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Inquest told of chloroform clue in tragic murder-suicide

A family's computer was used to visit a website selling chloroform before a murder-suicide in which a husband and wife and their two young children died, an inquest has heard.

Police investigating the deaths of Nelish and Preetika Sharma and their son, Divesh, 5, and daughter, Divya, 3, found someone used the name 'Neil' to visit the website 27 times in the lead-up to their deaths in 2012, the Coroners Court heard on Wednesday.

Detective Acting Sergeant Chris Price said investigators believed Mr Sharma, 36, killed his wife and children some time on the weekend of April 28-29 that year and then hanged himself. Mrs Sharma, 35, and the children most likely died from smothering, the court was told.

Their bodies were discovered by police inside their Glen Waverley home on May 1 that year, after worried child care workers contacted a relative to check on the family.

Detective Acting Sergeant Price said traces of chloroform were found in Mr Sharma's system but not in the blood of his wife or children, although it was possible the substance could have evaporated when further testing was done.

The inquest heard that friends and family members were told Mr Sharma was a controlling husband who had physically abused his wife, and that Mrs Sharma had confided in her sister and a colleague of the abuse and the pressures of caring for her family and her parents-in-law.


State coroner Ian Gray was also told more funding was needed to reduce domestic violence, particularly among Victoria's migrant communities.

The Sharmas were part of Melbourne's Fijian-Indian community.

Ruchita Ruchita, from InTouch, an organisation aiming to reduce domestic violence among multicultural communities, said better funding would help encourage people to report family violence and to educate migrant families and their community leaders.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack said incidents of domestic violence were higher in patriarchal societies and that increased funding would assist agencies, health professionals and religious leaders share information.

Dr Ruchita said it was possible Mrs Sharma was reluctant to leave her marriage because of the pressure within the Indian-Australian community to make relationships work, and because of the humiliation faced by women who divorced or accepted help from outside. 

Physical abuse, gender inequality and social isolation were all common occurrences among Indian-Australian communities, Dr Ruchita said.

Family violence was also considered a private issue, she said, because people did not want to be blamed for breaking up friends' marriages.

Detective Acting Sergeant Price said investigators had been told that Mrs Sharma reported to her sister and a colleague that she had been assaulted by her husband, that he screened her emails, telephone calls and text messages and that he had once locked her outside the home.

The court was told the couple separated in 2009 after Mr Sharma discovered details of a relationship his wife had with another man before she met her husband. But they reconciled in 2010 for the sake of their children, the court was told.

In the weeks before the deaths, Mrs Sharma told family members the relationship with her husband had improved and that he was becoming a better person, the court heard.

After the deaths, police investigated a car crash in December 2011 in which the family car hit a tree during a day trip in the Dandenong Ranges.

Detective Acting Sergeant Price said police later suspected the crash could have been a murder-suicide attempt by Mr Sharma, but that investigators concluded he was most likely distracted while driving and lost control of the car.

Mr Sharma suffered a minor brain injury in the crash, the court heard, and later admitted to others his difficulty in returning to work in the months afterwards.

Judge Gray described the deaths as tragic and said he hoped to return findings in three months.

For help or information visit, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251, or Lifeline on 131 114.