Harley Cuzens, in Broome at the weekend, eight years after his former wife murdered their daughters Jane, 12 (top left) and Jessica, 10.
By Steve Jackson, The Australian
7:05AM December 2, 2019
The weeks before Christmas are a difficult time for Harley Cuzens — it was in December that his former wife murdered two of their daughters before stabbing herself to death.
He will be forever haunted by the tragedy — and the fact it could have been so readily avoided: Mr Cuzens had been warning the Family Court for almost a decade that she was capable of such frenzied filicide.
Eight years later, Mr Cuzens, who lives in Broome in the far northwest, has opened up for the first time about his feelings of betrayal at having not received so much as an apology from the court for its failings — and his ongoing dismay that nothing has been done to help ensure such horrors never happen again. “Nothing’s changed. If I went to court all over again, the result would be the same,” Mr Cuzens, 52, told The Australian.
“I’ve met with the Chief Justice of the Family Court and he told me his court did everything right.”
Mr Cuzens’s comments come in the wake of a promise by Attorney-General Christian Porter last month to consider revising the strict secrecy laws that prevent scrutiny of the Family Court to “balance privacy issues with open justice”.
Mr Cuzens’s daughters, Jane and Jessica, were just 12 and 10 when their mother, Heather Glendinning, killed them in her home at Port Dension, 350km north of Perth, on December 5, 2011, in a murder-suicide that rocked Western Australia.
The only solace was Mr Cuzens’s eldest daughter, Grace, who was 13 at the time, was spared the same fate because her father had convinced the Family Court to let him send her to a private school in Perth. Grace, now 21, is about to enter her final year of studying for her law degree.
Jane and Jessica Cuzens together with their father Harley Cuzens. Both girls were murdered by their mother in 2011. Picture: Supplied
“I’ll always be in awe of Grace — I’m astonished by everything she has achieved, given the deep scars she’s got,” said Mr Cuzens, who runs a fishing charter boat out of Broome. “I speak to her every day on the phone. She calls me to check on my welfare — she’s so smart and attractive. She’s incredible.
“The job I’ve had in parenting just one of my children has made me immensely proud. At the same time, it reminds me that my other girls should be here with me, too, and enjoying those same opportunities. It haunts me every day — but this time of year, ahead of Christmas, is particularly difficult. The anniversary of their death is coming up this week and I don’t know what I’ll do.
“Even driving past the school Jessica and Jane used to go to, I have to look away because I’ll think I see their beautiful little faces in the schoolyard and I’ll just break down all over again. They’re buried next to my father but it’s hard for me to go see them there.”
Mr Cuzens is now preparing to mount a legal challenge for an ex gratia payment from the government to compensate for the pain and anguish caused by what he calls “a flawed system that was biased from the very outset”.
“It’s destroyed my family and completely broken me, and it was senseless. It was absolutely avoidable — there’s been absolutely no accountability. That’s what makes it so hard,” he said
Forensic Police investigating the murders at Damia Circle Port Denison. Picture: Mogens Johansen
Liberal senator Sarah Henderson has been leading a push for reform since The Australian revealed the laws were preventing any examination of psychologists in the family law system, including one charged with child abuse, another found guilty of misconduct and a third who believed that 90 per cent of abuse allegations were lies.
Senator Henderson said section 121 of the Family Law Act, which prevents the naming of any witnesses involved in family law proceedings, including expert witnesses, should be revised to improve transparency. “A family report which gets it wrong can have devastating consequences, including for child safety. Section 121 of the Family Law Act should be amended,” she said.
Mr Cuzens blames those secrecy provisions for hampering his attempts to seek justice for the Family Court’s failings.
“Those psychologists and expert witnesses hold a lot of power and their decisions impact your entire family’s future,” he said. “If the court doesn’t like what they say, they just appoint another one and the whole thing keeps on going for years and years until you’re completely ground down.
“I was accused of being uncompromising but, in my view, there was no compromise.
“Their mother was not sane and fit to have custody of them — and no one wanted to hear that until it was too late.”
The warning signs had been there all along, said Mr Cuzens,
Harley Cuzens speaks to the media after an inquest in 2016. Picture: Kate Campbell
His former wife’s mental health had been in decline for years, her psychosis and paranoia exacerbated by her drug use and the stress of her protracted custody battle with Mr Cuzens regarding their daughters.
Glendinning’s growing instability had been noted by a range of government agencies, including the Department of Child Protection, the police and health services, as well as by her doctor and a growing number of friends. The couple split in 2001, instigating a progressively acrimonious legal battle, which began with disproved allegations Mr Cuzens had been violent and abusive throughout their relationship.
By March 2010, Glendinning, who was later found by the Coroners Court to be self-medicating with marijuana, had began regularly calling police to make fanciful claims that her daughters were being preyed upon by a pedophile ring involving lawyers, judges and politicians, but that they were all somehow being protected by Mr Cuzens and his family.
She also made a string of allegations against Mr Cuzens and his father, accusing them of sexually assaulting the girls. All of her claims were investigated by the authorities and dismissed.
In late November 2011, the lawyer representing the girls in the Family Court became so concerned about Glendinning’s deteriorating mental state and the welfare of the children she pushed for an urgent review of their circumstance — but her application was put off until January 2012.
Two weeks later, Jane and Jessica were found dead, alongside their mother.
Family photographs are shown at a memorial service for sisters Jane and Jessica Cuzens. Picture: Colin Murty
At an inquest into the murder-suicide in 2016, the coroner “was satisfied that in the prevailing circumstances, it was difficult to see how the agencies could have acted differently”.
Although the coroner did recommend greater co-operation and information-sharing between the Department of Child Protection and Family Services and the Family Court of Western Australia — and an increased focus on obtaining psychiatric assessments — it came as little recompense to Mr Cuzens.
“The anger never goes away; there were just so many missed opportunities to save Jessica and Jane,” he said.
“My case was cut and dry — Heather was out of control when we broke up, that’s why we broke up, but I’m the one who got treated like a criminal for 10 years for trying to keep my kids safe.
“The Family Court got it wrong from start to finish and Legal Aid, who funded Heather, fuelled the fire. Together, they basically forced me to sell every asset I had because they allowed her to make so many allegations against me
all paid for by the government, while everything I said was completely discounted.
“The court-appointed counsellor told me I was too angry. Too right I was angry — but it’s OK to be angry when you’re worried about your kids’ welfare. It’s what you do with that anger.
“I wanted my girls to be safe. Why else would I have spent 10 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting for them in court? No one wants to take any responsibility and there’s been no justice for my girls.”
Mr Cuzens said he struggled with bouts of depression that put increasing strain on his work and personal life, but did his best to remain strong for those around him.