A Western Australian mother who stabbed, strangled and suffocated her three children before burning their bodies in a house fire will spend at least 25 years behind bars.
Margaret Dale Hawke, 36, pleaded guilty to three counts of murder after she killed her children – a 10-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and another boy just four months old – at the family’s Port Hedland home on July 19, 2022 .
Judge Michael Lundberg, who sentenced her on Friday, said it was a sad and distressing case and that Hawke had failed to fulfill her fundamental duty as a parent to protect her children.
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“It’s almost impossible to fathom how you knowingly murdered your three only children in your own home at such a young age,” he told her in the High Court in Perth.
“It is impossible for anyone to understand what you were thinking at the time and it seems that you are not quite clear why you came to such severe and relentless attacks.”
The court heard Hawke tell her children “I love you, please forgive me” before strangling her daughter with an electrical cord and stabbing her eight times in the chest and heart with a knife.
“Babies, I don’t want us in any more pain,” she said.
She also strangled and stabbed her seven-year-old son. He was found with three stab wounds to his chest and scars to his neck.
“After you killed your two oldest children, you tried to drown your four-month-old baby in the sink,” Lundberg said.
Hawke’s attempt failed and instead she smothered the child before walking to a beach where she threw the knife away.
After returning to the family home where her dead children lay, she lit two fires and walked out into the street when the house was engulfed in flames.
A witness described her as “very calm” as she watched it burn.
Another heard her say “My babies are in there” and “he took everything from me”.
The public tried to enter the house and save the children, but it was too dangerous.
“I hurt my babies. I lit the fire in the house. I did it to my babies. My babies, my babies, what did I do, why, why?” she said.
Firefighters extinguished the fire.
The body of Hawke’s eldest son was found on a mattress in a room at the front of the property. Her daughter and other son were found in a back room.
Hawke was taken to hospital and later admitted to killing her children.
“I don’t know why I did what I did. Maybe to stop the pain in all of us,” she told police in an interview after the incident, the court heard earlier.
“I remember being confused all over the place.”
None of the children had soot in their airways, indicating they died before the fire was lit.
An arson investigation found that the fire was deliberately lit, with two points of ignition inside the home.
The court heard that Hawke grew up in an abusive home amid alcohol abuse and had been abused in a series of relationships as an adult.
Leading up to July 19, she had consumed a cocktail of drugs, including methamphetamine, and her mood was likely compromised as a result.
She had repeatedly asked for help from community groups and medical staff, saying she struggled to care for her children, but few options were available.
Outside of court, relatives commented that “innocent children are dead … should have been given life without parole”.
Hawke was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole of 25 years for each of the three murders, and two years and eight months for the criminal damage by fire, to be served concurrently.
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