The Queensland police refused to bring domestic violence charges against a man who brought a can of petrol into his house, splashed it on his partner and held a lighter at her feet.
“That’s the moment I thought I was going to die, that my kids would have no mum,” the victim has told Guardian Australia.
The police told Dani* there was a “prima facie” case against her former partner for threatening violence, but that there was “a low level of public interest” in pursuing charges against him.
The Sunshine Coast woman has now gone to the extraordinary length of hiring a barrister and launching a private prosecution against her former partner, an uncommon and expensive legal process that allows for victims to bring charges to court when police will not.
“I have sold my family home to fund the private prosecution and basically gone into hiding to stay safe,” Dani said. “I wear a personal alarm as I can’t trust the police to keep me safe and applying for another protection order is pointless.
“We still live in the same community as the perpetrator and will have to relocate for safety prior to this going to court. But he needs to be held accountable for his actions, otherwise the next woman might not escape with her life.”
Police ‘heavily reliant on the evidence of the offender’
Dani’s story, like most domestic violence cases, is complex. She says it highlights significant problems when the victim and offender give radically different versions of events.
At Dani’s urging, police conducted a “factual review” of the incident last year.
The officer who conducted the review recommended no domestic violence charges against her former partner.
Instead, police said Dani could be charged with assault for hitting her former partner, who she says is a much larger man and was acting in an aggressive manner, before running to safety.
“His behaviour had become increasingly concerning, and I took my children to stay in a hotel for a week,” Dani told Guardian Australia. “The night I came home he turned to stand over me aggressively and verbally assault me a few centimetres from my face and that’s when I knew I was in danger.
“I was scared for my safety. I hit him and ran, put the kitchen bench between us, and froze. I am half his size. The police frame it like it was a fair fight.”
Police went on to conclude that the man might be able to defend his own actions, which included smashing property and bringing the petrol can into the house, by claiming his “erratic” behaviour was “post-concussive”.
“[The man] brings a fuel container into the house and makes some comments about burning the house down,” the review established.
“[He] has a lighter. There is some interaction between the two and some petrol is spilt. [He] places the lighter at [Dani’s] feet.”
Dani said in statements to the police that her former partner claimed he would “burn the fucking house down”. She says he threw the petrol on to her chest, and that it splashed into her face and hair.
“After deliberately hunting for the fuel in the garage, he ran into the house, ripped the top off the fuel container, swung his arm and doused me, before reaching for the lighter,” she said.
“He bent down and held it to my feet, looking up into my eyes.”
Dani’s barrister complained to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission that the police investigation was “heavily reliant on the evidence of the offender … and almost entirely dismissive of my client’s complaint”.
“[The reasons for not prosecuting] are excuses that the police have made up on behalf of the offender … which was contrary to the interests of my client who was a person in need of protection after making a complaint to the police in fear of her safety and wellbeing.”
In his letter to the CCC, the barrister said police reasons for not prosecuting were “rather specious” and that there was “no medical evidence” to suggest the man was affected by being struck.
“[Police claimed] his ‘behaviour became erratic and unpredictable after his blow to the jaw’ despite having the presence of mind to obtain a jerry can of petrol from the garage and a lighter and approach my client with them after throwing petrol at her.
“[Police claimed] that his intention is to burn the house down, notwithstanding that my client is present and in the house.”
The private prosecution is scheduled to be heard in the Queensland magistrates court in January.
The police commissioner, Ian Stewart, did not respond to a request to be interviewed about the way the state’s officers deal with domestic violence.
Police also did not respond to a request for comment and several questions sent by Guardian Australia.
* This name has been changed to protect her identity