Plea for probe into soldier son's death rejected

By Mike Barrington

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A coronial inquiry into the death of Corporal Douglas Hughes (above) would not be in the overall interests of justice, says the Deputy Solicitor-General.
A coronial inquiry into the death of Corporal Douglas Hughes (above) would not be in the overall interests of justice, says the Deputy Solicitor-General.

A grieving mother's request to learn what happened to her soldier son when he died while serving with the New Zealand Army in Afghanistan has been turned down.

A coronial inquiry into the death of Corporal Douglas Hughes, 26, of Kaikohe, on April 3 last year would not be in the overall interests of justice, Deputy Solicitor-General Cheryl Gwyn says. She found no irregularity in Coroner Gordon Matenga adjourning an inquest into the rifleman's death because he was satisfied with the outcome of a NZ Defence Force Court of Inquiry into the matter.

Mr Matenga found Corporal Hughes' death was suicide and publication of all evidence about it, including the report of the Court of Inquiry, was prohibited.

Corporal Hughes died in hospital following an undisclosed non-combat incident while off duty. His body was returned to New Zealand for burial with full military ceremony at Pakotai, 50km northwest of Whangarei.

Corporal Hughes' mother, Venus Poa, of Pakotai, was distressed when told in February no coronial inquiry would take place. She was further upset because the Army told her it had burned her son's clothes and shredded mortuary records she had requested.

Ms Poa had been provided with part of the Court of Inquiry report. It claimed Corporal Hughes was gay, which she said the Army was using as an excuse to hush up the circumstances surrounding the death.

Court of Inquiry documents she had seen carried allegations of homosexuality by unnamed people and she wanted facts.

In March Ms Poa asked Solicitor-General Michael Heron to order a coronial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of her son. Labour Party Defence spokesman Phil Goff and Justice spokesman Andrew Little made similar requests.

Ms Gwyn yesterday released a statement saying the Crown Law Office did not routinely comment on cases in progress but an exception seemed appropriate in this instance because of the particularly strong media and public interest in the death and the resulting inquiries.

She found there was no new evidence or other reasons that would justify a new inquiry.

Ms Poa and the two MPs could not be reached for comment yesterday.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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