The murders of Jack and Jennifer Edwards by their estranged father is 'preventable,' according to the NSW coroner.
Teresa O'Sullivan cites a litany of police, gun register, and family court mistakes prior to the 'premeditated' 2018 shootings.
A series of crucial "omissions and mistakes" by police, gun registry workers, and a family court lawyer in New South Wales in 2018 enabled a man with a decades-long history of domestic abuse to murder his two teenage daughters.
Teresa O'Sullivan, the state coroner, paused repeatedly Wednesday as she read the results of a months-long investigation into the deaths of Jack and Jennifer Edwards, who were 15 and 13 years old at the time of their deaths in 2018.
Their estranged father, John Edwards, a 68-year-old retired financial planner and former member of the Australian Defence Force, shot and killed the two teenagers. At the time, police characterized the shootings on 5 July as "premeditated and organized."
The children's bodies were discovered under a desk in Jack's bedroom, where they had hidden following Edwards' stalking of Jennifer on her way home from school.
Edwards committed suicide later that night. Their mother and his estranged wife, Olga, shared a bed after her son's death before she committed suicide in December of that year.
On Wednesday, an emotional O'Sullivan described the shootings as a "preventable" crime, citing a litany of mistakes made by police, the state's gun registry, and the family court prior to the shootings, which she described as "a stark reminder of the wider structural issues that so many women and children face on a daily basis."
“It's difficult to fathom the agony Olga felt when she came home from work on 5 July 2018 to discover police at her door and [the realization] that her two girls, whom she adored, had been murdered,” O'Sullivan said.
“This moment crystallized her fear as a survivor of domestic abuse and as the mother of two children who were both victims of domestic violence.”
After hearing from more than 30 witnesses during the inquest, O'Sullivan contained 24 recommendations in her 270-page report. The recommendations included a call for the state's police to strengthen required domestic violence training for officers, weapon registry workers to be trained to recognize domestic violence threats, and improved information exchange between the gun registry, police, and family court.
Following the killings, investigations found Edwards had a “proclivity for domestic abuse and a history of psychological and physical attacks dating all the way back to the early 1990s,” according to counsel assisting the inquest, Kate Richardson SC.
Despite substantial proof that the family revealed Edwards' abuse to police and family court officials, O'Sullivan uncovered a litany of grave mistakes committed by court officials, police, and gun registry personnel.
She claimed that simply referring to the shooting as a "tragedy" was inadequate.
“To refer to this as a tragedy implies an aspect of inevitability, that nothing could have been done to avert it,” she explained. “Rather than that, the testimony before this court demonstrates unequivocally that the deaths of Jack and Jennifer Edwards should have been avoided.”
According to the inquest, when their marriage ended in March 2016 after years of harassment, Olga made two police complaints about Edwards' conduct, including his aggression against Jack.
However, the coroner discovered that the particulars of the charges were misrecorded by a senior constable who had never opened the police handbook on family abuse. Olga was mistakenly identified as a victim and Edwards as a "guy called," while the incident was listed as "no offense detected."
In a second case, when Olga confirmed Edwards' attendance at her yoga class in early 2017, the officer recorded the incident wrongly, which resulted in the incident being omitted from Edwards' police record.
These "errors and omissions" meant that when Edwards later applied for a firearms license, the coroner said, the incidents did not appear on his file. According to her, NSW police "failed to conduct appropriate inquiries" in the first instance and inadequately investigated the second incident.
Understanding how Edwards secured a weapons permit amid a lengthy history of domestic abuse charges made against him by several former wives and other children was crucial to the inquest.
O'Sullivan was critical of the gun registry's position in her findings, arguing that employees lacked formal training and failed to consider Edwards' long history of domestic abuse when granting him the license to purchase the lethal guns he used to murder his children.
She stated that the registry's staff relied on "unduly limited" information due to a misguided assumption that a license could only be denied if there was a "mandatory" justification to do so. There was a "total inability to understand the 24-year pattern of domestic abuse."
On Wednesday, NSW police reported that the gun register had changed dramatically after the shootings – something O'Sullivan noted in her findings.
“Since 2018, the NSW Weapons Registry has undergone a major restructure, resulting in greater enforcement and strengthened detection of statutory breaches,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.
“Notable improvements to gun registry procedures and programs have resulted in increased review and evaluation of license applications and renewals, which are now supervised by senior adjudicators.”
The evaluations mean that a license may be suspended or revoked for a variety of reasons, including participation in domestic abuse cases, mental health events, illegal behavior, affiliation with criminal gangs, or in the public interest.
According to the spokesperson, police will "review the [inquest] results and take into account all advice directed to police."
Additionally, O'Sullivan referred Debbie Morton, an independent children's advocate charged with representing Jack and Jennifer's best interests in family court, to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner to "investigate whether any disciplinary action can be taken."
The coroner concluded that Morton did not adequately consider credible facts or comments from Olga Edwards and the children before informing the family court about Edwards' risk.
The inquest heard that many health practitioners and consultants involved in the court case had spoken to the Edwards children about their father's abuse. However, the independent children's advocate testified at the inquest that the teens did not express such issues to her prior to her advocating for weekly access visits.
Morton justified her decision not to warn the family court months later that Jennifer desired an explicit order banning her father from contacting her, noting that judges and magistrates had previously instructed her not to reveal a child's actual wish in court.
O'Sullivan was critical of the prosecutor, arguing that she "failed to advise the court of Jack and Jennifer's views on contact with their father" and "did not adequately evaluate the factual evidence available."
Olga was Edwards' seventh wife – he had ten children in total – and police reports confirmed that he had been accused of abuse and stalking by four former wives, one of his adult daughters, and, most recently, Jack and Jennifer.
However, the inquest heard that Edwards had not been charged with a crime since 1998 and that NSW police had authorised his weapons permit in 2017.