David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

In the end, revenge was all that mattered: Why loving father Edward Livingstone killed his children


Murdered children


NIGHTMARE ON KIWI ST


The death in Dunedin of two young children at the hands of their loving father sent David Fisher in search of a monster. He found something more unsettling - a man.



Monster. There's that word. Peter Scott says it when speaking of Ed Livingstone, brother-in-law, mate and killer-of-children. "People will make him out as a monster," he says of the father who killed Bradley, 9, and Ellen, 6, on January 15 before shooting himself. "And probably, in the last minutes of his life, he was. But the guy we knew? Absolutely not."

It was a monstrous act. That final hour of Livingstone's life would eradicate any good he had ever wrung from his existence, including the lives of his children.

"Monster" comes from a Latin word which describes a disruption of the natural order - some perverse malfunction of nature.

Livingstone was unrecognisable at the end. In a corruption of nature, he killed the children he raised.

Left alone was the woman he fell in love with at first sight. Katharine Webb - she uses her maiden name now - was robbed of everything except that which would torture her.

Life.

If he was a monster, Ed Livingstone was one whose roots were Kiwi. He was born in Christchurch in 1962 and moved to Australia when very young. His father, Duncan Livingstone, a Scottish merchant seaman, went to New South Wales with his son and daughter Suzanne (Suzie) in search of work in the mid-1960s.

There is no record of the children's mother travelling with them and he wasn't long settled in Australia before marrying Shirley Crease, whose daughter Karen Scott expanded the family to five.

"He was part of a family," says Pete Scott, who married Karen years later. He remembers a young Livingstone leaving school, working as an unskilled labourer or office worker, before shifting to running pubs.

"We all showed each other respect. There was nothing out of the ordinary way back then," says Mr Scott, a train driver. They rocked around the Central Coast, north of Sydney, socialising together, even after the marriage with Mrs Crease dissolved. "Life was pretty good." Considering how it ended, looking back is like "putting a jigsaw puzzle together" but none of the pieces fit. "We just knew him as Ed," says Mr Scott, a little helplessly.

Livingstone's best mate - really, now, his only mate - was Rob McFarlane. They met in 1984 and worked together at clothing chain David Jones. Livingstone was assistant office manager while Mr McFarlane, another Kiwi, worked as assistant loss prevention manager.

They had a solid foundation for friendship. "At one stage, he saw me having a bit of a hassle with a client. He dumped everything and came to give me a hand. In the process, he almost got stabbed with a paper spike." Others piled in to help but the bond forged lasted. They would work together three times, twice with Livingstone as Mr McFarlane's boss.


Edward Livingstone: Family violence experts say this was a man determined now to take everything from his wife he could.

Livingstone worked at David Jones for several years, then turned to working in pubs. He was still doing that more than a decade later when he met Katharine Webb, the woman who became mother to Bradley and Ellen. She caught his eye as she entered the pub. "He actually turned to one of the bar staff there at the time and said: 'See that girl there? I'm going to marry her'."

Until then, no relationships had really stuck. This did. Bradley was born and New Zealand beckoned. For Livingstone, the appeal was simple.

"It was all about bringing Bradley up in a quieter atmosphere ... Plus, all of Katharine's family are here and Ed doesn't have much of a family."

They started in a rented house on Franklin St, high on the hills in the north of Dunedin, an easy commute for Ms Webb to her public service job in the centre. Her parents lived just up the road. "I don't think there was a lot of love lost there," Mr McFarlane says of Livingstone's relationship with his in-laws.

It was a big shift, not just geographically but in lifestyle. "It was very late for them to have children, both of them. They were both in their forties when Bradley was born."

For Livingstone, the move was the beginning of an isolation which lasted until he died. As Mr McFarlane says: "He was fairly much a loner. He didn't have a lot of mates down there."

Across the fence at Franklin St was Geoffrey Vine, retired Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Gillian, who also worked in social services. They recall the family of three, as it was then, moving in about nine years ago.

Livingstone, who wasn't working, would farewell Katharine each morning and turn to caring for Bradley. The Vines watched him grow into fatherhood and, when thinking on it after the killings, were confounded as news reports wove the threads of January 15 into a horrifying tapestry. "It was a totally alien picture," says Mr Vine. "It was hard to believe that someone could have changed and become diametrically the opposite of what you know.

"He was a lovely man. He was just the sort of neighbour you hope to get."


Neighbours leave flowers outside the house on Kiwi Street where Bradley and Ellen were killed. Photo / Dean Purcell

Livingstone was a "firm father", says Mr Vine, but not in a restrictive or rough way. Mrs Vine: "He was an absolutely devoted father and that's why what he did is incredibly inexplicable. One wonders what pressures drove him to do what he did."

Mr Vine: "The only thing I could think of when this happened is he couldn't handle being separated from Bradley because he'd been so devoted to him."

They would chat over the fence, share a cuppa, watching Bradley growing. There was a dog, Spencer.

"He always had to be busy," says Mr Vine. They watched Livingstone spend hours in the garden of the rented house, learning about local plants and growing conditions from green-thumbed Mrs Vine. He pruned with vigour - and having pruned his side, asked if he could hop the fence and do the other. He was quick to help out - and good with computers. When the Vines got a new one, he came up with training videos to help them navigate new software. It became a project, eventually stretching beyond their capacity to keep up.

Bradley grew and Livingstone gloried in it. Far too early, he was trying to teach his son how to kick a football. For Guy Fawkes, he delighted Bradley with a stack of fireworks, although the Vines suspected it was Livingstone who drew the most joy from fireworks, which are banned in Australia. "He was really so excited about it," recalls Mr Vine.

It was a bright point among mundane daily tasks, with Livingstone preparing meals, often as not, doing housework and shopping.

"Edward didn't have a lot of friends," says Mr Vine. He didn't know anyone locally and as a stay-at-home parent, had limited opportunities to meet new people. "He didn't know anyone here," says Mr Vine. And, says Mrs Vine, it's different for men - dads at home don't slot into the coffee groups and social circles mothers enjoy.

Asked if he was clever, Mr Vine said Livingstone "persevered with things". "He was prepared to give anything a go. He had a curiosity about things. He wasn't intellectual but neither was he a dummy. He was a good conversationalist."


Devoted: Katharine Webb with Bradley and Ellen

He hunted for work, says Mr Vine, straining against his inability to find a job in New Zealand. "When he was looking for work, he wasn't the type who sat around twiddling his thumbs. He really did want to work. One of the things that delighted him about the job at Milburn [at the prison] was that he was going to have people to socialise with." Not even that, adds Mrs Vine. "Contact with adults," she says.

Court documents list Livingstone as earning $58,000 at the time of his death, working as a property officer on reception at the Otago Correctional Facility about 30 minutes south of Dunedin.

The job came about the time Ellen was born and about the time they bought a home. Property records show the Livingstone family buying the house on Kiwi St in 2008 (the listed settlement date is June 17).

They had a home. Livingstone had a job. The children had the rest of their lives. Their mother still does.

Mr Vine: "The big unanswered question for me is what drove the transition from a thoroughly nice man to a monster. You don't become that overnight."

Monster.

There's that word.

The house on Kiwi St is plain to look at. Like many in Dunedin, it sits hunched into the land, braced against the weather. One storm blew in late on January 15, 2014, through the back door, bringing with it fatal results.

But before then, the bungalow offered hope and opportunity. Seen in the media images that followed, the pale blue house looked as if it were shrinking from the violence that had happened inside.

But turn the other way and there were wonders to behold. Livingstone's friend Rob McFarlane captured the best of it when visiting. His photograph looks across Otago Harbour, the sea calm and still, stretching off towards the distant harbour mouth. Above, a wide sky is azure-blue fading to white-blue on the horizon.

McFarlane posted it to Facebook and Livingstone wrote on August 2: "Rob, what made you post a photo of my front garden, nice isn't it :-) You are making me home sick."

By then, it was no longer his front garden. He was banned from the St Leonards home he once lived in, with only supervised access allowed to his children.

The relationship ended in early 2013. Livingstone moved next door to Chris and Mel Foot's home for a few weeks but it didn't work. He'd pace and mutter, eyes turned to the house just up the hill.


Shocked: Jo Wilson, principal of St Leonards School, where Bradley and Ellen were students. Photo / Dean Purcell

Ellen's bedroom looked down on his temporary exile. As in the bedroom of any girl just starting school, a mosaic of stickers climbs up glass.

The separation escalated on May 27, when Livingstone visited the house, an argument followed and he tried to stop Ms Webb from leaving.

The court was later told "he would not let the victim take the family vehicle when she became concerned for hers and her children's safety due to the defendant's behaviour".

Livingstone was put in the care of Southland Health Board's Emergency Psychiatric Service. It was here a protection order was actually served on May 31.

The temporary protection order was made permanent on June 18.

Three days later, Livingstone made contact with Ms Webb through her Facebook site. "Your are beautiful [sic]," he wrote at 11.14pm, tagging the comment to a picture of her with her arms around their children.

Livingstone's access to his children was now restricted to visits supervised by Barnados.

A month after his marriage fell apart, Livingstone had moved about 70km south of his family - a wife he was barred from contacting and children he could see only under supervision.

He was in a house rented from prison colleague Malcolm Kiri just five minutes' drive from the Otago Correctional Facility, giving him little reason to travel to Dunedin.

Livingstone did make the journey - he was served a final protection order on July 24 and breached it on August 6. Constable Katherine Saxton later told the court Livingstone was "emailing the victim, telephoning her at work, loitering outside her address in his vehicle and going on to the property when she was not home".

In the email, Livingstone wrote of their finances, their relationship and how he wanted it to continue.


Police at the scene of the shootings. Photo / Dean Purcell

He rang Ms Webb to say he was coming to her home that evening to talk. Court documents show he lurked around the property from 3pm until she arrived in St Leonard's about 8pm. Seeing his car, she hid on a side street and called police.

Livingstone was given "diversion" by police, a "get out of jail free card" which sees charges waived under certain conditions.

The decision to do so appears to be a mistake, and might have led to Livingstone receiving lighter treatment for the next breach.

Ms Saxton later told the court: "The defendant was dealt with by way of the Police Diversion Scheme and undertook counselling. The [scheme] prohibits diversion for breaches of court orders therefore this matter should not have been resolved in this way."

His breach in August and earlier mental health stay had his lawyer seeking advice on Livingstone's state of mind for his court appearance.

Southern District Health Board psychiatrist Dr Christopher Wisely wrote on August 16 that he had been seeing Livingstone for a month.

"It seems that he was clearly suffering with a moderately severe depressive disorder at the time that his relationship fell apart with his wife."

Part of the problem was a reaction to a bupropion, commonly called Zyban, prescribed for stopping smoking. Livingstone had "restarted it unbeknown to his wife.

"He had an untoward reaction in which he became effectively psychotic. The reactions are rare but certainly not unheard of with bupropion. It appears these symptoms dissipated after he stopped the medication [emphasis added]."

It was an excuse Livingstone would use again - even though his doctor said he had stopped taking that particular type of medication.

In the letter, Dr Wisely said he had prescribed new drugs, an anti-depressant and an anti-psychotic, noting "he is extremely remorseful about events that occurred between he and his wife and feels that he now has a normal emotional experience.

"I do not have any concerns about his current mental state with regard to danger to his wife Kath or their two children."

It was a reassurance of safety repeated in a letter from psychotherapist Marie Ann Robertson, who wrote to the court saying Livingstone had "severe depression that had been covert for many years" caused by "repeated childhood trauma that had never been addressed. I do not believe he is a violent man."

Livingstone was "often in a self-protective dissociated state that has incapacitated his state of awareness", Ms Robertson wrote. He was a "more settled man" after therapy. "He is suffering a great deal of grief over his previous lack of insight. His love and concern for his family has been at the forefront of his motivation."

It appears from the court file Livingstone was given diversion on August 28, conditional on doing a 12-week "stopping violence" course.

Just two weeks later, on September 14, Livingstone was again caught breaking the protection order. In a police interview, he was asked what had happened.

"I rang her and left a recorded message," Livingstone told the police officer. "I said that I loved her and that I loved Bradley and Ellen.

"What happened between us, wasn't me that done it. It was a reaction to the Zyban [which his doctor said he had stopped using] that made me psychotic. I just asked her if she would consider rebuilding our relationship.

"You have to understand I was pretty upset at the time."

Do you understand the protection order?

"That I'm not allowed to approach Kath, text or email her."

Are you aware you can't phone her?

"I don't think that was on the protection order."

Why did you call her in breach of the protection order?

"I broke down. I couldn't rationalise anything."

How do you think she felt?

"I didn't think at all, it is what I am saying. I wasn't thinking at all this morning."

Have you breached the protection order before.

"Yes. I emailed her."

Is there anything you would like to add.

"I am very sorry I upset Kath."

With a new charge, Dr Wisely was again called on to update Livingstone's lawyers. The psychiatrist said Livingstone had spoken to him about breaching the order: "I know that he was feeling quite low in his mood at the time and missing his children terribly, and I understand the message was simply to express his understandable grief and sorrow about the situation."

Again, he offered an assurance of safety, writing that "I certainly do not think he is at any ongoing risk of harming his wife".

Medication had been changed, he wrote, and Livingstone was "resolving a number of issues very well related to his relationship break-up".

Losing his job would be devastating, Dr Wisely wrote, because of the difficulty he would have in finding another at his age. "I am somewhat concerned for him in that he does not have a large number of social contacts in New Zealand, coming originally from Australia."

Livingstone was suspended from work, although told an employment investigation would not begin until the court process was finalised.

He appeared in the Dunedin District Court on November 15, lawyer John Westgate asking for a discharge without conviction because of the likelihood he would lose his job. Livingstone, in an affidavit, told the court losing his job would affect his ability to pay child support, and "would adversely affect not only me but my children as well".

Police opposed. Mr Saxton told the court there was no proof Livingstone would lose his job. A discharge without conviction could make little difference; the prison service listed an admission of offence as grounds enough for sacking - and the guilty plea needed for the discharge would be that admission.

And there was a plea from Ms Webb. Mr Saxton told the court she "wishes the court to know that she does not support the defendant being granted a discharge without conviction".

"She states it took a lot of courage to call the police on each occasion as she was so scared of the defendant and she believes he knew exactly what he was doing and what the consequences would be."

Fatal course of events

It wasn't enough. Livingstone pleaded guilty, was discharged without conviction on condition he pay $500 towards Stopping Violence Dunedin, where he was still attending a domestic violence programme from his first breach.

The final note on the court file is a copy of a letter to Livingstone on November 27 telling him the charges from his first breach had been dismissed with diversion now completed.

Livingstone received a written warning from Corrections on December 9 and went back to work.

He began telling people he had come to terms with the separation. He spoke of a relationship with a woman in Christchurch. Some believe this was a distraction from his true intent, and an embellishment of the nature of the relationship.

A friend of Ms Webb told the Herald it was about this time Livingstone cancelled the Kiwi St house insurance.

Some believe this was when he decided on a fatal course of events. He no longer faced the scrutiny of the courts, his employer had completed its inquiry - but he also knew he had used every last chance he could wrest from the system.

From here, any contact would surely cost him his job, earn him a conviction and bar him from access to his children.

Family violence experts say this was a man determined now to take everything from his wife he could.

"His behaviour is nothing to do with medicine or mental health," says Jill Proudfoot, of domestic abuse help agency Shine.

"His behaviour is about obsession." It is about punishment. It is about revenge.

'He's got a gun'

It was a beautiful place, St Leonard's. When they were alive, Bradley and Ellen would walk the short distance to their school. Their uphill neighbour Patricia Haraki, 70, would see them head off about 8am to walk the 600 metres to the school gate. She recalls Ellen's joy at any opportunity to chat on the way to school in the morning.

"The wee boy didn't like the girl talking," she says, painting a picture of a big brother with the important task of escorting his sister to school.

Ellen would chatter, with Bradley next to her insisting: "We've got to go."

Off they would go, meeting other children at the top of the road.

St Leonard's School itself is stunning and contained, with only about 60 children. They would have the funeral here, farewelling Bradley and Ellen among the bright streaks of colour on the classrooms and playground. The Education Review Office praises the way teachers work with students: "Students learn in a family-like atmosphere where they know each other well."

Mrs Haraki says January 15 was a beautiful day. She'd not long returned from a nearby barbecue and thinks it was about 9pm when she heard Ms Webb crying.

Crying isn't the right word, she says. Having been to a few tangi, she touches the pit of her stomach and says the sound she heard was the noise made when emotion bubbles up from deep down. "It makes your hair stand on end."

"He's got a gun," she heard Ms Webb screaming, running out the front door of her home. Mrs Haraki made her way outside and looked over the back fence to where Bradley and Ellen had played in a tent just weeks before, laughter spilling over the fence between properties.

She could see the back door open, light shining from inside. She heard the shots - Livingstone had turned back inside the house while Ms Webb sought help from the downhill neighbours, Chris and Mel Foot. Their children (and one on a sleepover) were awake inside. Their eldest was Bradley's best mate - Ellen had her heart set on marrying him when when they grew up. Now he lay awake, listening to the shot which killed her and his friend.

When next Mrs Haraki looked over the fence, she saw Chris Foot confronting Livingstone. "I looked up and saw a man on the step," she says.

Mr Foot said: "Don't you point that gun at me." Livingstone stepped, slipped and as the shotgun tilted up, let loose a shot intended for his former neighbour.

Then Mrs Haraki was back inside, calling police. She heard another shot. When she looked out again, Mr Foot had been into the house to check on the children. There was nothing - death and a can of petrol. Livingstone had planned to burn down the house from which he removed insurance.

'How do you tell your kids?'

Mrs Haraki watched Mr Foot come out. "I knew something had happened by the way he was walking around and around the grass." The story "needs to be told", she says. "Nobody could talk about it at the time."

When it happened, it was all they could manage to talk to each other.

And the children. All those parents had to talk to the children.

Brendan Whipp's boys Bradley, 10, and Connor, 8, would play with Livingstone's children. For Mr Whipp and wife Sandra, as it was with many parents in the area, the aftermath meant dealing with the horror of the attack and working out how to explain it to their children.

"In that situation, how do you tell your kids?" he asks. "No community should have to go through that."

A stay-at-home dad himself, Mr Whipp had a few phone calls the day after as other parents searched for a way to explain to their children.

"You've got to get your own head right first," he says.

"We told them the truth - that Bradley and Ellen had been killed by their father. It's better them hearing from us," says Mr Whipp. "I didn't go into the details ... and then answered the questions they had. They did ask how. We said it didn't matter how."

And why? "We explained their father was very sick." And you have to be careful saying that, he says, because you don't want children fearful of others they believe might also be "sick". "It's not something I would think you'd ever think you'd have to be prepared for."

How could you prepare, he wonders? "You want to protect your family and can't grasp the concept of why. I still can't."

The second day after the killings, the boys had a friend over. As kids do, they talked it over. The playmate came armed with more knowledge. "And I had some more questions to answer then.

"My youngest asked: 'Will they have toys in heaven?' He brought down one of his favourite toys and left it [outside the house] so they would have something to play with."

So, yes, Mr Whipp said they had gone to heaven. "It's the easiest way to explain it. All kids know about heaven."

No funeral

Connor had a stomach ache the next day; so uneasy he vomited. "He was just anxious. And then there were more questions."

Mr Whipp keeps coming up with answers for the boys but knows "you're never going to figure out why ... It'll never make sense to anybody."

It didn't make sense to Livingstone's workmates. They told shopkeepers in Milton of their astonishment, their appalled horror. His landlord, Mr Kiri, refused to talk about Livingstone, saying he didn't know him. "The guy I knew was normal."

Also searching for answers are the police, with officers investigating the handling of protection orders - and the use of diversion. Officers met the coroner on February 4 with an update on the inquiry. No date is yet set for a full hearing.

Livingstone had no funeral. He was cremated, and his only friend, Rob McFarlane, is talking with his mate's few remaining family members about what to do with the ashes.

He's also trying to answer questions. Mr McFarlane, who now lives in Christchurch, shouldered the terrible burden of what happened and went back to Australia.

The pair have friends there who had no idea what had come of Livingstone. Person by person, he worked his way back through their shared history and passed the burden to others.

It became no lighter for the sharing. "That sort of brought it all back again. It's still pretty raw for me," he says.

The people he spoke to never knew Livingstone as a father. They couldn't understand the man they knew committing such monstrous acts.

And yet, says Mr McFarlane, it was all the more unimaginable that Livingstone the father would commit such a terrible sin. "He loved his kids - absolutely adored them."

***

Source documents for this story:

- NZ Herald

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