Dunedin tragedy exposes 'gap'

Mark Henaghan.
Mark Henaghan.
The tragic shooting deaths of two Dunedin children highlight the ''totally unfair'' situation sometimes facing judges having to decide on protection order breaches without full access to Australian criminal records.

That is the view of University of Otago Law Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan, who also a family law specialist, after the deaths of the two children, in Dunedin in January at the hands of their father, Edward Livingstone.

Bradley (9) and Ellen (6) were killed at their mother's home in Dunedin before Livingstone turned the gun on himself.

TVNZ reported last night Livingstone had previously been convicted for arson in Sydney, after trying to burn down his then-girlfriend's house 30 years ago when she broke up with him.

He also assaulted a flatmate during the same incident and ripped the phone from his girlfriend's hands to prevent her from calling police, TVNZ reported.

New Zealand judges were unaware of Livingstone's past conviction and behaviour when he appeared before the courts for twice breaching a protection order against his ex-wife, Katharine Webb.

Prof Henaghan told TVNZ there was a ''gap in the system'', and said in an interview with the ODT yesterday it was ''totally unfair'' for New Zealand judges dealing ''incredibly difficult'' matters involving protection order breaches when not all of the ''full story''- involving the detailed Australian criminal history - of alleged offenders was available.

People travelled freely between Australia and New Zealand, and all serious conviction information, including at Australian state level, should be shared by the relevant transtasman police forces on a single shared and swiftly accessible database, he said.

''There should be a system that makes it easier to check these sorts of things out. At the moment, it's a big effort for them [the police] to have to go and check it,'' he said.

Although Livingstone had not received a custodial sentence over the Australian charges, he had been convicted of serious offending which the New Zealand authorities - in this case the prosecution and judiciary - were entitled to know about.

In the interests of dealing with future protection order breaches, it was important for police on both sides of the Tasman to have access to such data, with current privacy safeguards in place, he said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins told TVNZ Livingstone's past conviction showed ''an attitude about getting your own way that would be very concerning''. However, knowledge of the Australian conviction may not have made any difference.

''It's 30 years old,'' she told TVNZ.

''My understanding is that ... his convictions or conviction would have been covered by the clean slate legislation.''

Three months before Livingstone shot his children, the 51-year-old was discharged without conviction for breaching a protection order against his family for a second time.