Various: Coronial findings – murders of Jennifer and Jack Edwards

7News: Coronial inquest into murder of Jack and Jennifer Edwards finds deaths were preventable

https://7news.com.au/news/disaster-and-emergency/coronial-inquest-into-murder-of-jack-and-jennifer-edwards-finds-deaths-were-preventable-c-2535562

The Guardian: Murders of Jack and Jennifer Edwards by estranged father ‘were preventable’, NSW coroner rules

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/apr/07/john-edwards-inquest-series-of-critical-errors-allowed-man-to-his-children-nsw-coroner-finds

ABC: John Edwards, who shot dead two children, should not have had gun licence, coroner finds

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-07/nsw-john-edwards-inquest-findings/100052238

Tele: John Edwards inquest: Coroner’s findings into shooting deaths of Jack, Jennifer

The usually stoic coroner Teresa O’Sullivan almost broke down as she spoke of the moment Olga Edwards returned home from work to find her children shot dead by their father.

The murders of Jack and Jennifer Edwards by their father John were preventable but people and serious systemic failures let them down, NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said today in an emotional address.

As members of the Edwards family, some of his ex-partners and children listened, the usually stoic coroner had to pause and almost broke down as she spoke of the moment their mother Olga returned home from work in July 2018 and found her children had been shot dead as they hid in a bedroom from their controlling and abusive father.

Jack, 15, had been vainly using his body to protect his sister, 13, as they hid beneath his desk at their home in West Pennant Hills.

“This moment was the crystallisation of the fears she had harboured as a victim of domestic abuse,” the coroner said.

“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.”

Former commando Edwards, 67, had emptied his Glock pistol into his children before reloading it and firing at them again. Then he returned to his Normanhurst home and killed himself.

Olga killed herself five months later.

The couple had been going through acrimonious family court proceedings and there was evidence Olga and her two children had told multiple agencies and professionals in the family law process about the physical and mental abuse meted out by Edwards.

“Sadly none were able to mobilise to protect them,” Ms O’Sullivan said in a 250-page damning report.

She was critical of police, staff at the NSW Firearms Registry and solicitor Debbie Morton who had been appointed as the independent children’s lawyer during the court proceedings but had recommended the children live with their father.

She found that Ms Morton had failed to advise the court of Jack and Jennifer’s views of their father and recommended that the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner investigate whether any disciplinary action ought to be taken against Ms Morton.

The coroner made 24 recommendations and praised the “grace and dignity” of Edwards’ six previous partners and those of his eight other children that had helped police and the inquest because they wanted to prevent this happening again.

He had physically and mentally abused all of his ex-partners and most of the children.

“It is common within this jurisdiction to describe such deaths as a tragedy,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

“It is unquestionable that their deaths and the subsequent death of Olga have 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.

“Instead, the evidence before this court plainly reveals that the deaths of Jack and Jennifer Edwards were preventable.”

She recommended police prioritise mandatory training for officers in the way they respond to domestic violence after finding officers not only failed to investigate Olga’s reports of her husband assaulting their children and stalking her but filed the details wrongly so they did not appear when the Firearms Registry was considering his application for a gun licence in 2017.

The coroner also recommended that firearms registry staff must independently verify claims made by people who apply for gun licences and not just take their word for it when they fill out the required P650 form.

She said Edwards should never have been given a gun licence but there had been no written policies for staff to follow.

Staff failed to apply the correct test which was to make sure that he was a fit and proper person to be given a gun licence.

While the registry has been overhauled as a result of the deaths, she said more work needed to be done.

Another key recommendation was that NSW Police and the Firearms Registry continue to work on a way to share information and that domestic violence as disclosed during family law proceedings should lead to the suspension of a gun licence and the consideration of whether that person was suitable for a licence.

The coroner found no blame rested on the gun clubs Edwards had been involved with but recommended that the government change the rules to make it mandatory for the clubs to report to the Firearms Registry when they refused a person membership and the reasons for that.Coroner’s full list of recommendations

Recommendation 1: That the NSW Police Force take steps to ensure that operational police are aware of the inherent dangers in recording pre-emptive approaches to police in the context of family law proceedings in the COPS database, and of the requirement set out in the Domestic Violence Standard Operating Procedures to record such approaches with appropriate caveats.

Recommendation 2a: That the NSW Police Force continue to prioritise the inclusion of training modules related to domestic violence and the DVSOPs (Domestic Violence Standard Operating Procedures) in annual Mandatory Continuing Police Education training packages. 

Recommendation 2b: That the NSW Police Force give consideration to the development of a mandatory training package targeted at general duties constables in relation to the DVSOPs and use of the Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool. 

Recommendation 3: That the NSW Police Force give consideration to implementing an annual, comprehensive audit process of officer compliance with the DVSOPs, which includes the results of ‘dip sampling’ conducted by Domestic Violence Officers in each Police Area Command. The results of the audit should be published and should include information as to any material variations or trends between Police Area Commands, and measures that will be taken to resolve any concerns. 

Recommendation 4: That the NSW Police Force amend the DVSOPs to give significantly greater prominence (and at a much earlier point in the document) to the warning as to the existence of family law proceedings that appears in the “Domestic Violence and Family Law” chapter. 

Recommendation 5: That the NSW Police Force develop and deliver a mandatory training module for shift supervisors in relation to the verification of incidents of domestic violence in COPS, including the application of the Supervisor’s DV Checklist annexed to the DVSOPs. 

Recommendation 6: That the NSW Government take steps to update the list of prescribed offences in cl. 5 of the Firearms Regulation 2017 to include any personal violence offences or domestic violence offences defined in the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW). 

Recommendation 7: That the NSW Firearms Registry clarify its systems so that it is obvious to an adjudicator that an applicant may have made an earlier false or misleading application. 

Recommendation 8: That the NSW Firearms Registry provide additional training in relation to the protocol that must be followed where an applicant may have made an earlier false or misleading application. 

Recommendation 9: That the NSW Government take steps to remove the language “other than an order that has been revoked“ in s. 11(5)(c) of the Firearms Act 1996 (NSW).  

Recommendation 10: That the Adjudication Decision-Making Tool used by the Firearms Registry be updated to include improved, and more specific, guidance in relation to domestic violence.

Recommendation 11: That the Adjudication Decision-Making Tool used by the Firearms Registry be updated to include review of any Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool attached to a COPS Event involving an applicant for a permit or licence. 

Recommendation 12: That the Firearms Registry conduct regular training to ensure that all adjudicators who exercise delegated functions under the statutory scheme have knowledge and awareness of issues related to domestic and family violence, including knowledge around separation risks, risk of future violence, non-physical domestic violence behaviours and review of the Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool. 

Recommendation 13: That the NSW Police Force and the Firearms Registry standardise and clarify the questions in all Firearms Registry application forms that relate to the disclosure of orders in family law proceedings to which an applicant is subject or has been subject in the last 10 years. 

Recommendation 14: That the NSW Police Force and the Firearms Registry continue to liaise with representatives of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia with the view to the Firearms Registry implementing a mechanism by which information provided by applicants relating to family law proceedings in the P650, P634 and P561 forms is able to be verified. 

Recommendation 15: That the NSW Police Force and the Firearms Registry continue to liaise with representatives of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia with the view to the NSW Police Force implementing a system to ensure that when any the following occur in family law proceedings (together “a federal DV event”):

(a)a Notice of Risk is filed in the Federal Circuit Court that discloses domestic or family violence, or child abuse;

(b)a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence is filed in the Family Court of Australia; or

(c)a federal family law court imposes an injunction relating to the protection of a spouse or child;

the relevant federal family law court notifies the NSW Police Force, and the federal DV event is recorded in COPS by the NSW Police Force in a way that makes it readily apparent to an adjudicator at the Firearms Registry.

Recommendation 16: That the NSW Government take steps to amend the regulatory regime in relation to firearms licensing so that the occurrence of a federal DV event (as defined in Recommendation 15) gives rise to:

(a)a suspension of the processing of a licence application or of an existing licence; and(b)consideration as to whether the information relating to the federal DV event has any bearing on the suitability of the applicant or licence holder pursuant to s. 11 of the Firearms Act 1996 (NSW).

Recommendation 17: That the NSW Government take steps to amend the regulatory regime in relation to firearms licensing so that where the NSW Police Force is notified of a federal DV event (as defined in Recommendation 15) in relation to a person who is either an applicant for a firearms licence or permit, or the holder of a firearms licence or permit, the NSW Police Force or the Firearms Registry must automatically notify the relevant federal family law court of that fact (so that the court will inform the parties of the application or current licence). 

Recommendation 18: That the NSW Government take steps to amend the regulatory scheme in relation to firearms licensing so that a person engaged in family law proceedings is required to disclose this to the Firearms Registry when applying for a firearms licence or permit.

 Recommendation 19: That the Adjudication Decision-Making Tool used by the Firearms Registry be amended to require that adjudicators take into account any available information as to whether family law proceedings are on foot and consider the implications of this for risks that may be posed by an applicant. 

Recommendation 20: That the NSW Government take steps to revoke the use of the P650 form (which currently allows an unlicensed person to undergo firearms training without involvement or vetting by the Firearms Registry), with the view to amending cl. 129 of the Firearms Regulation 2017 and implementing an alternative scheme which provides for adequate verification of information and oversight by the Firearms Registry. 

Recommendation 21: That the NSW Government take steps to implement a regulatory change under which gun clubs are under an obligation to inform the Firearms Registry if they have refused a person membership, and the reasons for that refusal. 

Recommendation 22a: That the NSW Government take steps to amend cl. 101 of the Firearms Regulation 2017 to impose the mandatory reporting obligation therein on any type of gun club (not only a pistol club). 

Recommendation 22b: That the Firearms Registry undertake consultation with industry stakeholders and the NSW Government with the view to lowering the reporting threshold in c. 101 of the Firearms Regulation 2017 from the current test of “may pose a threat to public safety (or a threat to the person’s own safety) if in possession of a firearm”, to include a situation where the club has concerns in relation to risk posed by a prospective or current member, and developing appropriate parameters to assist in assessing any such risk.

Recommendation 23: That the Firearms Registry undertake research and analysis in relation to the likely impact of a regulatory change to confer on gun clubs and other commercial safe storage providers the power to refuse to allow a person to access or remove guns if that club or provider has any concerns about risk posed by that person.

Recommendation 24: That the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner investigate whether any disciplinary action ought to be taken against Ms Debbie Morton in connection with any aspect of her role as the Independent Children’s Lawyer in the family law proceedings between John and Olga Edwards.

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