Police challenges may have been to blame in second investigation of toddler Lachie Jones' death - detective

The detective who led the re-investigation into the death of three-year-old Lachie Jones in Gore has detailed how the challenges of rural policing may have affected the initial investigation. 

A Coronial Inquest is underway in Invercargill, five years after Lachlan was found dead in Gore District Council's oxidation ponds in January 2019, just over a kilometre from his home. 

Despite the findings of two police investigations, his father maintains the death wasn't an accident. 

Through a grassy rural terrain is where police say three-year-old Lachlan walked barefoot towards the council oxidation ponds, where he accidentally drowned. 

But the detective who led the re-investigation, almost two years later, says the location in which the incident took place has never been properly considered.  

"I'm not sure there's been enough attention paid or any thought given to - especially on the night when Lachlan went missing - to the circumstances, the location, the rural aspect of policing," Detective Inspector Stu Harvey said in an Invercargill courthouse on Wednesday.  

Det Insp Harvey told the coronial inquest the challenges of policing outside Metropolitan areas should have been acknowledged. 

"When Detective Sergeant Kennelly was asked about his reasonings for not shutting down that scene, I would have thought he would have mentioned the actual logistics of that," he said. 

The logistics included staffing challenges and communication issues.  

"To do a proper job to secure that scene you would have needed a minimum of four staff," he stressed. "At that time of night in Southland there's only eight staff working between Gore and Invercargill." 

The detective in charge of the first investigation, Det Sgt David Kennelly, admits he made a mistake. 

However, Lachlan's father Paul Jones says it's not good enough, and maintains the boy's death wasn't an accident. 

"They should have done whatever they could for a child of that age to be found and no I don't buy that at all," he told Newshub. 

Wednesday's hearing also raised questions over the thoroughness of the re-investigation, including the possibility Lachlan could have recovered himself once in the water, along with alternative routes he may have taken to the ponds. 

But Harvey says the most significant oversight was not having the initial post-mortem conducted by a forensic pathologist.  

The first phase of the inquest has now concluded, and will reconvene in August.