A lawyer tasked with protecting a brother and sister failed to tell the courts about their father’s 18-year police history of domestic violence before he fatally shot them, an inquest has heard.
Independent children’s lawyer Debbie Morton on Thursday repeatedly denied misleading a Family Court when advocating for John Edwards, 67, to see his teenage children – who had told several people he was violent.
The father-of-10 killed Jack and Jennifer Edwards in Pennant Hills, Sydney’s north-west, in July 2018 after following his daughter home from school.
Edwards killed himself at his rented home near Normanhurst on the night of the murders. Five months later, the children’s mother, Olga, took her own life.
John Edwards shot dead his daughter Jennifer (left), 13, and son Jack (right), 15, in West Pennant Hills in Sydney’s north-west on July 5, 2018
The inquest into the deaths of the teenagers and the killer’s suicide has examined how a family court, on an interim basis, ordered the teens see their father despite his long, documented history of domestic violence.
Ms Morton subpoenaed Edwards’ police record while representing the children during their parent’s 2016-2017 custody dispute, Sydney Morning Herald reported.
In previous evidence, Ms Morton said she read over the record which detailed Edwards’ history of domestic abuse, including restraining orders and allegations of stalking.
But on Thursday, the lawyer said she only recalled one previous incident – a 2011 restraining order sought by police on behalf of Edwards’ adult daughter.
Ms Morton did not advise the Family Court that the teenagers – who told a psychologist they feared their father – wanted no contact with the financial planner.
The court, sitting after weeks of hearings in September, also heard on Thursday how Ms Morton advocated for Edwards to drive Jack to school daily in mid-2017.
When addressing allegations of family violence, the woman duty-bound to represent the children’s best interests told the Family Court: ‘There’s a concern about the dad being a bit overbearing.’
The inquest into the deaths of the teenagers and the killer’s suicide has examined how a family court, on an interim basis, ordered the teens see their father despite his long, documented history of domestic violence. Pictured: John Edwards
On Thursday, Ms Morton denied that statement was misleading or ‘grossly inaccurate’ given her knowledge at the time that the children had disclosed violence to experts.
Those experts had raised concerns, the children’s mother had also made detailed allegations and Ms Morton had read how an adult child of Edwards was fearful of her estranged father due to her own history of abuse.
‘All the evidence pointed to the exact opposite – that he was a significant risk to these children,’ counsel assisting Kate Richardson SC said.
‘No,’ Ms Morton replied.
The lawyer, who twice denied lying in her evidence to the Coroners Court, said she was aware of her obligations at the time.
She denied the tenor of her submission in June 2017 was that Edwards was overbearing, his ex-wife Olga was controlling and that Jack should see his father.
But she agreed she never outlined to the court how placing a child in the proximity of an alleged perpetrator was consistent with the Family Violence Best Practice Principles referenced in the ICL guidelines.
Ms Morton was also adamant a family consultant had agreed with her that father-and-son being together sometimes was a ‘good option’.
Edwards, 67, turned the gun on himself at a rented home near Normanhurst, northern Sydney (pictured)
During the intense questioning, Ms Morton hit back at Ms Richardson, saying she didn’t think the barrister knew how the Family Court worked.
‘You seem to think the independent children’s lawyer has an enormous amount of power,’ she said.
Ms Richardson replied her questions were based on ICL’s duties as outlined by the court itself.
Five months after the murders, the children’s mother, Olga (pictured), took her own life
The inquest has heard Olga detailed in 2017 how Edwards had chased Jack through Paris on a family holiday – throwing the boy up against a wall so violently passers-by intervened.
Ms Morton characterised the incident to the Family Court as ‘Jack ran away, John was chasing after him and different things like that’.
‘You downplayed the Paris incident to His Honour, do you agree?’ Ms Richardson asked.
‘I don’t think so,’ came the reply.
Asked if it was again ‘consistent with a pattern of your conduct’ of not taking allegations of violence seriously, Ms Morton replied ‘no’.
David Brown, who was Olga’s boss and representative in the Family Court, previously told the inquest his ‘very clear impression’ was Ms Morton was going to ‘drive the children into John’s hands’ by downplaying the assault allegations and a perceived right of Edwards to see his children.
NSW Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan is expected to make her findings at a later date.
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