Grieving mother calls for inquest as State Coroner investigates Courtney Herron’s death

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

The death of murdered Melbourne woman Courtney Herron is being actively investigated by the Victorian State Coroner, a move that has been welcomed by the young woman’s mother.

Maxie Antonioua wants a public coronial inquest into her daughter’s death.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Ms Herron was 25 when she was brutally bashed to death in Melbourne’s Royal Park by Henry Hammond in the early hours of May 25 in 2019.

Hammond was found not guilty due to mental impairment of the murder of Ms Herron in August last year, with a court ruling that he was in the midst of a relapse of his schizophrenic illness at the time of the killing.

On Wednesday he was committed by the Victorian Supreme Court to a nominal term of 25 years at secure forensic mental health facility Thomas Embling Hospital.

A Coroners Court spokeswoman confirmed that the death of Ms Herron was now the subject of an active coronial investigation.

“State Coroner Judge John Cain received the brief of evidence on 5 February 2021,” she said.

“His Honour is currently reviewing the brief to determine the future course of the investigation and if an inquest will be held.”

Ms Herron’s mother told The Age she strongly supported a public coronial inquest into her daughter’s death.

“Justice for Courtney is not over,” she said. “This is what we want, for her voice to be heard, how she got to be there and the systemic failures.”

Ms Antoniou has previously spoken of her daughters struggles with mental health issues and a serious drug addiction as a young adult.

Courtney Herron with her mother Maxie.

Ms Herron had struggled with depression and anxiety since she was a teenager and had been in and out of hospital for several years prior to her death. When she was killed, she had been returning to her partner’s house after spending time couch-surfing.

Her mother said she hoped an inquest could examine how flaws within the mental health and bail system had failed her daughter.

“It could make fundamental changes to the whole system and people and the processes will be held to account,” she said.

“That’s the most important thing out of the whole process.”

Ms Antoniou, who worked in welfare services for a decade, said she believed the system was broken.

“All we have now is a Band-Aid system. It’s overcrowded, people go for acute care, there aren’t enough beds, then there is a whole circle of not enough beds, and they are pushed out into society and there is nowhere to live, no proper housing.”

It is mandatory for a coroner to hold an inquest if a person dies in custody or care, if a person’s identity is unknown or if the coroner suspects homicide and no one has been charged in relation to the death. A coroner can also hold an inquest if they determine there is public interest in doing so.

Hammond had been released from jail just weeks before Ms Herron’s murder.

Henry Hammond.

Hammond appeared via video link with thick facial hair. He did not speak except to confirm he could hear proceedings.

His lawyer asked for a review period for the order to be set, arguing that Hammond didn’t have the “resources or the understanding” to request one himself.

However, Justice Priest said he did not believe a review date needed to be set.

“I can’t see things changing before I retire,” he said.

The family of Courtney Herron, who was killed in Parkville at a memorial to mark one year since her death.Credit:Jason South

The order was backdated to the date of Hammond’s arrest on in May 2019.

The pair met after Ms Herron gave Hammond a cigarette after he approached her in the CBD on May 24, 2019.

They travelled to Fitzroy where they smoked cannabis and methamphetamine, before having dinner together at Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. She paid for Hammond’s meal, and they returned to the friend’s apartment.

At 3.30am, the pair left the apartment and entered the grounds of Royal Park from Elliott Avenue about 4.30am.

Courtney Herron was buried beside her grandfather. Credit:Jason South

While walking through the park, Hammond picked up a branch. Courtney was scared and asked him, ‘Are you going to kill me?’ before he struck her on the head with the branch.

A man sleeping in the park heard screams and estimated Hammond bludgeoned the body with the branch for 50 minutes.

Hammond then tied her feet together with black material and dragged the body to a clearing near a tree and some logs. He covered her with leaves, a tree branch and put a piece of concrete on her face.

Hammond was arrested the next day. He initially made no comment during an interview and denied knowing Ms Herron, but in a second interview, he said he had been walking through Royal Park and had recognised “her treachery towards him and her family” and said the “trees had dropped sticks for a reason”.

He told police he recognised Ms Herron from a past life when he was happily married and “had everything”, and admitted to hitting her with a stick and punching her.

Ms Antoniou said the details of her daughter’s death haunt her. She doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else.

“Courtney is the embodiment of all that is wrong in Australia. A failed mental health system, to her being a victim of violence against females, and the myriad of systems that are supposedly in place to protect her and others.”

If you or anyone you know needs support call the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence hotline on 1800 737 732

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