Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon (centre), leads the coronial inquest’s inspection of Mullumbimby High School where Jai Morcom was critically injured following a schoolyard brawl.
Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon (centre), leads the coronial inquest’s inspection of Mullumbimby High School where Jai Morcom was critically injured following a schoolyard brawl. Jay Cronan

Morcom inquest visits schoolyard

THE EXACT cause of the brain haemorrhage that killed Mullumbimby High School student Jai Morcom may never be known, a coronial inquest in Lismore has heard.

Counsel assisting the Coroner, Michael Wigney SC, told the court on the first day of proceedings that the autopsy results – which attribute Jai’s death to a ‘subarachnoid’ haemorrhage – were assessed by a range of experts.

He said the dominant view of the panel of experts was that it wasn’t possible to definitively determine if the brain haemorrhage was spontaneous (the result of a pre-existing condition) or the result of trauma – though the inquest would hear a competing view by an expert not on the panel.

Mr Whitney added that the case had generated much rumour, speculation and innuendo in the community, including conspiracy theories, which was understandable under the circumstances, but the inquest’s primary role was to determine the cause and circumstances of Jai’s death, not apportion blame.

As the physical injuries sustained by Jai were not consistent with the cause of such a haemorrhage, the only other possible traumatic cause was a sudden twist of the neck, but conflicting witness statements made this difficult to establish.

Mr Wigney said it would be necessary to test those statements in court and explore all evidence of the fight to see if it was possible that could have occured.

Deputy State Coroner, Hugh Dillon welcomed Jai’s family and friends, and conveyed the court’s condolences.

He said such a sudden death could understandably lead to tension and speculation in a community, but the role of the inquiry was to bring help to the living.

Magistrate Dillon stressed that despite its similarities, the inquest was not a Royal Commission with wide ranging powers of inquiry.

He said it was not designed to name and shame, nor investigate the Department of Education, Mullumbimby High School, or student behaviour at the school.

The Coroner admitted that forensic evidence about Jai’s haemorrhage would be distressing for some.

Jai’s father Steve Drummond has chosen to appear at the inquest without representation to cross examine witnesses.

He described it as D-Day yesterday saying the inquest had been a long time coming.

“It’s actually quite a complex case because of the medical side and there are 40 witnesses with different versions of events so hopefully the Coroner can decipher a lot of the information and find out a little bit more of the truth,” he said.

He said he was disappointed by the investigation process but declined to talk about it until more evidence had been presented.

“I want to see how that pans out before I make a comment,” he said.

“We’re here today in a neutral place and I’m just hoping, for the purposes of moving on, and for the sake of everyone else who’s interested in a sense of truth, we get something out of this.”

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said it was inappropriate for him to comment while the inquest was still running though added it was a tragedy and the Department’s sympathy remained with Jai’s family and friends.

The inquest will run for two weeks.

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