Gas company BOC and logistics firm Linfox gave evidence today at the coronial inquest into the death of the Manrique family who perished in 2016 in their home on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Fernando Manrique, 44, is suspected of constructing an elaborate mechanism to pump lethal amounts of carbon monoxide, supplied by BOC and delivered by Linfox, into his home.
Manrique, his wife Maria Lutz, 43, and their two children, Elisa and Martin, 12 and 11 respectively, were found dead inside their Davidson house on October 17, 2016.
The inquest into the four deaths, which began on Monday, heard Manrique had been having an affair with a teenager he met in a bar in the Philippines, was heavily in debt and his marriage was in the process of breaking down.
There is no suggestion Maria had any involvement in the tragedy.
On Monday, Linfox driver Robert Lamont, one of two drivers who dropped off the canisters, said in two years of delivering gas this was the only time he’d delivered carbon monoxide.
“They are a very distinctive cylinder. It sticks out as dangerous,” he said.
Another driver, Daniel Reilly, said it was a “bit odd” when he was asked to deliver carbon monoxide to the Parklea home of a friend of Manrique and similar deliveries had been relatively rare. However, upon calling Manrique, the dad of two provided Mr Reilly with plausible reason for the gas’ use.
On Tuesday, Linfox said they still relied on the intuition of drivers to detect a dangerous or unusual situation.
Simon Livingstone, a senior manager at the firm, said while high level discussions occurred between BOC and Linfox following the tragedy, no specific changes were made to how drivers delivered carbon monoxide.
BOC introduced an “end user declaration” following the incident whereby customers purchasing dangerous gases had to declare what they were to be used for.
However, Mr Livingstone said Linfox drivers had not been given copies of these declarations so they were not able to check that with the person the gas was being delivered to.
“Do you see any difficulty with BOC giving Linfox the end user declaration?” asked counsel assisting Adam Casselden.
“No, I think that would make sense. The more information between the customer and supplier improves the supply chain,” Mr Livingstone said.
However, counsel for BOC countered that delivery drivers might not have the full knowledge needed in the use of each gas to identify whether or not something was up.
BOC’s head of Health and Safety Robert Brittliff told the inquest that following the deaths carbon monoxide had been removed from the company’s publicly available website and can now only be viewed by customers with an account.
New customers have to provide identification and be a legitimate business.
Manrique had an ABN number and ran a business.
If there were any concerns about the business BOC staff could make further checks.
But, asked Mr Casselden, was a driving licence and that the organisation was genuine the main hurdles needed for setting up an account? “Yes, there’s nothing about improper use,” said Mr Brittliff.
“If a new customer was not large or well-known and passed through the new (application process) to have access to ordering carbon monoxide and that went to a residential address are there still no checks and balances?” asked Mr Casselden.
“Correct,” replied Mr Brittliff.
“Are there any red flags (raised) to deliver carbon monoxide to a residential address now?” he was asked.
“Only if a driver was not comfortable with a delivery. There is not something specific for carbon monoxide to a residential address. The focus was on further up the chain.”
If BOC was made aware a delivery address was a home, as in the Manrique tragedy, could steps be taken to at least make further inquiries?
“That’s a good question,” said Mr Brittliff. “The challenge is what is identifying what is a residential address.”
He said with the right training, extra steps could be put in place to help drivers identify customers taking delivery of toxic gases and quiz them on their use.
However, said Mr Brittliff, even gases sent to larger customers were sometimes diverted for nefarious uses. Acetylene was “frequently used” to access ATMs and nitrous oxide was a recreational drug.
When police searched the Manrique residence, they found pipes connecting the gas cylinders in a shed to the home through the roof and into the rooms.
Officers made the grim discovery of Maria’s body through an open window.
Her daughter Elisa, 12, was beside her in bed, her husband was slumped in a hall while 11-year-old Martin’s body was found in another bedroom. The family dog, Tequila, was also dead lying on the floor close to Martin.
Mr Casselden said it was likely the family died as the mother and her two children slept in the early hours of Monday morning.
The couple were childhood sweethearts from their home in Bogota, Colombia. They emigrated to Australia and gave birth to their daughter in 2005 and son in 2006. Both were diagnosed with autism.
Despite the challenges the care of the children posed, Judge Elaine Truscott said there was no indication Maria was involved in her children’s deaths.
“The impression the friends of Maria have given the court is to make it very clear Maria loved her life and had every intention of continuing a loving and productive life with her children,” the judge said.
“There’s no suggestion in any of the evidence the deaths were merciful at all. She didn’t require mercy, she provided her two children with the utmost,” the judge said.