THE tragically short lives of three children who died after a long history of petrol sniffing in remote NT communities and the repeated failure of government bureaucracies to protect them has been laid bare at an inquest in Darwin.

Coroner Greg Cavanagh held a joint hearing into the deaths of Miss B, 17, Master W, 12 and Master JK, 13 — whose families requested their full names not be used — due to the similarities in the lead up to their untimely deaths.

Counsel assisting Kelvin Currie told the inquiry Miss B’s suicide in August 2018 was “the final act of a young girl who had a very traumatic and troubled life”.

Mr Currie said when Miss B was just 12, she was raped by a family member in Yirrkala at Christmas 2013.

She was reportedly raped again a few months later and was found to be sniffing petrol, a habit which increased after a close relative took her life while Miss B was nearby, causing the community to blame her for the death.

Applications were made for her to be assessed for help with substance abuse but cases were repeatedly opened and closed when reports of her sniffing waned and she was later discharged from a treatment program for behavioural issues.

Reports of self-harm followed and she was assaulted with “an axe or hammer” by a boyfriend after “sniffing with her all day”.

By age 11, Mr Currie said Master W was sniffing Avgas at Gapuwiyak and he continued to skip school to sniff petrol after being rejected multiple times from treatment because he was too young.

After turning 12, he was in and out of rehab when places were available and was finally found dead from petrol sniffing in May 2018.

Mr Currie said Master JK started sniffing substances including bug spray and petrol in Maningrida at the age of 8 and was barely attending school by age 12.

By the time of his death, family members had notified Territory Families of multiple instances of him sniffing petrol, including an episode when he was 11 when he lost consciousness but again his case was closed after the reports dried up.

After passing out again from sniffing deodorant at 13, Master JK could not be revived and died on November 3 last year.

Under questioning by Mr Currie, Top End Health Service mental health general manager Richard Campion admitted that if authorities “received no information or report that someone was sniffing, they assume they are not”.

“They can’t assume that someone is sniffing, their role is to do their best to find out,” he said.

”Their role is then to liaise and monitor and work out what the actual situation is.”

Mr Campion also agreed that in the cases before the court even “when there are no reports of a person sniffing, that person is most likely continuing to sniff”.

“There will be many cases where they’ve notified the Chief Health Officer that there is no indication, no evidence of sniffing and there hasn’t been,” he said.

“But I’m acknowledging, Mr Currie, that in these cases, you’re absolutely correct.”

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