Family Court bombings: The Background
The Family Court of Australia attacks were a series of shootings and bombings in NSW from 1980 to 1985 by Leonard Warwick. He targeted at judges, and other people, associated with the Family Court of Australia.
The attacks are considered to have begun on 22 February 1980, when Stephen Blanchard was shot dead in his home. His body was found six days later on the opposite side of Sydney in Cowan Creek on the Hawkesbury River.
On 23 June 1980, Family Court Judge David Opas was shot outside his home, dying later that night due to his injuries.
On 6 March 1984, Judge Richard Gee, who had taken on Opas’ cases after his death, was injured by a bomb at his Belrose home.
On 14 April 1984, the Family Court building in Parramatta was bombed, without any casualties.
On 4 July 1984 Pearl Watson, the wife of Family Court Judge Ray Watson, became a fatality when she opened the door of their unit in Greenwich, triggering an improvised explosive device on the doorstep. It is, however, believed that Judge Watson was the target of the attack. Like Richard Gee, Watson had taken on some Family Court cases from his predecessor after Gee had been injured in the March 1984 bombing.
Following this, on 21 July 1985 Graham Wykes, a Jehovah’s Witness minister was killed, and another 13 people injured, when the Casula Kingdom Hall was bombed.
This series of attacks was considered to be a mystery, with a $500,000 reward was offered for information.
There were two coronial inquests into the attacks. The first was held in 1986, investigating the death of Graham Wykes followed by a second inquest in 1987, investigating the death of Pearl Watson.
After the inquest into the death of Pearl Watson, an open verdict was recorded with frustration and disappointment expressed concerning the insufficient evidence that had been found to charge the main suspect, who had been connected in some way to all of the victims.
In 2012 the State Crime Command’s homicide squad restarted an investigation into the crimes.
Although Leonard Warwick was considered a suspect early on, he wasn’t arrested until July 2015, where he was charged with multiple offences, including four counts of murder, one of attempted murder, and 13 counts of burning or maiming with an explosive substance.
The crimes allegedly committed by Leonard Warwick include:
- Murder of his brother-in-law, Stephen Blanchard, in 1980;
- The murder of judge David Opas in 1980;
- The bombing of the home of Judge Richard Gee in 1984;
- The bombing of the Parramatta Family Court in 1984;
- The bombing of the home of Judge Ray Watson and murder his wife Pearl, in 1984;
- The bombing of a Jehovah’s Witness church hall, killing Graham Wykes and injuring other churchgoers, in 1985.
Leonard Warwick pleaded not guilty to more than 20 charges, including the four murders and maliciously blowing up a court between 1980 and 1985.
The Trial, and involvement of, Leonard Warwick
It was contended by the Prosecution that the seven events were “inextricably linked” to extensive family court proceedings involving Leonard Warwick and his ex-wife, Andrea Blanchard, between 1979 and 1986.
Blanchard testified that Leonard Warwick once told her Justice David Opas “won’t be there much longer” weeks before he was shot dead at his home in 1980. Opas was the first judge to deal with the Warwick case and made adverse rulings against him.
Following the death of Justice Opas, Justice Richard Gee took over the matter and also made numerous orders against Warwick. His home was bombed in 1984 along with the family court registry building at Parramatta – the location where Warwick’s cases were heard.
The home of Justice Ray Watson, the third judge to make adverse orders, was then bombed, killing his wife Pearl. The other acts of violence related to Blanchard the shooting murder of her brother and a car bomb at the previous home of her solicitor.
The final event was the bombing of a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall, killing Graham Wykes and injuring 13 other members of the congregation, those of whom had offered support to Andrea Blanchard.
In July 2020 Warwick was found guilty of the majority of the offences he was charged with, including three of the murders. He was found not guilty of the murder of Stephen Blanchard, his brother-in-law.
The former Chief Justice of the Family Court, the Honourable Elizabeth Evatt, has since issued a statement of sympathy.
Leonard Warwick will return to court for a sentencing hearing in August.