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Court stress weighed on homicidal mother

AAP logoAAP 29/07/2016

A West Australian mother who murdered her two daughters before taking her own life was severely mentally ill, but was unwilling to seek professional help out of fears it would be used against her in Family Court proceedings.

In the midst of a bitter custody battle, the bodies of Heather Glendinning and her daughters Jessica and Jane Cuzens, aged 10 and 12, were found in their house in WA's Mid West region on December 5, 2011.

Coroner Barry King handed down his inquest findings on Friday, noting Ms Glendinning had been consumed by a pending court deadline in the fortnight before the tragedy, had not been sleeping properly and was smoking increasing amounts of cannabis.

The day before Ms Glendinning's mother made the grim discovery of the bodies, Jane had told a neighbour that her mother was pacing around the house with a bible, talking of keeping her soul clean.

Mr King said it's often tempting to blame or criticise government agencies, but he said tragedies like this are difficult to predict, made even more so if the mentally ill person is reluctant to seek help.

"Due to Ms Glendinning's reluctance to seek help because she feared that her mental health problems would be used against her in the custody dispute, and also because of her ability to mask those problems, the extent of her increasingly delusional state was not diagnosed by mental health professionals who saw her," he said.

"Opportunities to attempt to assess her psychologically were missed, sometimes because of coincidence and sometimes because agencies were unaware of information known to other agencies.

"She was never considered to be a risk to herself or to the children."

Mr King recommended that the Department of Child Protection and the Family Court introduce a procedure to share, where appropriate, information relevant to safety of children involved in custody disputes.

He also said steps should be made - where possible and necessary - that Family Court judges obtain psychiatric reports so the best interests of children could be determined.

Mr King said a letter given to the inquest by older sister Grace Cuzens - who was living with her paternal grandparents at the time of the deaths and is now 18 - was eloquent, candid and disturbing, and provided an insight into growing up under the shadow of her parents' court dispute.

Grace Cuzens said a court-appointed counsellor should be assigned to every child who is put in that position.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).

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