BEERWAH, Australia – The wife of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin has been handed the footage of his death, after Queensland authorities broke with protocol to ensure it did not pass into the wrong hands.
State Coroner Michael Barnes said that such footage was normally held by the Coroner in perpetuity but copies of film showing Irwin being gored by a stringray had been destroyed amid fears it would be leaked and sold on the black market.
Barnes said the original tape was handed to Terri Irwin just before Christmas, with the coronial investigation into the death almost completed.
"When the final police investigation report is received, the Coroner will, in consultation with Ms. Irwin, determine whether an inquest is necessary," he said.
The tapes have been held in the safe in Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson's office since a few days after Irwin was stabbed in the heart by the stingray's barb as he was being filmed snorkelling for a new documentary series off Port Douglas, far north Queensland.
Under the usual protocols of a coronial investigation, any film or audio evidence would be handed back to the owners and a copy made for the state files to be held in perpetuity.
But Barnes said he had concerns the tape would be sold to unscrupulous operators on the Internet, who he had been informed would be willing to pay up to $1 million for a copy.
"We always give originals back to the owners of the property and usually keep a copy on the file for future reference," he said. "I am not sure whether we will be doing that in this case because of the risk it poses.
"I think we will be giving the tapes back to the owners, whoever that may be, but only in consultation with the Irwin family," Barnes said.
"We have an obligation to ensure it isn't leaked and it is very difficult to maintain security over those sorts of things when they are put into archives or wherever else. The police have told me that there is a $1 million price tag on the tape and they reckon it would be put on a pay-per-view Web site."
The footage is a medium-wide shot of Irwin paddling above a bull ray before it whipped its tail and barb into his chest. Irwin is then seen pulling the barb out before he begins to lose consciousness.
It is expected that the findings of the coronial investigation into Irwin's death, to be made public within weeks, will conclude that it was an accidental death.
The Irwin family was not available yesterday for comment.
Irwin's friend and manager, producer John Stainton, said he would first speak to Mr Barnes before commenting about the move. "I am just not in a position to talk about it at the moment," he said.
At the time of Irwin's death, Mr Stainton said the footage should be destroyed, if it was returned by authorities, and "will never see the light of day".