A “wholly inadequate” NSW Firearms Registry failed to perform its key responsibility when it granted gun licences to John Edwards, who shot dead his two children, a coroner has found.
Jack and Jennifer Edwards were killed by the 67-year-old in July 2018, after he stalked his daughter to the West Pennant Hills home they shared with their mother Olga Edwards.
Five months later, their grieving mother took her own life.
NSW Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan today made 24 recommendations in a report running to more than 270 pages.
Ms O’Sullivan said to describe the deaths as a tragedy would be to “import a sense of inevitability.”
“The evidence before this court plainly reveals that the deaths of Jack and Jennifer were preventable.”
The inquest examined how Edwards was granted gun permits and licences despite a decades-long history of domestic violence and entries on his police database record that should have served as red flags.
“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,” Ms O’Sullivan said during a summary of the findings.
Edwards was the subject of complaints of violence, intimidation and stalking by five of his ex-partners and three of his children.
Labelled as a “narcissistic psychopath” by an estranged adult daughter, Edwards successfully applied for a P650 permit for unlicensed shooting at approved ranges in January 2017.
The NSW Firearms Registry employee who searched Edwards’ police database profile had access to 18 separate incidents, 15 of which related to apprehended violence orders, stalking and assault allegations or “adverse interactions” in relationships.
Later that year, Edwards was granted further gun licences.
Ms O’Sullivan today described the absence of written registry policies as “wholly inadequate” and leading to misunderstandings.
Staff received “on-the-job” training but the majority “struggled” with the subjective “fit and proper person” test when adjudicating on permit and licence applications, the court heard last year.
Ms O’Sullivan said clerks who assessed Edwards’ applications used “unduly narrow and accordingly inadequate information”, when the data available to them should have put them on notice that a thorough review was required.
“They failed to perform one of the key responsibilities of the registry under the statutory scheme,” she said.
The coroner found that John Edwards spent at least a week planning his murderous act and described his movements on the day of the shootings.
She paused several times to compose herself when she described how the children tried to hide under Jack’s desk before they died.
Ms O’Sullivan also said it was difficult to imagine the pain Olga Edwards must have felt coming home to find police at her house and her children dead.
“This moment was the crystallisation of the fear she had harboured as a victim of domestic abuse,” she said.
The court heard Jack Edwards was so fearful of his father he kept a cricket bat in his room for protection, while Jennifer was scared to turn her back on him in case he hit her.
The shootings followed a lengthy divorce and custody dispute with his former wife.
In late 2016, she went to police to report Edwards had assaulted the children, but it was incorrectly classified as a “no offence detected” entry.
Chief Inspector Sean McDermott, the manager of the NSW Police Force Domestic and Family Violence Team, conceded it was “premature” to “write her off” without speaking to the children.
In early 2017, she again reported that Edwards had unexpectedly showed up at her yoga class, but his name wasn’t included in the right field.
This meant that any future search of his name would not return the information.
Ms O’Sullivan said if the reports were properly recorded, they would have appeared later as matters for consideration by gun registry staff.
The requirements of police were “clear, extremely comprehensive and available to all police on their intranet,” the coroner said.
Nine months before Ms Edwards’ first report, John Edwards had also gone to police to warn them that she may make false allegations as part of a custody dispute.
Superintendent Anthony Bell, who became commander of the gun registry in September 2018 after the tragedy, gave evidence that it had “transformed” since the murders.
He admitted the staff who decided applications were unable to reliably do their jobs in 2017 “based on a lack of guidance, instruction and training”.
In a statement, a NSW Police spokesperson said the coroner’s findings would be reviewed.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Family violence support services:
1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24-hour crisis line) 131 114