Insurance company “fire-bomber” dies in custody

Almost 12 months ago, Paul Wayne Clarke “loaded a shopping trolley with jerry cans of fuel and set it alight inside a Darwin insurance office, injuring 15 people”.  Clarke died on 21 January 2011 after a failed suicide attempt whilst in custody.

On February 2010 media report provided a few details of Clarke’s circumstances:

“The bomber reportedly goes by the name “Bird” and is a former security guard who worked at a Darwin pub until being injured on the job in October 2007.

He allegedly blamed the insurer for loss of earnings that forced him to leave his three-bedroom home in Humpty Doo and move into a shipping container.”

The incident was enormously traumatic for the 15 staff and customers of the Territory Insurance Office (TIO) who were injured by the incident.

The Coroner will be investigating Clarke’s death but the motivation for Clarke’s initial actions against TIO will remain a mystery.  This is a disappointment as an analysis of Clarke’s motivations may have revealed important information about the handling of worker’s compensation claims.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere about some of the pressures that can push workers’ compensation claimants to suicide.  Clarke externalised his anger onto workers’ compensation insurer TIO in February 2010 and suicide has occurred again although the motivation for his act is currently unknown.

A traditional OHS approach to Clarke’s attack would be to analyse the design of the TIO work area to reduce the likelihood of a violent person entering the building or getting close to staff or customers.  But a broader investigation should look at the precursors to Clarke’s actions so that the likelihood of claimants being angered by workers’ compensation processes is minimised.  This type of investigation in this instance is unlikely as a suicide-in-custody will be the focus of the Coroner and Clarke’s actions against TIO overshadow his workers’ compensation grievance.

To prevent violence in these premises in the future, it is necessary to look into the initiators of this violence.  It may be that the workers’ compensation system treats claimants harshly.  It may be that the system hives inadequate consideration to the social and familial situation of claimants.  It may be that the system cannot accommodate claimants with a mental illness (particularly worrying as stress and mental health become an increasing element in workers’ compensation claims).

Within the next few years, Australia will be looking at harmonising its workers’ compensation systems but, as is occurring with the OHS harmonisation process, legal processes will be the focus.  The administration of the system and the management of fragile people will not.  Without this analysis, workers’ compensation will be tweaked and reworded instead of being reformed.

Kevin Jones

13 thoughts on “Insurance company “fire-bomber” dies in custody”

  1. I agree with you Perter, if there were more people within the workers compensation system like our \”Saint\” Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson, then tragic events such as happened with Paul Clark would be less likely to happen.

    My own son was close several times to taking his own life, each time the pressure become to great, every time he needed to be listened to or even just cried with, \”Saint\” Rosemary would be the only one who could get close enough to him to get him through the next moment-the next hour-the next day.

    We can only speculate what impact \”Saint\” Rosemary would have had in Paul Clarks life. If nothing else he would have known that some one really does care about the impact of the workers compensation system on the lives of injured workers.

  2. Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson is experienced in all aspects of the Workcover system. The insurer has handled Paul\’s case poorly & must accept full responsibility. It was they who drove Paul to perform such an awful crime. It was they who led Paul to take his own life.

  3. Pauls friend, please know that there are many who do want to know the whole story. If there is anything I can do, even if it is only to listen to you, please contact me. wirc@bold.net.au.

  4. Ms McKenzie-Ferguson
    I have just come across this blog today. Paul was one of my closest friends for 17 years. When he died, I was the only friend he felt he had left. He was estranged from his family. Yes, things went very wrong for Paul and yes, there was a tipping point. He wanted his story told, but he couldn\’t get anyone to listen to him. He tried to be heard. Even I didn\’t listen to him the way I could have. I will always question whether I could have done something to stop him from doing the horrendous thing that he did. Until I read this blog, it has felt to me like no one wanted to know what led to it. His story of what led to this needs to be told, if for no other reason than to hopefully prevent such a thing from happening again. I would hope that it would also serve to give some answers to those he has caused such harm to. Unfortunately, I doubt very much any of it will come out during the inquest.

  5. Workers comp is supposed to protect the employer and the employee and is specifically created for the purpose of care and productivity. The goal is to protect the rights of all parties. It never makes sence when a comp claim is fought. The employee is NOT the enemy.

  6. I concur in that it is my hope that Paul Clark\’s family is receiving all the care and support that they need post Paul\’s suicide.

  7. I think we can all agree that the Coroner really needs to investigate the events leading to the unfortunate death. At such hearings, each party can have legal representation which of course can make submissions on their behalf. I wouldnt be surprised if in fact TIO will have someone representing them as they would need to defends themselves in any event. The Coroners Inquiry as much as its unfortunate place to be has the mechanisms in place to take submissions that are not permissable in any other court. I really hope Paul Clark still has support from his family and friends to push it through!

  8. Wayne I think you may have not understood my comment in regard to the workers who were in the TIO office and the surrounding area the day of the fire-bombing.
    My concern is that the people affected by the act of fire-bombing will have their own nightmares to contend with, regardless of the fact that they no longer have to give evidence at the scheduled trial.
    Some of the people in the area of the TIO were not employees of TIO.
    Yet they will suffer from the trauma of being involved just as the employees of the TIO will suffer.
    As you well know it is not just the single person who is effected, but the whole family of the injured worker who will be caught up in the trauma of the fire bombing.
    That also includes Paul Clark\’s family.

    What is needed is a open and frank investigation in to the reasons behind Paul Clark\’s actions.
    We as the workers compensation industry also need to clearly and openly accept that things went very wrong for Paul Clark.
    There was a tipping point.
    Hopefully the Coroner will discover the tipping point and hopefully the wider workers compensation industry will be required to learn from this most ghastly of lessons.

  9. If the Coroner did concentrate on causation and really looked very closely at the intimate detail of the case management by TIO, one would reasonably expect to see how the system is responsible in very large part for for the tragedy that unfolded.

    Case managers are supposedly well briefed on the signs of irrational behaviour in claimants and it would seem Mr. Clarke would have made his feelings well known to the case manager and others. This goes directly to the duty of care that all claimants have a right to expect, but in far too many cases fail to receive that care and consideration.

    One of the big issues surrounding these matters is the overly complicated and legalistic manner of workers compensation law as it is applied to the individual claimant, which, in most cases, sets up a conflict between claimant and case manager that then escalates as the claimant, who in the main, does not understand the legislation and does not have a legislated \”bill of rights\” expressed in simple terms that gives a clear expectation of the claimants right to due process and to be treated with dignity and respect.

    The case management process with longer term compensation is particularly fraught. The longer a case remains unresolved, the financial penalty to the claimant becomes unbearable and when mixed with the social and personal ramifications of disability for life it, is a poisonous mix that can be the cause of a catastrophic event.

    There is currently a call for submissions to the review of workers compensation legislation committee in South Australia and when one reads the document attached to the call it clearly shows where the emphasis lays and that is with the costs associated not with the injured workers and improved services to them.

    There is no mention of injury prevention as a means of containing spiraling costs, yet this is the one direct method of reducing injuries and containing if not reducing workers compensation claims. The legislation is in place but the resources to police and the will to prosecute are sadly missing along with the intestinal fortitude of government.

    Of all of the people I have assisted to weather the workers compensation scheme in South Australia and there are may of them, I do not know of one that would say the experience had been anything but a nightmare and had a very traumatic effect on them and their families.

  10. This is a tragic story. I hope someone pushes for a Coroners Inquiry because not only can the coroner investigate the causes of certain deaths particularly If this was in custody and why was he in custody in the first place but also make recommendations. The system is in place and I have to disagree with Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson, the TIO employees would need to answer some questions.

    1. Wayne, I suspect he was in custody awaiting his trial that, according to one of the media reports I linked to in the article, was set to occur shortly.

      I agree that coroners have considerable flexibility in investigating deaths but I suspect this Coroner will not look beyond the suicide attempt.

  11. There is nothing good in any part of this sad story. Paul Clark, an injured man, was pushed past his own sense of morality by acting as he did to destroy his own life and the lives of many others in the TIO office almost a year back.

    Now Paul Clark has ended his own life and, rightfully so, the victims of the firebomb attack are relieved that they will not have to attend a trial and relive under oath the events of the fire bombing.

    But what of the mental and emotional destruction of Paul Clark? What was it that so broke this man that he reached such a low point in his own life that self harm and total destruction of other lives was his final focal point on the 4th Feb 2010?

    What was it that broke Paul Clark in such a manner?

    What lessons – if any – have the rest of the workers compensation industry taken from this act of self-destruction and violence?

    In my everyday work I sit with injured workers who speak openly to me of self-harm.

    In the past few weeks I have spoken with injured workers who had also reached such a low point that self-harm and harm to others was very much on their mind.

    It is my belief that instead of highlighting the criminality of such acts, we, the workers\’ compensation industry, need to be listening as we have never done before and we need to be learning as we have never done before and we need to put in to practice the prevention methods so everyone within the workers compensation industry is safe from self harm and harm of others.

    It is my fear, and I have spoken of my fear to senior people within the SA workers compensation system, that there will be a repeat of the Darwin Fire Bomb Attack.

    My fear is based on the reality that injured workers became so bereft of hope and so broken of heart mind and spirit that self harm and harm of others becomes logical.

  12. From HOPEFUL to HOPELESS is the tragic story of a very large number of injured workers reliant on the Workers Compensation system. Unfortunately, far too many resort to the final act of suicide because of the uncaring and dare I say, complete lack of care by those charged with resolving the injured parties issues.

    The system in large part is immoral.

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