John Edwards inquest: series of critical errors allowed man to murder his children, NSW coroner finds

A series of critical “errors and omissions” made by police, firearms registry staff and officials within the family court system in New South Wales allowed a man with a decades-long history of domestic violence to murder his two teenage children in 2018.

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Jack and Jennifer Edwards were shot dead by their father John Edwards in Sydney in July 2018. An inquest has found that their deaths could have been prevented.

John Edwards, a 68-year-old retired financial planner, shot dead his two children, Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, in what police at the time described as a “premeditated and planned” shooting on the afternoon of 5 July 2018.


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The bodies of the children were found beneath a desk in Jack’s bedroom – where they had hidden after Edwards stalked Jennifer on her way home from school.

Related: John Edwards inquest unravels questions at the heart of father’s killings

Later that night Edwards killed himself. Their mother and his estranged wife, Olga, slept in her son’s bed after his death before she killed herself in December that year.

On Wednesday the state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan described their deaths as a “preventable” crime.

In an emotional address, O’Sullivan said the deaths could have been avoided, saying the case was “a stark reminder of the broader systemic problems that face too many women and children every day”.

“It is difficult to imagine the pain that Olga felt when she returned home from work on 5 July 2018 to find police at her home and [realise] her two children who she loved dearly had been killed,” O’Sullivan said.

“This moment was the crystallisation of the fear she had harboured as the victim of domestic abuse [and] as the mother of two children [who were] victims of domestic violence.”

Investigations after the shooting revealed that Edwards had what the counsel assisting the inquest, Kate Richardson SC, called a “propensity for domestic violence and a history of psychological and physical assaults stretching back to the early 1990s”.

But despite significant evidence that the family had disclosed Edwards’ violence to police and officials in the family court system, O’Sullivan identified a litany of serious errors made by court officials, police and firearms registry staff.

Describing the shooting as “a tragedy” was not sufficient, she said.

“To describe this as a tragedy is to import a sense of inevitably, that nothing could have been done to change the outcome,” she said. “Instead, the evidence before this court plainly reveals that the deaths of Jack and Jennifer Edwards were preventable.”

Last year’s inquest heard about a litany of errors made by police, the family court, and the state’s firearms registry before the shootings, and on Wednesday O’Sullivan said the failure of those agencies had contributed to the horrific murders.

The inquest heard that in the months after their marriage breakdown, Olga had made two reports to police about Edwards’ conduct, including his violence towards Jack. But those allegations were misrecorded by a senior constable who had never opened the police handbook on family violence. Olga was recorded as a victim, Edwards the “person named”, the incident as “domestic violence – no offence”.

In another instance, when Olga reported that Edwards had showed up to her morning yoga class, the officer recorded the incident incorrectly, meaning it did not show up on Edwards’ police record.

“Several errors and omissions” made by police meant that when Edwards was later applying for a firearms licence, the events did not show up on his file, the coroner said.

The inquest was also told that the Edwards children had spoken of their father’s violence to several health professionals and experts involved in the court proceedings. But the independent children’s lawyer said the teenagers hadn’t raised those concerns with her before she pushed for weekly access visits.

Related: Lawyer who represented children killed by John Edwards subject of complaints in NSW, tribunal hears

She defended not telling the family court months later that Jennifer wanted an explicit order forbidding her father from contacting her, saying judges and magistrates had previously told her not to disclose a child’s actual wish in court.

O’Sullivan was deeply critical of the lawyer, saying she had “failed to inform the court of Jack and Jennifer’s views about contact with their father” and “did not properly consider the available objective evidence” about the risk posed by Edwards to his children.

Olga was the seventh woman with whom Edwards had children – he had 10 children in total – and police records showed that allegations of violence and stalking against him had been made in relation to four of his previous partners, one of his adult daughters, and, as recently as 2016, Jack and Jennifer.

But the inquest heard that police had not charged Edwards with any offence since 1998 and had approved his gun licence in 2017.

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