Tragedy strikes again along Dunedin's coast

Last updated 08:53 19/01/2014
Edward Livingstone
KILLER: Edward Livingstone shot his two children.

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Lesley Elliott knows what it's like to lose a child to a killer.

She believes that Katharine Webb will grieve for the rest of her life after her children were shot dead as they slept in their beds this week.

Elliott was shocked to hear about the killings in the seaside suburb of St Leonards, just a few minutes' drive from the scene of her own daughter Sophie's brutal slaying by Clayton Weatherston at her family home in the Dunedin suburb of Ravensbourne in 2008.

"It's a real tragedy and I really feel for her. I've shed a few tears for her over the last few days," Elliott said.

"She's lost two children and it [the grief] will go on for ever. I don't know how she's going to cope. The next few months are going to be sheer hell."

For those living on the 25km stretch of State Highway 88 that snakes around the northern lip of Otago Harbour, from downtown Dunedin to the sandy spit of Aramoana, it seems scarcely believable that another tragedy has come to bear on this sparsely populated and beautiful part of the world.

Ravensbourne and St Leonards are just minutes apart. You can walk it. Further north, at the end of the road, past Roseneath, Sawyers Bay and Port Chalmers, is Aramoana, the scene of New Zealand's deadliest shooting spree, where David Gray indiscriminately killed 13 people on November 13, 1990, before being shot by police the following day.

Darren Richardson, 45, bought a crib in Aramoana about six years ago. He lives in Nelson and uses it as a holiday home.

Originally from the UK, he's not deterred by the town's dark past though he was shocked at news of this week's shooting just 15km down the road. "It is just disbelief that it's happened here again."

Survivors of the Aramoana massacre were "hardy folk" but the shooting would have dredged up bad memories, he said.

"I think things like this just open up the wounds. It [the massacre] is pretty raw in people's memories."

Survivors of Gray's rampage are reluctant to talk about this week's events or the area's history.

"It's our history," one resident told the Star-Times before shutting the door to his home.

Long-time Aramoana resident Brian Wilson lives on Muri St a short distance from where the tragedy unfolded.

He remembers hearing the shots fired by Gray and seeing the bodies of people he knew lying on the ground.

Reaction to the murder-suicide in St Leonards had been muted among those living in the area, he said.

"It's not good, no matter where you go."

Asked how a community moves on from such a tragedy, Wilson said: "Time heals, I suppose."

Another survivor of the massacre, who would not give his name, said the horror of events that day would "never go away".

"It's sad," he said. "I'm not that interested in talking about it. You probably won't find many who are. There seems to be always someone shooting someone around the world.

"I should imagine it brings back some things for some people."

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Back in St Leonards, Kiwi St residents were yesterday trying to get on with their lives - mowing lawns, tending to gardens - but the deaths of 9-year-old Bradley Livingstone and his 6-year-old sister Ellen were not far from their minds.

"We are all very shattered, but life's got to go on," an elderly neighbour, who would not be named, told the Star-Times.

A police scene examination has finished and cordons have been lifted, but flowers and soft toys placed next to the family's letterbox serve as a reminder of the tragedy. "Fly free beautiful children," says one note.

Edward Livingstone, 51, a Department of Corrections employee, took his own life after killing his children shortly before 10pm on Wednesday.

He apparently wanted to get back at Katharine Webb for ending their marriage in May last year.

A court document said Webb had been terrified for her safety and that of her children after Livingstone twice breached a protection order she had against him.

Both times he escaped convictions - the most recent in September - out of fears he might lose his job at Otago Prison.

Neighbour Mel Foot said Livingstone had talked about killing his estranged wife and burning their house down. Foot said she and her sister phoned police in August and told them about his threatening behaviour, but their concerns were never followed up.

Dunedin-Clutha area commander Inspector Greg Sparrow confirmed yesterday that police visited Foot on Friday and told her they would investigate what action was taken in relation to the calls.

Elliott, 67, said she only knew details of the murder-suicide through media reports, but said it appeared Livingstone's breaches of a protection order did not warrant jail time and there was little that could have been done to avoid the tragedy.

"If the abuser is free and he's made up his mind, he's going to do it some way or another."

Elliott said she would consider approaching Webb in the future, but now was not the time.

"She needs people around her that will love her and support her."


The killing of two children by their father in Dunedin is a first in New Zealand records, but only in the perpetrator's weapon of choice - a shotgun.

All other aspects of the St Leonards homicide on Wednesday were textbook signs of retaliatory filicide - when a parent (almost always a father) is motivated by an intention to harm the other parent.

Edward Livingstone, 51, killed his children, Bradley, 9, and Ellen, 6, and then himself at the family home in St Leonards, Dunedin. It is presumed he acted out of anger towards his ex-wife, Katharine Webb.

While the community understandably describes the killings as unexpected, inexplicable, research shows revenge killings committed by estranged fathers are a global phenomenon. In fact, statistics show a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than anyone else.

Research from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria in Australia shows there may be specific warning signs for the risks of retaliatory filicide, such as a history of intimate partner violence, controlling behaviour towards family members, extreme anger towards the other parent in relation to the separation, and any threats or indication of an intention to harm the children in order to punish an ex-partner.

New Zealand family violence researcher Dr Michael Roguski says "all the signs were there" in the Livingstone case.

"While perpetrators are responsible for their actions, our governmental system also needs to be held to account," he says. "There is growing evidence of inappropriate or inadequate responses from the likes of CYF, the Family Court and the police. I think one of our major problems in New Zealand is lack of responsiveness.

"As a priority, women's and children's safety would be strengthened if statutory bodies were better at taking women's reports of threat to their safety seriously."

DVRCV found 62 per cent of all children killed between 1997 and 2008 in Australia were victims of filicide. Filicide research is limited in NZ, but the Social Development Ministry reported an average of three cases of a year between 2002 and 2006.

Statistics show women and men are equally likely to commit filicide, but the majority of revenge killings - about four per cent of filicides - are carried out by men, and usually result in suicide of the perpetrator.

New Zealand has a history of children suffocated, strangled, stabbed, bludgeoned, thrown from heights, and now shot, by fathers acting with the notion that killing a mother's child is a greater punishment than her own death.

A neighbour of the Livingstone kids, Mel Foot, said: "[Katharine Webb's] children were her world and [Livingstone] knew that. He was that insane that he thought he would kill the two things that were closest to her.

"He's been insane for months and months," she said, adding Livingstone had talked about killing his estranged wife and burning down her house.

A research paper analysing murder-suicides in Norway states psychic imbalance is "essential in the complex picture that leads to a person to commit murder-suicide".

Although rare, these cases are fairly consistent in their frequency, context, and warning signs.

Family violence advocates argue that such atrocities generally are preventable.

However, Justice Minister Judith Collins has said judges have to weigh up risk to potential victims against the rights of the accused when considering a penalty for breaching a protection order.

"Unfortunately it is not always possible to predict a person's behaviour, and the blame for this senseless murder should rest with the offender."

- Sunday Star Times

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