Murder prompts call for system overhaul
Andrea Pickett. Picture: Supplied

The family of a woman murdered by her estranged husband after he was released on parole have called for better monitoring of parolees and more thorough investigation of violence restraining order breaches.

State Coroner Alastair Hope handed down his findings today into the murder of Andrea Pickett, a 39-year-old mother of 13, who was stabbed 17 times by her violent estranged husband Kenneth Pickett in January 2009 in North Beach.

Earlier this month the inquest was told Pickett had been released on parole in November 2008 after being jailed for threatening to kill Ms Pickett, who was also granted a violence restraining order and reported several breaches to police in the lead-up to her murder.

Ms Pickett had also tried to get help from the Department of Child Protection in terms of crisis accommodation for her and her children, but it never eventuated because of a lack of available beds.

Pickett was parolled on the condition he lived with family in Narembeen, and did not have any contact with his estranged wife, who lived in Perth.

Ms Pickett was murdered after her husband found her hiding out at her cousin’s home in North Beach.

The murder was likely witnessed by one of their young daughters, who police found 4½ hours after her mother died hiding under a small table near the front window of the house.

Mr Hope made seven recommendations, after identifying serious “deficiencies” in various government departments, including the Department for Child Protection, Department of Corrective Services and police – and how they interact with each other.

He called for better plans to protect victims of crime before high-risk offenders are released on parole, more crisis accommodation available to victims of domestic and family violence, improved monitoring of parolees and a “common sense” assessment to identify the risks posed to victims by releasing an offender.

“In my view a plan should have been in place prior to Pickett’s release on parole which would afford Andrea maximum protection from him,” Mr Hope said.

“It appears that there is no organisation or department which has the role of protecting victims of crime in circumstances such as those which Andrea found herself in.

Mr Hope said police and the Department of Corrective Services needed to communicate better about parolees, after it emerged police officers investigating reported breaches of the violence restraining order just days before the murder were not aware of Pickett’s parole conditions or parole address.

“It is remarkable that persons serving their sentences in the community on parole were not being monitored by police and police had little or no role in ensuring compliance with parole conditions,” he said.

Andrea Pickett's brother Gary Bentley, niece Jade Bentley and other family members outside court. Picture: Kate Campbell/The West Australian

Pickett was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 years for the murder. He refused to answer questions when called as a witness to give evidence at the coronial inquest.

Outside court today, Ms Pickett’s brother Gary Bentley, surrounded by relatives, said his family felt the system had failed his sister and hoped it would be overhauled to prevent any similar preventable tragedies in the future.

“The response that was given to Andrea was severely lacking … I hope that there is some peace in the mind of those in the Corrective Services, who allowed him (Pickett) out in the first place,” he said.

“I hope there’s some peace in the mind of the police, who failed at the time to protect Andrea, and I hope that other women in the same situation will get the support they need moving forward.”

He called on the State Government to introduce electronic monitoring of high-risk parolees in extreme cases.

Mr Bentley said the main thing his family wanted was for his sister’s story to be told.

“At ground level there is still not enough support. People think domestic violence doesn’t affect them, but you can almost be rest assured that someone you know or someone very close to you may already be experiencing it,” he said.

“Andrea tried so hard to do all the right things.”

Mr Bentley said violence restraining orders were worthless unless police more thoroughly investigated breaches.

Also outside court, Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence chief executive Angela Hartwig said the Government needed to allocate more resources, including providing more women’s refuges in Perth.

“It really puts the spotlight on the fact that there’s still a bit of an attitude that women have to run to keep safe and we’re not putting the attention on the perpetrator,” she said.

“Andrea had to run and be fearful for her life for so many months and the system let her down.”

She backed up Ms Pickett’s family’s call for electronic monitoring devices in certain parole cases.

The West Australian

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