lachie's mum, with whom he lived. Reports of claims made by an overseas observer only serve to heighten his family's grief."

Basham said he would not comment further until the coronial and IPCA investigations were finished.

Earlier this year, the Gore District Council was ordered to pay $55,000 in reparation to each of Lachlan's parents as well as about $19,000 in legal costs over his death.

WorkSafe initially charged the council with failing to comply with a duty that exposed people to the risk of death or serious injury.

Late last year, the council pleaded guilty to a downgraded charge of failing to perform a duty.

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