Coroner seeks guidance on drowning inquest
By BREE PRICE
MAARTEN Van Kerkvoort wants Northern Rivers residents to decide if an inquest should be held into the drownings of his brother and sister.
Peter Kirkwood, 72, and Catharina Ilgen, 80, drowned in front of the Lennox Head Surf Club on March 9 after they were caught in a rip.
Catharina, of The Netherlands, was on holidays and travelling down the east coast with Peter, of Cleveland, outside Brisbane.
Since the drownings, surviving brother Maarten said he had been contacted in writing by the Ballina Coroner and asked if he believed an inquest should be held.
Although reliving their deaths would be hard, he said he would not make a decision until he had heard from Northern Rivers residents.
"Personally, I'm 75 years old and I'm not looking for problems right now," Mr Van Kerkvoort, of Arunel, in Queensland, said.
"But, if it needs to be done, I'll do it."
In the letter to Mr Van Kerkvoort, Coroner Chris Bone said evidence suggested Peter and Catharina had died in a tragic drowning accident, but before deciding to close the case, he wanted to give the family a chance to have their say.
"Before deciding to dispense with an inquest, I would consider any request from you in this regard," Mr Bone said.
"You may like to raise any particular issue you think would warrant an open inquest hearing."
The letter was sent two days before Ballina Shire Council announced the results of a safety audit into six of the shire's beaches on June 1.
The audit recommended full-time patrols for seven months of the year at the beach where Peter and Catharina drowned, as well as Ballina's Shelly Beach.
However, Mr Van Kerkvoort said he wanted to see prominent warning signs on all beaches.
"When people arrive in Australia they are warned not to take plants and things, but they are never told to be careful of beaches," he said.
"There is signage for crocodiles, for argument's sake. There needs to be signage, very clear and prominent, on every beach."
Mr Van Kerkvoort said an inquest would not offer him closure on the loss of Peter and Catharina.
"My brother and I were very close. We spoke to each other at least three times a week," he said.
"I'm not sure if there will ever really be closure on it."