Family murders under review

Ruth Pollard
December 20, 2008

ALL domestic violence homicides that occurred over the past five years are set to be reviewed by a new body announced by the NSW Government late yesterday.

Just days after another violent husband chose to murder his wife then kill himself rather than let her leave the relationship - bringing the death toll from domestic murders in the state for the past 18 months to at least 30 - the Government abandoned its long-held resistance to a homicide review.

"We've decided to bring forward a detailed examination of domestic violence-related homicide as a matter of urgency," said the Minister for Women, Verity Firth.

The review will examine the 108 deaths that occurred over the past five years, identify common risk factors, any gaps in the treatment of victims and recommend any changes to practices and procedures that would contribute to a reduction in domestic homicides, she said.

"Ultimately what this is all about is changing the way we do things, if there is a systemic problem, if there are risk factors we can identify, if there are gaps in services - this process will also help us inform the Government's consideration about having an ongoing, formal, domestic homicide review process," Ms Firth said.

The announcement follows the Herald's investigation, which revealed domestic violence homicides make up the majority of murders committed each year and that deaths in NSW remained unacceptably high - at least 184 over the past eight years.

It also revealed a system unable to protect women and children from violent men, of apprehended violence orders not enforced and danger signs that were ignored.

The director of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, will head the expert advisory group, while other panel members will include Betty Green, the co-ordinator of the NSW Domestic Violence Coalition, and the chairwoman of the Premier's Council on the Prevention of Violence Against Women, Lesley Laing, as well as representatives of NSW Police and the departments of the Attorney-General, Heath and Community Services.

"Considering the proportion of homicides each year that are domestic it is well worth doing - we pay far more attention to stranger homicides than domestic even though domestic homicide is far more of a problem," Dr Weatherburn said.

Ms Green described its establishment as "the beginning of a long overdue process".

"I am pleased that we are moving towards a domestic violence homicide review and I believe it is certainly the right thing to do."

Ms Green said the death of Melissa Cook this week, shot dead by her estranged husband John Kudrytch, raised serious questions about whether police and other services were responding appropriately to warning signs that indicate a woman's life may be in danger.

"It is much broader than questions over how a man with an apprehended violence order had a gun - she was in the process of separating from him, he had threatened to harm her, there had been attempted strangulation, he had threatened to kill himself; these are all indicators that there was a lethal risk here."