Hemi Les Goodwin-Burke, who was bashed to death by his babysitter, Matthew James Ireland, in 2015.
Hemi Les Goodwin-Burke, who was bashed to death by his babysitter, Matthew James Ireland, in 2015. Contributed

'Our kids are worth more than this': Grieving parents' battle

A MACKAY couple whose little boy was beaten to death is lobbying to see child abusers face tougher punishment in Queensland.

First though, they'd like to see their son's killer re-sentenced.

Matthew James Ireland bashed Hemi Goodwin-Burke to death on March 26, 2015, while he was supposed to be caring for the 18-month-old.

Hemi suffered hours of abuse and Mackay Supreme Court was told he ultimately died after he hit his head on the side of a bathtub, when his leg was pulled out from under him by Ireland.

Despite the treatment Hemi endured, Ireland pleaded guilty to manslaughter - downgraded from a murder charge, against the couple's wishes.

Sentenced to eight and a half years jail, the child killer could walk free from prison on parole by March 24, 2019.

It's a chilling thought for Hemi's parents, Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin.

They want to make sure the Townsville man never harms another child and those who are guilty of violent crimes against children face lengthy prison terms.

It's a mission which has kept them going in recent months, in the wake of Ireland's "slap on the wrist".

"I'm not sure whether we'll get the Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath to look at our case, but the least we can do is make sure someone else doesn't have to go through this," Mr Burke said.

 

Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin want to see those who hurt children face tougher punishment.
Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin want to see those who hurt children face tougher punishment. Tony Martin

'We'll keep fighting'

The couple recently met with Member for Dawson George Christensen, Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert and Member for Mirani Jim Pearce.

They're hopeful that could be the catalyst for changes to the Queensland justice system in the long haul.

The politicians pledged to write a letter to Ms D'Ath asking for a review of Hemi's case, Mr Burke said.

"I think the community can see sentences like this are too light. The laws are there, the maximums are there, but they're not being used as they should," he said.

Ms Goodwin said Mr Christensen, Mrs Gilbert and Mr Pearce were supportive.

"They're going to see what they can do from their end and have passed on numbers of other politicians who may be able to help out with our petition too," she said.

It was somewhat "daunting" to approach the politicians, Mr Burke said, complete with "a folder with Hemi's picture on the front".

"But I think it really helped to put a face to something like this," he said.

"They hear about these sort of things, but I think it's different being face-to-face with the actual people affected."

Ms Goodwin believes "children aren't being protected in Queensland" and Mr Burke added "we just have to do something".

"We want to stop the next little victim going through what Hemi went through," Ms Goodwin said.

 

Shane Burke helps his devastated partner Kerri-Ann Goodwin down the stairs of Mackay Courthouse after the sentencing of their son Hemi Goodwin-Burke's killer, Matthew James Ireland, on June 5.
Shane Burke helps his devastated partner Kerri-Ann Goodwin down the stairs of Mackay Courthouse after the sentencing of their son Hemi Goodwin-Burke's killer, Matthew James Ireland, on June 5. Luke Mortimer

"We never wanted to be doing this, never thought I'd be in this position, but our aim now is to protect children and provide justice for them. To have a better justice system.

"It's getting us through. This is us now. There's days we really battle, days we seem to get more 'no' than 'yes'. But you need to look at the bigger picture and hope someone will say 'yes, we'll help you with this'.

"It's so hard, but we'll keep fighting."

The couple's petition, titled Qld Justice System Fails Hemi Goodwin Burke, can be found online.

It's gathered more than 3770 signatures since Ireland's sentencing on June 5.

University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law Professor Heather Douglas sympathised with the couple and said an appeal was not out of the question.

But she said sentencing has to balance rehabilitation with punishment, deterrence, community protection and denunciation.

"I think it's really difficult to imagine a parent being happy with a sentence, actually," she said.

"I'm sure the parents and family of that young child are grief stricken and any sort of sentence isn't really going to be satisfactory."

Ms Douglas said the average manslaughter sentence in Queensland was eight years.

Meanwhile, Ms Gilbert and Mr Pearce confirmed a letter had been sent to the Attorney-General.

Mr Christensen's office was also contacted.

Happier times

As the couple continues their fight for "Justice for Hemi" and legislative change, backed by extended family, they've put aside time to reflect on what was and what could have been.

Hemi's headstone was recently erected and it's served as a comfortable spot Mr Burke and Ms Goodwin can spend time with their son.

"That's our reality now. That's where our boy is - six feet underground," Ms Goodwin said.

"We're there all the time," Mr Burke added.

"Hemi loved planes and cars, so we go out and build little paper aeroplanes and fly them, read him books about planes. We hang out there quite a bit."

 

Hemi Goodwin-Burke was just 18-months-old when he was bashed to death by his babysitter Matthew James Ireland
Hemi Goodwin-Burke was just 18-months-old when he was bashed to death by his babysitter Matthew James Ireland Contributed

The couple said their family and friends were, unsurprisingly, still reeling from Hemi's death and Ireland's sentence.

In truth, their lives will never really be the same.

"We've given Hemi's grandparents on both sides little tasks to do. We're all trying to fight, so we give them something too," Ms Goodwin said.

"I think that keeps them going too. They all think the whole thing is wrong.

"We shouldn't all be doing this. We should all be hanging out together and playing with Hemi."

Mr Burke and Ms Goodwin pleaded with the public to stand behind them and support their fight.

"Our kids are worth more than this," Mr Burke said.

Hemi should have celebrated his fourth birthday on September 23.



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