Family fire horror: Hannah Clarke’s mate reveals extent of Rowan Baxter’s abuse

Hannah Clarke's friend Manja Whaley said the mum had endured domestic violence for a long time. Source: Twitter/ The Today Show and Facebook

A close friend of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke, who was tragically killed along with her three young children in a horrific car fire this week, said the mother endured threats and controlling behaviour from her ex-husband long before her death.

Hannah, 31, passed away in hospital on Wednesday evening after sustaining severe injuries in the fire, alleged to have been deliberately set by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter. Her three children Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, were also killed in the suspected murder-suicide, while Baxter also died at the scene.

Now the young mother’s friend, Manja Whaley, has revealed Hannah had been a victim of domestic violence (DV) for a long time and had confided in her about the extent of the abuse. However, Manja, who worked in the DV sector, said it took a while for Hannah to understand she was a victim, because in her words “he didn’t hit me”.

“I started unpacking with her the emotional abuse, sexual abuse [and] financial abuse, and she had experienced all of those,” Manja told the Today Show on Friday morning. “And some of the things that she would explain was this excessive control [by] Rowan, the sexual abuse daily, and if she wasn’t to have sex with him, then that would mean that he would punish not only her but also her children.”

Manja, who attended the gym that Hannah and Baxter used to own together, said Baxter’s controlling nature was evident, as he’d try to pick what she wore and constantly accuse her of flirting and dressing provocatively.

“She wouldn’t be allowed to go to the gym which was not only her passion but her outlet. The kids wouldn’t be allowed to go to the beach on a Sunday and that’s something they did every Sunday as a family,” she said.

“There was the checking of her accounts on Facebook, the accusations of her cheating. He would accuse her of being flirtatious … the list goes on,”

The news of Hannah’s death has rocked the community, and on Thursday her brother Nathaniel Clarke opened up about the tragedy on social media, claiming that his parents Sue and Lloyd Clarke had “given [every] little thing” to help Hannah “escape this monster”.

“R.i.p you beautiful souls,” the father-of-two wrote on Instagram. “Yesterday I had my sister, nephew and 2 nieces taken from me in the worst way possible by a heartless monster they called there dad former NRL player Rowan Baxter.

“Everyone who has been lucky enough to be apart of there lives would know just how sweet and loving these kids and my sister really were. The last thing my sister said to my wife was I’m so excited this year will be great. I’m so great full she and I got to reconnect and become such close friends before this tragedy I will forever love you all.”

Nathaniel then asked people to donate via a Facebook link to help his parents cover funeral costs.

The online fundraising effort – which has so far raised more than $71,000 – was launched by Nathaniel’s wife Stacey Roberts who said that her in-laws had “exhausted themselves” in a bid to help their daughter “escape” her estranged husband.

She said: “As you may be aware my beautiful sister-in-law and my nieces and nephew had their lives taken by a disgusting human being they called their father. For all those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was, her children were her life.

“All she ever wanted was happiness. Her children were only a reflection of her. Gorgeous happy kids who held a massive piece in my heart and I’m sure many others ’cause that’s exactly what they were like. We will miss them all more than anything! We need your help to support her parents, Sue and Lloyd who have exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”

If you are concerned about domestic and family violence in your family, friends or workplace, contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978, Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for confidential support, advice and referral that will help you explore your options.

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