Kiwi Street could be any NZ street

In the published photos, two lovely children look towards the camera; it is obvious that they are brother and sister. The fact that they died in their own home in Kiwi Street, Dunedin, brings an added poignancy to this awful, unfathomable tragedy. Kiwi Street. Any Street. Anywhere. It could happen anywhere.

Bradley Livingstone, 9, and his sister Ellen, 6, were shot dead on Wednesday night by their father, Edward Livingstone, who had just ordered their mother Katharine out of the house at gunpoint. That Edward Livingstone also died in the incident will be seen as a sort of justice by some, but it is in fact far from that, because it means we can never fully understand why he did it. There is now possibly nothing to be learned from Livingstone that can prevent it happening again.

There will be attempts to drag some lessons out of it nonetheless, but there is nothing good to come out of the murders of children, although the bravery of the neighbour who took Katharine in and tried to save her son and daughter should be acknowledged. Early reaction has focused on the effectiveness or otherwise of protection orders, to which Edward Livingstone was subject and which he twice breached last year. But whatever drove Livingstone to his final acts - be it madness, desperation or just sheer homicidal rage - things had probably moved beyond a point where any sort of court order attached to any sort of sanction or consequences would have done any good. He didn't have a firearms licence either, but that didn't stop him unlawfully procuring and using a weapon. Official pieces of paper only matter to people who are of a mind to live by society's rules. Murderers don't.

Debating protection orders focuses the discussion on how to combat the scourge of domestic violence generally, and the associated issues of enforcement. That is a debate that society needs, continually, but it should not detract from the fact that New Zealand's appalling track record of extreme harm to children is also a public health issue, and needs to be treated as such. That makes it everyone's responsibility. In Livingstone's case, his previous breaches of protection orders were known to his employer, the Department of Corrections, which issued a combination of official warnings and support. Corrections is probably one of the employers best skilled and resourced to deal with such cases. No doubt some within the department will be questioning today whether they could have done more, but perhaps none of them could have foreseen the lengths to which Livingstone would go. At least they tried.

Which brings us back to Kiwi Street, Any Street. We should all make it our responsibility to support families and individuals. The courts, police, the Department of Corrections could not prevent what happened.

There could be Katharines, Bradleys and Ellens living on any street in New Zealand. There could be Edwards who can be helped before tragedies occur. We all need to know them, support them, and be prepared to help them if necessary, before it becomes too late to do so.

The Press