Bid to gag media lost at inquest

A MEDIA gag bid on the last day of a coronial inquest into the deaths of six people, in three separate crashes on the Bruce Highway south of Gympie, was rejected by Coroner Maxine Baldwin who found it was not in the public interest to suppress the final days’ proceedings.

At the centre of the application was the inquest’s final witness, truck driver Ben Murdoch, 27, who had been following Rachel Purdy and Corey Whitmore’s Ford Falcon in a B-double for about 20 minutes before they were killed in a five-vehicle collision on September 4, 2008.

Mr Murdoch’s barrister Michal Horvath indicated to the Coroner’s Court that if his client gave incriminating evidence that resulted in charges being laid, publication of his testimony could influence a jury down the track.

Coroner Maxine Baldwin made the decision at the end of Mr Murdoch’s testimony and said she found very little, if anything at all that would incriminate him.

“I do find it is in public interest not to prohibit publication, except for matters not relevant to the inquest,” she said.

There had been some suggestions during the inquest that Mr Murdock had been tailgating during his trip from Brisbane to Bundaberg to drop off a load (70-tonnes including the weight of the truck) however, in a statement to police he said he had been one-and-a-half truck-lengths behind the Ford.

He told the court he changed his mind after sessions with a psychiatrist helped him to “put everything in perspective” and he remembered he had been travelling at a following distance of five seconds behind the vehicle in front.

Mr Murdock told the court when police took his statement he had just got out of hospital after being treated for injuries (including head injuries) sustained in the crash.

“I was a bit messed up, I wasn’t thinking straight. I had to go to counselling to clear a lot of things up.

“I (remember seeing) the pantec (truck) spin out down the road sideways...coming straight at me. I panicked, shut my eyes and hung on. I opened my eyes and saw the pantec coming, shut my eyes again and then the next thing I was trying to get out... It happened within seconds.”

Mr Murdoch told the Coroner’s Court he couldn’t remember if he applied his brakes or whether he took evasive action to avoid the collision.

“Trying to pull a B-double up in the rain is pretty hard,” he said and added that he couldn’t recall hitting the Ford or Pantec.

When asked if he had been tailgating the Ford, he was adamant he had not.

“No, I don’t believe in tailgating. I drive cars too and get sick of trucks sitting on (my) rear.”

The Coroner’s Court learned that the Scania prime mover he had been driving had a built-in speed limit of 98kmh but that he had slowed down to 80kmh behind the Ford.

Mr Murdoch said the company he worked for had installed a satellite tracking system that monitored his driving behaviour.

Rachel Purdy’s mother Marion Purdy asked Mr Murdoch why he didn’t take any evasive action to miss hitting her daughter and Corey Whitmore.

“I can’t remember if I did or didn’t,” he answered.

The inquest concluded for submissions to be made in writing and Mrs Baldwin said she would deliver her findings early in the New Year.

Gympie Times

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