A witness from the inquest into the deaths of two teenagers who were murdered by their father has told of how police undermined concerns about the father’s behaviour.
- NSW Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said in her findings that theÂ deaths of teenagers Jack and Jennifer Edwards were preventableÂ
- A witness from the inquest saidÂ police had undermined concerns about John Edwards’s behaviourÂ
- Olga Edwards, the mother of the teenagers, had made multiple reports about her ex-partner’s behaviour prior to the tragedy
James Campbell was a friend and yoga instructor of Olga Edwards, the mother of teenagers Jack and Jennifer, who were 15Â and 13-years-old when they were killed by John Edwards.Â
He gave evidence thatÂ Edwards stalked Olga at one of his early morning yoga classes in 2017.
Though Olga reported the stalking to Hornsby Police, Mr Campbell saidÂ the police did not take the incident seriously.
The police officer believed Edwards when he said that he’d been a long-term regular at Mr Campbell’s classes.
But Mr Campbell told 7.30 that this wasn’t true and said no one from Hornsby Police attempted to verify this information with him.
“They could fact check. Wouldn’t you? One phone call, two minutes, changes the whole paradigm,” he told 7.30.
James Campbell was a friend and yoga instructor of Olga Edwards.(ABC News: Xanthe Kleinig
Olga and John Edwards had been separated for almost a year when he began showing up at Mr Campbell’s yoga classes in 2017.
When Mr Campbell first noticed John Edwards at his class, he didn’t know who he was, but he suspected there was an ulterior motive.
“He wasn’t here for yoga,” he told 7.30.
“He wasn’t behaving according to [the] decency in the room. He was just a pervert, basically. He was more interested in looking around the room at particular junctions when people were exposed.”
Sydney mother Olga Edwards.(Supplied
Mr Campbell saidÂ the inaction by police was inexplicable.
“I would have thought with pre-existing AVO’s that that’s a no-brainer,” he told 7.30.
After her visit to the police, Olga Edwards confided in Mr Campbell, saying she felt unsafe.
“She was actually crying on the phone, muddling words I’d never ever heard Olga like this,” Mr Campbell said.
“She was saying, ‘my ex is stalking me and invading my space.'”
A subsequent police inquiry into two complaints made by Olga revealed at the inquest that the police made some crucial errors by not classifying one of the incidents as an assault, neglecting to mention the existence of children, and not asking about the existence of firearms.
John Edwards killed himself after shooting dead his son and daughter.(Supplied
Edwards obtained a gun licence in 2017, bought five guns and then shot the children and himself in July 2018.Â
For seven months, a coronial inquiryÂ has investigated just how this tragedy was allowed to occur.
On Wednesday, an emotional State Coroner, Teresa O’Sullivan, found a series of crucial, serious and systemic failures on the part of NSW Police, the firearms registry and the Independent Children’s lawyer in the family law proceedings.
These findings, the coroner said, were a stark reminder of the broader systemic problems faced by too many women and children today.
The coroner concluded by saying that the evidence before her revealedÂ that the deaths of Jack and Jennifer Edwards were preventable.
In a statement, NSW Police said they wouldÂ “review the findings and consider all recommendations that are directed to police”.
“Over the past two years, the NSW Police Force has implemented significant changes to systems and procedures in relation to the reporting and supervision of domestic violence,” the statement said.Â
‘Something was wrong there for sure’
Olga Edwards was John Edwards’s seventh partner and all of his six former partners reported physical or psychological abuse to the coronial inquiry.
Three of them and later, one of his children took out Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders against him.
Family friend Lana Kasyan saidÂ she immediately clicked with Olga, but always had a strange feeling about John.
Family friend Lana Kasyan said she had a strange feeling about John Edwards when she met him.(ABC News: Tom HancockÂ
“When I saw him, honestly, I just did not like him,” she told 7.30.
“There was something about his facial features, you know, very deep eyes and the way he spoke.
“Something was wrong there for sure.”
Lana saidÂ that Olga eventually revealed Edwards was controlling and abusive towards her and the children.
Olga Edwards took her own life five months after the deaths of her children.Â (Supplied
“He was controlling her salary, her expenses everything she was doing with money,” she told 7.30.
“Olga mentioned that John was very abusive. He could slap Jenny to the face and could lift Jack through the neck up on the wall.
“She said it was really dangerous and that the children were completely scared of him.”
‘I was always walking on eggshells’
Before she died, Olga Edwards provided a statement to the coronial inquest providing further detail about the abuse.
Family and domestic violence support services:
She wrote in her statement that John Edwards was controlling every aspect of her life even down to what she was wearing.
Â “If I didn’t wear a short skirt and high heels to go shopping he would walk out of his office and would say, ‘You know what I want’,” she said in her statement.
“I would have to go and get changed and have my hair out so I could go to the shops.
“I was worried about making John more angry. I was always walking on eggshells.”
In 2016, Olga Edwards applied for divorce and a custody battle ensued in the Family Court. She eventually won full custody of the children in 2018.
In evidence heard by the inquest, the independent children’s lawyer appointed by Legal Aid, Debbie Morton, failed to disclose John’s 18 years of domestic violence history to the court, instead describing it as “heavy-handed parenting”.
Through her lawyer, Ms Morton denied any wrongdoing or negligence on her part to 7.30.
Legal Aid told 7.30 it had stopped using Debbie Morton as an independent children’s lawyer since March 2020.
Father’s calculated claim to police
In the days leading up to the divorce, Olga Edwards left the family home.
The inquest heard that it was then that Edwards, in a highly calculated move, visited Hornsby Police Station to report that Olga was likely to make “false accusations”Â against him as she was trying to “win custody”Â over the children.
Nine months later, Olga Edwards filed a police report alleging her ex had been violent towards the children.
Jack and Jennifer Edwards, who were shot and killed by their father John Edwards at a house in West Pennant Hills in July 2018.(Supplied
Evidence emerged at the inquest that the police officer didn’t believe Olga, instead writing in the police database of her suspicion that Olga’s allegations were an attempt to win a bitter custody battle:
“Police do not hold fears of safety and are of the belief that this may be a premeditated attempt to influence some future family court and divorce proceedings.”
The ultimate act of power and control
In July 2018, at Jack and Jennifer Edwards’s funeral, domestic violence survivor Natalia Esdaile-Watts saidÂ she approached Olga Edwards to ask her if she’d be willing to become a campaigner and speak out publicly about what happened to her.
It was then that she discovered the depth of Olga’s mistrust in the police and the Family Court system.
Natalia Esdaile-Watts hoped Olga Edwards would speak out publicly about what happened to her to help other survivors.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard
“I said, ‘Olga, let’s do something about it, let’s make your story [of domestic violence] the last story that ever happens in Australia,Â and she just said to me, ‘What for? There is no hope here. Natalia, whatever you can do, do [it] to leave this country,'” she told 7.30.
Shortly after the funeral, former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, who lost her son under similar circumstances, formed a special bond with Olga Edwards.
“When you’ve had a child murdered by the father, there’s very few people that really understand and can feel that pain,” Ms Batty told 7.30.
Rosie Batty, former Australian of the Year and campaigner against family violence.(ABC Gippsland Zoe Ferguson
She saidÂ the risk faced by families like hers and Olga’s was being consistently minimised and undermined.
“It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s a system that’s been broken and flawed for a very long time,” she said.
“When we have this kind of tragedy and fatality, and all the facts are laid bare, we see that that should never have happened.
“And yet, you have to work so hard on being believed and to keep yourself safe. This is not how it should be and yet so many families find themselves in this situation.”
Rosie Batty saidÂ she was devastated but not surprised when her friend Olga took her own life, five months after her children were tragically murdered.
“John Edwards didn’t murder Olga, but he may as well have put a gun to her head,” Ms Batty told 7.30.
“What he did was more cruel, because he knew he’d taken away the most important things in her life and left her to suffer, just like Luke’s father did to me.
“It’s the ultimate act of power and control.”