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Lachlan Jones' neighbour says she heard 3-year-old on night he went missing

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Reporting by RNZ

02 May 2024, 7:15 PM

Lachlan Jones' neighbour says she heard 3-year-old on night he went missingThree-year-old Lachlan Jones drowned in the Gore District Council's wastewater ponds in January 2020. Police are conducting a review into the case. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

A neighbour of Lachlan Jones says she heard him banging around her washhouse on the night he went missing, hours after his family is accused of killing him.

The three-year-old Gore boy was found in a council sewage pond just over a kilometre from his home in January 2019.

Two police investigations found Lachlan accidentally drowned after wandering off, but Lachlan's father has disputed these findings.

A coronial inquest is underway in Invercargill to work out what happened on that night more than five years ago.

The first two witnesses, his mum Michelle Officer and half-brother Jonathan Scott, have denied accusations they killed Lachlan in the afternoon and stored his body in a freezer before dumping it at the sewage pond.

Neighbour Deborah Thurston told the inquest she heard him banging around her washhouse on the night he went missing when his mother popped in.

Her testimony was closely examined, asking if she had remembered hearing him or if she might have been mistaken or remembered incorrectly.

Thurston said they had knocked on her door that night, with Officer coming in and briefly talking to her while she remained sitting down.

She could not see Lachlan, but heard his footsteps and banging around and saw Officer was keeping an eye on him, she said.

"I could hear like scuffling around."

Officer told her she would not stay and she needed to change his soiled nappy, before saying "s**t he's gone again", and she took off, Thurston said.

The father's lawyer, Max Simpkins, asked whether her memory could have been impacted by the media coverage.

"I heard Lachie. I know he was there."

She told the counsel assisting the Coroner, Simon Mount KC, it was the first time she had heard of him take off so far, but he was full on that night.

He played her a recording of Officer's 111 call, hearing Lachlan's mum say he was just in Thurston's laundry, with Thurston sounding surprised and asking what he was doing there in the first place.

Officer responded he went to her house and he was being funny.

Thurston said she did not believe she was with Officer at the time and did not think it was her voice, before changing her mind and saying she did not remember being there but it sounded like her.

Mount asked if she was sure it was Lachlan in her washroom, which she said 99.9 percent sure but she did have gaps on that night.

She said she took for gospel what people told her, which Mount asked her whether she could have latched onto Michelle Officer telling her that he was in the laundry instead of directly remembering him being there.

During lengthy questioning, she said it was possible, especially after being accused of covering up his death, gossip and media coverage, but she believed he was in her washhouse.

You needed to keep an eye on him, she said.

"Lachie was the type of child to me that would still go, even if you said stop."

When Officer had returned to Thurston's house without finding Lachlan, she joined the search.

She recalled asking young girls in their yard if they had seen Lachlan - which they had - and they pointed in the direction he was running.

Simpkins questioned why she said she spoke to three girls in her police statement, but told the inquest there were two girls.

She never expected his death would go to an inquest and her statement would be read in court and questioned.

"When I was asked these questions, no one said it was a statement to me so I was very casual in what I was saying," she said.

"But when it comes to the death, the drowning of a child, that's totally different compared to how many wee girls were outside their home playing safely."

Simpkins questioned her on her calling police on 9 April this year, saying she had found a cannabis butt in her garage on the night Lachlan was found dead, Officer had asked for a puff, they lit it and both had a puff.

She told the inquest that she rang back and said she was confused and she did not believe it was that night as she was not smoking at the time due to her job and she had only smoked with Officer once, but had self-medicated.

The day after his death, she said Officer had said he had done it to himself by running away, but she had been in shock and frustrated with Paul at the time.

Simpkins asked her whether Lachlan would usually hug her when they saw each other.

He would do that sometimes when she went to visit, but he would also like to arrest people, put them in handcuffs and take them to a box 'jail', she said.

Lachlan was special to her and she had a special spot for him, she said.

Back at Officer's house, she remembered an angry exchange with his father Paul Jones, who said "she should go to f***ing rehab".

She said it was the second of the night with Jones confronting her during the search, "ranting and raving at me" about not looking when she was.

Resident says she saw little person 'running quite fast'

Gore resident Maxine Cartwright said she saw a little person running in the direction of the sewage oxidation ponds in Gore on the night Lachlan Jones disappeared.

Cartwright, who lived near Lachlan's home with her family at the time, said she was at her next door neighbour's house near the corner of Salford Street and Grasslands Road that night.

Cartwright said she saw the little person running directly outside the house.

She got a second glimpse on the corner of the street, but did not know who they were, she said.

She did not recall a lot of the night, which was more than five years ago, and was asked to read her police statement, which was made the day after he went missing.

"When I saw Lachie, at first I thought he was my other neighbour ... he was heading towards Grasslands Road, running quite fast.

"He was wearing a yellow hi-vis top. I think it was a vest and another top underneath. But I didn't get a very good look."

At the time, she said it was the bright colour clothing that caught her eye.

She got a second glimpse of the little person on the corner of the street, but did not know who they were.

She turned the other way to see if there were any nearby adults and saw two women.

The father's lawyer, Max Simpkins, asked her whether her statement could have been influenced by the discussions on the day he went missing, which she said could have happened.

She told the police's lawyer, Robin Bates, that she was doing her best to recall what happened during her police statement.

Reproduced with permission

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