Coroner’s probe: Why did Dunedin father Edward Livingstone kill his children? — (OTAGO DAILY TIMES)

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Last updated 17:06, April 21 2015

The coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Bradley Livingstone, 9, Ellen Livingstone, 6, and their father Edward Livingstone, in Dunedin on January 15, 2014.

A police officer who prosecuted Edward Livingstone for breaching a protection order has conceded that his sentence may have been different had she known he had convictions in Australia. The inquest is being held into the deaths of Bradley, 9, and his sister Ellen, 6, who were shot dead by Livingstone at their home in the Dunedin suburb of St Leonards, shortly before 10pm on January 15 last year. Livingstone, 51, was later found dead in the front bedroom of the house at 9 Kiwi St. Edward Livingstone killed his two children before dying from a gunshot wound. Katharine Webb with her children Bradley and Ellen. The note Edward Livingstone wrote before murdering his children Bradley, 9, and Ellen, 6.

Bradley and Ellen Livingstone. Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall at the opening of an inquest into three deaths in Dunedin. Southern District Commander Andrew Coster admitted police failed to pick up red flags ahead of the murders. Mark Godwin, from the Department of Corrections, said during Livingstone’s recruitment for a job at Otago Correctional Facility checks indicated he had no criminal convictions.

Barnardos employee Rebecca Cadogan was not surprised to learn Livingstone had killed his children. Forensic psychiatrist Dr David Chaplow said elements of Livingstone’s care were inadequate. Katharine Webb, whose children Bradley and Ellen, were murdered by their father, arrives at an inquest in Dunedin. Dr Christopher Wisely says he did not know of Livingstone’s arson conviction. Neighbour Melanie Foot gives evidence on the first day of the Livingstone inquest in Dunedin. Neighbour Christopher Foot gives evidence during the first day of the Livingstone inquest in Dunedin. Jeffrey Fleming knew Edward Livingstone. He gives evidence at the inquest in Dunedin. Erin Kealey, from the Department of Corrections, gives evidence. Police lawyer Robin Bates asks Katharine Webb a question during the first day of the Livingstone inquest in Dunedin. Counsel for Dr Christopher Wisely, Matthew McClelland QC, asks Katharine Webb a question during the first day of the Dunedin inquest. Anne Stevens, counsel for mother Katharine Webb, whose two children were killed by their father. Edward Livingstone killed his two children before dying from a gunshot wound. His former wife and the mother of his two children, Katharine Webb, escaped being shot.


Sergeant Kate Saxton was the police officer who prosecuted Livingstone for his second breach of a protection order. She said she was not fully aware of his historic criminal offending in Australia before he was discharged without conviction at a hearing at Dunedin District Court on November 15, 2013. Saxton said she knew that Livingstone had been arrested for assault in Australia, but did not know whether he had been convicted. She could have sought an adjournment on the matter until she was sent all the information, but decided not to. “I did not think the court would entertain such a request due to the lack of information I had.” Interpol sent her a copy of Livingstone’s Australian criminal history on December 9. It included convictions for arson and assault, both in 1988. Saxton conceded under questioning from Webb’s lawyer Anne Stevens that the information “could have altered the outcome” had it been available when Livingstone was sentenced.


Christopher Wisely, a psychiatrist, has revealed that police told him Livingstone got the shotgun used in the shooting from his flatmate’s gun stand at the home they shared in Milton. The flatmate did not know Livingstone had taken it, Wisely said. Livingstone’s first contact with the Southern District Health Board was in August 2006 when he was referred with what was described as a major depressive episode with symptoms of low mood, poor concentration and prominent insomnia. Livingstone had returned to New Zealand from Australia five months earlier with Webb and their son. Wisely said Livingstone next appeared on May 23, 2013, at the Emergency Psychiatric Services with recurrent depression and irritability, and was interviewed with Webb. “There had been an incident of hostility and abuse towards his wife in which he had locked her in a bedroom, thrown furniture and forced her to have sexual intercourse for up to five hours,” Wisely told the court.

There had apparently been similar, but lesser incidents in the past. He had stopped his work and went onto a sickness benefit with the aid of his doctor and had been trialled on citalopram and escitalopram. That led to side effects including sexual dysfunction and lower mood, Wisely said. “He noted that his sleep disruption had begun after a series of strange dreams and his wife had noted that he had periods when he became in her words manic.” She said he would get angry, throw things around and become sexualised. Livingstone said he had lost 25 kilograms in a month and had become an over-exerciser and was over brushing his teeth. “He denied any long standing clear suicidal intent to harm himself but he had acknowledged fluctuating thoughts,” Wisely said. Livingstone was given medication to assist with sleep. The psychiatric registrar notified the coordinators of the violence intervention programme as a result of concerns.

Checks were done to see whether there was any relevant history of family violence or police records, but at that stage no evidence emerged. Police confirmed an overseas conviction, but did not give any details. Wisely said he first met Livingstone on July 12, 2013. “He complained at that stage of having an unpleasant recurrent dream for three or four days in a row and then having great difficulty sleeping. He noted he was a loner and kept people out,” he told the court. At work he was disturbed by contact with a man who had been involved in an incident in which he had attempted to sell his baby to another person for sexual purposes.

That led to a “bizarre and horrific” evening where he went home, started drinking and talked to a neighbour about the incident. After several beers he attempted to have sex with his wife but found he was not able to orgasm. “He confirmed that he slapped his wife on the backside when she got angry with him, he smashed the phone table and afterwards sat in the car and watched the sunrise while feeling miserable and wondering why he was doing it all.” He said he had done that because he wanted Webb to hate him. “He noted that he had been habitually sexually frustrated and always felt that he was the one initiating sex and he had a sense of rejection.” He knew that he had violated her, Wisely said. Livingstone told him he was lonely and had no family in New Zealand. “He told me he missed the children and it was very sad.”


Livingstone said he was born in Christchurch and brought up by his grandparents, Wisely said. His mother had left when he was about 3 years old. His father was a petrol truck driver and then went into the Merchant Navy. He did not know him until he was about 7 years old. “He recalled his father dragged him out of bed, broke his nose no one occasion, broke his thumb and split his head open.” His father died of emphysema. Wisely said Livingstone told him about two episodes of sexual assault, one when he had been in a boys’ home and another one when he was on a ship. Livingstone expressed regret about breaching his protection order by phoning his wife on two occasions. “He said at that stage that he still loved his wife Kath but was frustrated with the lack of contact with his children. He also said he worried about how his children were,” Wisely said. Livingstone switched lawyers and by the time Wisely saw him again in November 2013, he reported that his mood was stable and he was happy to get on with his life. He had cut down his drinking, stopped smoking and things were going well at work.


Wisely said Livingstone appeared stable when he next interviewed him on January 13, 2014. By that time Livingstone had a new partner. “He was friendly and smiling and joking in the session with her and we discussed relationships in general. “He did not voice any suicidal or homicidal intent at any point. “Overall he appeared to be in a reasonable mental state with some frustration at not being able to access his children, but not to any untoward amount.” In response to questions from Webb’s lawyer at the inquest, Anne Stevens, Wisely said he was not made aware that Livingstone had an historic arson conviction. Nor was he told about the incident where Livingstone gave bullet casings to his daughter and asked her to give them to Webb. If he had known those details it would likely have changed the risk assessment provided to the courts when Livingstone appeared in relation to breaching a protection order. “Arson is a very serious charge and it indicates someone who is prone to doing to some pretty terrible things,” Wisely said. “I would have had to have thought very carefully about what I wrote.” He accepted that the risk assessments that he gave to the court, based on the information he was now aware of, were wrong. Stevens suggested that Wisely had been deceived by Livingstone who had never told him he had thought about killing his children. Wisely said Livingstone’s apparent openness was “disarming”. “He never had anything other than positive things to say about his wife. I thought what he said was entirely reasonable.” Wisely said Livingstone’s actions reflected a man who was feeling powerless and did something appalling to show that he had some kind of control.


Erin Kealey, an Otago Correctional Facility employee, said she noticed a change in Livingstone’s demeanour at the beginning of 2013. It was about the time his dog died. He was having trouble sleeping and had lost a lot of weight. He was a smoker and his hands were shaking all the time. He would come into work crying. It was apparent Livingstone was having difficulties, Kealey said. She was aware his marriage had failed. Livingstone told her he was sexually abused as a child. He would visit her home often and told her about raping Webb and his psychotic episodes “He felt that when he did those things that it was the medication …” Livingstone wanted his life to return to normal, Kealey said. When Webb confirmed their marriage was over he wouldn’t accept it. Kealey said she suffered a head injury at Labour weekend 2013 and did not see Livingstone after that. JEFFREY FLEMING’S EVIDENCE Jeffrey Fleming said he received a call from his wife in the middle of 2013. Livingstone, a colleague of hers at Otago Correctional Facility, was looking for a place to stay after splitting up with his wife. Flemming said he knew nothing about Livingstone’s personal circumstances, but was of the understanding that he was a good guy and had no issues with him staying. One night, not long after Livingstone had moved in, he and Flemming sat around a table talking and having a drink. During the conversation, Livingstone said: “If she [Webb] doesn’t get back with me she isn’t going to have a choice.” “That definitely got my attention,” Flemming said. Livingstone went on to say he had thoughts about killing his kids, but the pills he was taking would stop him. Flemming said he wanted to get Livingstone out of the house as soon as possible. Flemming did not have any confidence that the pills would stop Livingstone. A few days later, Livingstone was told he had to move out. Flemming said he had nothing further to do with him after that.


Work and Income regional director Sue Rissman said it had reviewed its practices in relation to the shooting and concluded that support offered to Webb was in line with the standards expected. She gave no further evidence to the court. CHRISTINE MCKENNA’S EVIDENCE Christina McKenna, from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), said the ongoing issues Webb was facing were discussed at family violence inter-agency meetings in the months before the shootings. It was reported that Webb was well supported and dealing with the appropriate services, McKenna said. “She was doing as much as she could to protect her family.” McKenna said MSD was reliant on information supplied by other agencies when deciding on an appropriate response to family violence related matters. There was no discussion of the incident where Livingstone gave bullets to his children to give to Webb. Nor was there discussion about the rape. Had that information been made available it would have been taken into account and could have influenced decisions that were made, McKenna said.


Neighbour Mel Foot said she had told police about earlier death threats by Livingstone but they were not taken seriously. The father had come to stay with them after he was banned from Webb’s house by a protection order. He had told them he had stopped taking the medication which had made him irrational. “All he wanted was to reconcile with the family . . . we wanted to help.” Livingstone’s behaviour had deteriorated and he was scary. He would stand looking at his former house and pace and mutter. “He was quite obsessive so we got rid of him.” At one stage during his stay with them he told her he wanted to kill himself, his children and his wife. “They would be in their beds . . . he would using the back of an axe while they were sleeping and the same with Kath . . . he would then overdose on sleeping pills and then set fire to the house and they would all die together. In August last year she had rung police about the death threats but she did not feel she was taken seriously. She didn’t know who she spoke to but she didn’t feel she was taken too seriously. “My sister was with me… she made me ring.” The officer said the threat was not direct and there was nothing the police could do. She hadn’t told Webb because she “was frightened enough without any more”. After the protection order was issued in May she had seen Livingstone circling the house and parked up the road so he could see people driving up the road of his former house. Her husband had delivered some clothes to Livingstone and reported Livingstone became irrational and kicked his own car because the bundle had not included the grandfather shirt. “He said that f***ing bitch was going to get a bullet.” Police lawyer Robin Bates for the Police challenged Foot about her ringing the police but she said she had definitely made the call. She could not recall when she had done that. She said two officers had interviewed her on August 8 and but she could not recall any of the conversation. Bates suggested she had not mentioned the axe death threat when she had rung the police. To questions from Matthew McClelland QC she said Livingstone was not drinking when he made the axe threat. Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall has called the man who confronted Edward Livingstone on the night he shot his children an “extraordinarily brave man”. CHRISTOPHER FOOT’S EVIDENCE Mel Foot’s husband Christopher Foot, who lived next door to Katharine and the children, said he received text messages from Livingstone the day before the deaths complaining about Katharine. “I had got to the stage I didn’t want to be involved. I was being courteous. I was over it.” At 7.52pm a text message from Livingstone said: “Karma will get Kath.” “I didn’t know what that meant,” Foot said. On January 15 last year he had heard a terrible noise outside and he went next door to Webb’s house. “Kath had mentioned he had a gun. I was worried about the kids’ safety. I was not worried about the gun. I wanted to get the kids out.” He had a conversation with Livingstone through the front door and screamed at him to put the gun down. “He was probably more calm than me. I was going off my nut, screaming. He was more in a daze… he was holding the gun, almost like he was a bit spaced out.” They made eye contact but Livingstone’s eyes were all over the place. He told Livingstone they needed to talk and asked him to put the gun down. Livingstone told him it had nothing to do with him and to “get the f*** out of it”. Foot said he threatened to kick the glass front door down and rap the gun around Livingstone neck. “I wasn’t going with the kids in the house.” Livingstone had fired a shot from the hallway after he appeared to trip. “I was looking down the barrel of the gun, he fired and it went above the door. I thought that’s it. F*** you.”


Katharine Webb, Livingstone’s former wife and the mother of Bradley and Ellen, is the first of 18 witnesses to give evidence at an inquest into the three deaths being held in Dunedin. She has not previously spoken publicly about the events that unfolded at her home last year. Webb took the stand, dressed in black, about 9.45am. Appearing nervous and at times emotional, Webb answered questions from her lawyer Anne Stevens about events in the months before the triple shooting. She said her children’s father had mentioned he had an arson conviction for setting fire to part of an ex-partner’s house in Australia. It was after he had come home to find his fiance at the time in bed with another man, he had told Webb. She recalled thinking: “We all can make mistakes in life. I thought perhaps it was one of those.” She never told police about the arson conviction. “I never even thought about it.” When Livingstone applied for a job with Corrections he was worried they would find out about the conviction. “I told him not to worry about it,” Webb said. “At the time he hadn’t a job for a year. The priority was getting a job.” Webb also told the court that Livingstone raped her in May 2013. She went to police, but did not want to make a formal complaint. “I told the police about the rape but I didn’t want to pursue anything.” Webb said she wanted to focus on getting out of the house and keeping her children safe. She knew where to go for help if needed, she said. Livingstone twice breached a protection order preventing him from contacting Webb. She told the court there were other breaches, but she never complained to police. “I didn’t know if they were serious enough. I didn’t know if I would be wasting police time.” During a supervised visit, Livingstone gave his children some bullet shells to give to Webb. Livingstone cancelled the insurance on the house at Kiwi St about December 18, 2013.


Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall is presiding over the inquest, which is set down for four days in facilities at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, beginning on Tuesday. Coroner Marshall said it had been established that Bradley and Ellen died in their bedrooms. Evidence suggested Livingstone’s death was self inflicted. A shotgun lay next to his body. He did not have a firearms licence. The inquest would look into the circumstances of the incident to see if any lessons could be learned to prevent a similar tragedy, Marshall said.