National shame: Why did our angel have to die?
BRITISH tourist Bethany Farrell, 23, drowned just minutes into her first-ever scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef in a "completely avoidable death", family say.
Her parents Patrick and Caron Farrell believe an upcoming inquest into her death in the idyllic Whitsundays will uncover a "string of systemic failings".
"No stone will be left unturned in our fight for truth and justice for Bethany,'' Mr Farrell, an ex-British Army soldier, said.
"This inquest will no doubt promise to bring out some shocking revelations of how those responsible conducted themselves that fateful day."
The English graduate and novice diver panicked and drowned after she became separated from her instructor in 2m visibility on an introductory dive at Blue Pearl Bay on February 17, 2015.
She was seen to briefly surface when her dive group became "entwined" with another before she "ultimately descended to her death", according to a police statement.
Her body was found on the sea-floor at a depth of 15m about half an hour later.
In a bizarre move, staff of Wings Diving Adventures deleted photos taken of Ms Farrell and her friends on the boat trip that might have been used by police as evidence.
For three years her parents have pushed for a Queensland coroner to investigate the tragic loss of their "real-life angel" a week into a dream gap-year holiday.
Next week they fly into Mackay for a three-day inquest set down for May 22.
"We feel it is time that the Australian and British public are made aware of the true circumstances that led to Bethany losing her life,'' Mr Farrell said.
"We are positive that Bethany would have lived had various parties acted differently that day.
"We hope to see a complete overhaul in employers' attitudes and work practices.
"And substantive legal action taken against offenders who allow the injuries and deaths of our loved ones."
Central Queensland Coroner David O'Connell will be asked to examine if novice divers should be given better training on how to maintain positive buoyancy in the water to prevent future dive fatalities.
He will explore if the conditions of the dive site on the day were suitable for novice divers, the safety standards of the instructors and crew and if there was an out-of-water look-out and rescuer.
He will determine if there was proper in-water supervision, what caused her to become separated and if the search effort was properly carried out.
He has also been asked to decide if the investigation into Ms Farrell's death and prosecutions of duty-holders by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland was adequate.
MOVE BRANDED A 'NATIONAL SHAME'
QUEENSLAND'S expert panel on the dive or snorkelling deaths of at least 20 tourists on the Great Barrier Reef has been disbanded - a fact the State Government did not know - in a flop branded a "national shame" by operators.
The Reef Death Review Panel was touted by the State Government as a key recommendation of a roundtable to protect the global reputation of the state's $6.4 billion Reef tourism industry.
It followed a horror spate of 10 tourist deaths on the iconic natural wonder in a six-month period in 2016.
New rules launched in February saw tourists compelled to disclose health issues, "at risk" snorkellers made to wear colour-coded vests and compulsory defibrillator equipment on all Reef boats.
But Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace was unaware the expert panel had been scuttled - because of dysfunction, understaffing and a backlog in the Queensland Coroners Court - until contacted by The Courier-Mail.
The minister has ordered an internal inquiry and said she expected the nine-member panel would operate as mandated.
"The aim of the group was to assist the Coroner in gaining a deeper understanding of dive and snorkel-related fatalities and to inform areas for research to improve safety," Ms Grace said.
"Clearly, the ongoing need for the group is at the Coroner's discretion, however my department is keen to assist the Coroner at any opportunity. Any death on the Reef is tragic and one too many. We want everyone to enjoy the Reef safely."
The Courier-Mail exclusively obtained an email by review panel chairman, former Northern Region coroner Kevin Priestly, who detailed his embarrassment at having to disband the panel in July last year because it was understaffed and overloaded with death cases.
"The office for Northern Region within the Coroners Court of Queensland has suffered persistent understaffing, lack of continuity of staff and when key members are ill, the positions are not backfilled,'' Mr Priestly wrote.
"I regret to advise that I am no longer able to convene the panel.
"I am no longer able to work effectively under the current arrangements.
"In the meantime, I will conclude the coronial investigations into the 20 or so dive and snorkelling deaths under investigation and refocus my attention on the backlog I have to clear.
"I am sorry for any disappointment I have caused.''
The Queensland Government has this week been accused of burying a secret 76-page report finalised in January into the "organisational structure" and "workforce climate" of the State Coroners Court.
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators chief Col McKenzie said it was a national embarrassment that scores of tourist deaths on the Reef in recent years could not be reviewed.