Sydney teens' murders preventable: coroner

·4-min read

The domestic violence murders of two Sydney teenagers were preventable, says a coroner who found a litany of errors made by multiple authorities.

Jack Edwards, 15, and his sister Jennifer, aged 13, were shot dead on July 5, 2018, after their father John Edwards stalked his daughter on her way home from school.

NSW State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan on Wednesday detailed previous unpublicised information about the murders, including that Edwards reloaded his pistol with another 10-round magazine during the shooting.

She found police failed to make reasonable inquiries after the children's mother, Olga, reported instances of Edwards' abuse and stalking in 2016 and 2017.

Gun registry staff, in the job without any formal training, then failed to recognise Edwards' long pattern of domestic violence when granting him various permits and licence to shoot and buy pistols and rifles.

The coroner could not be satisfied Edwards initially started gathering permits in order to murder his children.

But she said he'd formed that intent by April 2018, when he acquired his second pistol.

He then spent about a week organising the logistics, including hiring a car, getting a specialist to wipe his digital devices and writing letters to estranged family members.

Her voice wavering at times, the coroner said it was unquestionable the deaths of the children and their mother's December 2018 suicide had caused unbearable suffering for many.

"However, to describe this as a tragedy is to import a sense of inevitability that nothing could have been done to change the outcome," she said.

"Instead, the evidence before this court plainly reveals the deaths of Jack and Jennifer were preventable."

She said it was difficult to imagine the pain Olga Edwards had felt on July 5, 2018, when she found police at her home and her children had been executed.

"This moment was the crystallisation of the fear she had harboured as a victim of domestic abuse, as the mother of two children who had been the victims of domestic violence at the hands of their father, and as a wife and mother involved in protracted, acrimonious family law proceedings," the coroner said.

Ms Edwards and the children had disclosed the abuse and violence to multiple agencies - none of which effectively mobilised to assist them.

Similarly, NSW laws and regulations hadn't prevented Edwards obtaining the weapons to carry out his children's "meticulously" planned murders.

Among her 24 recommendations, Ms O'Sullivan has called for the process allowing people to shoot guns on-the-spot to be abolished, police officers' training to include more on domestic violence and regular audits of police reports to ensure they comply with best practice.

Despite the NSW Police's overhaul of the gun registry in response to the deaths, the coroner said more was needed to address the "serious, systemic failures" present until July 2018.

She also called for better information sharing between the registry, police and Family Court to verify answers given by applicants, including whether they were subject to family law proceedings.

Independent children's lawyer Debbie Morton, who was tasked to represent Jack and Jennifer's best interests in the Family Court, was referred to a NSW lawyers' body for possible disciplinary action.

The coroner found Ms Morton hadn't properly considered objective evidence, statements by Ms Edwards and the children's concerns before addressing the Family Court on Edwards' risk.

Gun clubs that interacted with Edwards in 2016 and 2017 adhered to their obligations, the coroner found.

But she recommended a new law forcing gun clubs to tell the registry when they refuse someone membership and give reasons.

Unlike other inquiries, the coroner cannot extend her inquiry and recommendations to address community-wide issues if they don't relate to the deaths in question.

"Notwithstanding, the deaths of Jack and Jennifer serve as a stark reminder of the broader systemic problems that face too many women and children every day," the coroner said.

In a statement, police said they had implemented significant changes to systems and procedures regarding reporting and supervision of domestic violence incidents since July 2018.

"The NSW Police Force continues to identify ways to improve responses to firearms and domestic violence offences," it said.

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