REPORT OF INQUIRY INTO FAMILY COURT PROCEEDINGS INVOLVING
CHRISTINE MADELINE MARION BRISTOL AND ALAN ROBERT BRISTOL
Christine Madeline Marion Bristol (who I shall refer to as Christine Bristol) and
Alan Robert Bristol (who I shall refer to as Alan Bristol) married on 15
February 1987, after having engaged in a de facto relationship from mid May
At the time of their marriage they had one child, Tiffany, born on the
18th December 1986. Two further children were born of the marriage, Holly,
born on the 11th February 1990 and Claudia, bom on the 19th August 1992.
Christine Bristol and Alan Bristol separated on or about 4 July 1993 and
thereafter numerous proceedings followed in the Family Court at Wanganui
with non-violence orders being sought by Christine Bristol against Alan Bristol
and custody orders sought by both parties in respect of the three children of
A full summary of the various court proceedings and their resolution will be
given later in this Report, but suffice it to say in this introduction, that on 4
February 1994 all three children were in the care of their father Alan Bristol at
the former family home at Mary Bank Rd, Wanganui. The following day (5th
February) Alan Bristol and the three children were found dead in the garage
at that property. It was believed that Alan Bristol had killed the three children
and then himself.
On the 8th February 1994 an article appeared in the ‘Wanganui Chronicle’
under the heading: “Dead Man Devoted Father: Lawyer”which quoted Alan
Bristol’s solicitor as saying that ‘Alan Bristol was a devoted father. That
comment brought about a reply from Christine Bristol released through her
solicitor in a statement which resulted in newspaper articles headlined:
“Mother Rejects ‘Devoted Father Version.”
‘Victim of Domestic Violence, Woman Claims”.
(Note: It may be possible for judges to apply s.28 in a way
that will allow my suggestions regarding presumptions to be
adopted but for uniformity of practice and for giving emphasis
to the changed philosophy for dealing with violent parents I
think the amendment proposed is desirable.)
4. The court in making an order for access to a child where one
of the parents has used violence to the other in a domestic
situation shall first satisfy itself that adequate safeguards are
imposed to ensure the safety of the non-violent parent during
Where access to a child is granted to a parent who has used
violence to the other or to a child in a domestic situation such
access should be supervised by an appropriate person until
such time as the violent parent satisfies the court that it is safe
to allow unsupervised access.
5. The powers of the Court to make “consent” orders in cases
where violence by one party has been established should not
be accepted and acted upon until the Court is satisfied that
such consent was freely and willingly given. The Family
Proceedings Act 1980 s.170 should be amended accordingly.
The practical . difficulties of supervising access will need to be addressed.
In this regard it may be of interest that in Auckland on the North Shore a
“visitation centre” called “Care for Kids” was set up with the goal of
enhancing the emotional and physical well being of children during access
visits. Such a centre may be a useful model worthy of study. Obviously it
may not be possible to establish such “visitation centres” throughout the
country to deal with all supervised access requirements but the idea may
prove to be practical in main centres. Ability of parents to deliver children
to and collect them from such centres and the ability of the other parent to
be able to go to such centres would be matters for consideration.
“Judge Gave Girls to Killer Father”.
I n that statement an independent inquiry into the conduct of the case in the
Family Court was called for.
Mr Minister, you duly appointed me to inquire into the Family Court
proceedings relating to Christine Bristol and Alan Bristol with a directive to
report to you by the end of March 1994.
The Terms of Reference
The terms of reference require me to:
Examine the Family Court file relating to proceedings in the court
between Christine Bristol and Alan Bristol.
2. Consider whether the material on the file and such inquiries as
you may wish to make point to the need for any change in the law or in
Family Court practice concerning any matter that arose in the
History of Proceedinqs Between the Parties
I have examined the two Family Court files covering proceedings between the
parties and I believe that a comprehensive picture of events will best be
obtained by referring to matters in the first file in narrative form as they
provide but an early background to my inquiry. Matters contained in the
second file dated from July 1993 will be referred to in chronological order by
_date of occurrence as best suited to following the various events as they
occurred. Comments on matters contained on the files and on matters arising
out of my inquiries will be deferred until a later stage of this Report.
There are two court files: the first covers a period from February 1986 to
November 1989. The second covers a period from July 1993 to February
The First File
This shows that the parties entered into a de facto relationship in mid-May
y 1984. They were engaged to be married on 9 May 1985, but the engagement
was terminated mid-December 1985. Following the breaking off of the
engagement Christine Bristol (then Carter) made application to the Court on 3
February 1986 for an interim non-molestation order based on allegations of
assault, threats and harassing conduct by Alan Bristol. An interim order was
made on 5 February 1986 with a date of hearing (on the question of whether
an order should be made in substitution for the interim order) fixed for 18th
March 1986. No hearing was held and no final order was made by this Court
on that application after advice was received from Christine Bristol’s solicitor -
that the application was to proceed no further. The Court then struck out the
application. The child Tiffany was bom of the de facto relationship on 18
December 1986 and shortly thereafter Christine Carter (as she then was) and
Alan Bristol were married on 15 February 1987. Christine Bristol left Alan
Bristol on 28 January 1989 and on 30 January 1989 she made application to
the Court for non-molestation and non-violence orders against Alan Bristol
and at the same time sought an interim order for the custody of the child
Tiffany. The applications were based on allegations of assault and violence
on the part of Alan Bristol.
Alan Bristol consented to an interim non-violence order which was made by
the Court on 30 January 1989 and a date of hearing to decide whether any
other orders should be made was fixed for 8 February 1989.
The parties were referred for counselling and then attended a mediation
conference chaired by a Judge on 8 February 1989.
– On that day agreement was reached by the parties and the Judge made
Extension of the non-violence order to 3rd April 1989
Further counselling to be undertaken
I nterim sharing of the care arrangements for Tiffany.
At a further mediation conference on 13 March 1989 following agreement
reached between the parties, the Judge made orders for:
Variation of the shared access arrangements for Tiffany
The discharge of the interim non-violence order
The obtaining of a Social Welfare Report relating to the custody of
On 14 April counsel was appointed by the Court to represent the child Tiffany
in relation to matters affecting custody of the child. On 18th April an
application for a non-molestation order was made by Christine Bristol again
alleging assaults and intimidatory conduct by Alan Bristol. It was opposed by
Alan Bristol. However the application never proceeded to a hearing and no
order was made by this Court as counsel for the parties with the help of
counsel for the child reached agreement on matters of custody and the Court
on 13 July 1989 made an order by consent for shared access to Tiffany.
A further order, by consent varying the access was made by the Court on 10
At this stage the first file was closed.
It appears that in or about late November 1989 the parties were reconciled
and resumed married life together. Two further daughters were bom. Holly
on 11.12.90 and Claudia on 19.8.92.
In April 1993 the family moved into a home at Marybank Rd, Wanganui.
The Second File
The second file was opened on 13 July 1993. It discloses the follovving
Alan Bristol applied to the Court for an interim custody order in
respect of all three children
19.7.93 Christine Bristol gave notice of her intention to defend the
application and applied for an interim custody order in favour of
The circumstances giving rise to these applications were alleged
by Christine Bristol to be that Alan Bristol had taken her from the
home at Marybank Rd and left her at her parents home at 4 Toi
St, Wanganui, at the same time making it clear to her that the
marriage was over. Alan Bristol kept the three children in the
family home. Affidavits filed by the parties contained allegations
of assaults and neglect of children by Christine Bristol and
denials and allegations of infidelity on the part of Christine Bristol
by Alan Bristol.
A pre-trial conference was held by the Judge. By consent the
Judge made orders:
1. That Mr Refoy-Butler be appointed as counsel for the
children with the immediate task of overseeing interim care
arrangements for the children.
2. Counsel for the children was authorised to obtain a
psychological report on the children directed to custody
The Registrar to give the case priority for hearing on
At that conference the parties were each represented by
Christine Bristol applied to the court ex parte for a non-violence
order and for a non-molestation order against Alan Bristol. The
same day the Judge made an interim non-violence order and
directed that the application for a non-molestation order proceed
on notice to Alan Bristol at a date to be fixed after counselling of
the parties had been completed. A date of hearing for a review
of the interim order was given for 24.9.93.
As the result of a conference of the parties which had been held
by counsel for the children on the previous day (10.8.94) to
discuss arrangements for the care of the children (although
complete agreement was not reached on all issues) counsel for
the child advised the Court of what he considered would be
proper arrangements -for the care of the children and those
arrangements were approved by the Court “until further order”.
The order provided for a “shared care” regime.
27.8.93 Counsel for Christine Bristol requested the Registrar to give a
fixture for a 2 hour hearing in respect of interim custody. The
Registrar advised however that he was not prepared to set the
case down for hearing until he had received all affidavits and
reports required by the parties and the Court and had been given
a time estimate for the hearing. He indicated that then the case
would be given priority.
The situation at this stage was that both parties had applied for
custody of the children and an interim shared custody order had
been made by this Court. A substantive custody hearing had yet
to be held. Christine Bristol had applied for non-violence and
non-molestation orders and the Court had – ex parte – granted an
interim non-violence order but not a non-molestation order. Both
applications were opposed by Alan Bristol.
Alan Bristol filed formal notice of defence to the applications for
non-violence and non-molestation orders.
A psychological report on the three children relating to custody
issues was sought.
13.9.93 The Judge held a conference of counsel at which he directed that
counsel for the children should file a memorandum regarding the
domestic protection applications (non-violence and nonmolestation)
prior to 23.9.93 – being the date given for the interim
non-violence order to be reviewed.
Counsel for the children filed his memorandum which now set out
i n full.
“1. I t is my submission that the defended hearings for Non-
Violence and Non-Molestation Orders should not anticipate
any custody decisions made by the Court.
2. The parties have made a number of allegations, and
counter-allegations, in their Affidavits. I submit that any
public hearing would only exacerbate their polarisation,
and such would be of no assistance in their common
dealing with the children. It is obvious that the children are
going to be shared above the norm, and an atmosphere
embittered by parental hostility will not be in the best
interests of the children.
3. Mr and Mrs Bristol separated previously. They have
previously filed papers and allege the same faults this time
as they did last time. Without making any attempt to
comment on the veracity of those allegations, I can only
submit, that without the matter being contested in Court,
the parties reconciled and appear to have lived happily
together for the intervening years. Two more children have
been added in that time to the family.
4. With respect, I doubt that the veracity of the allegations
made will affect the decisions on the day-to-day care of the
children. I note that Mrs Bristol makes no allegations
against her husband in his role as a parent, in fact the
reverse. There is no evidence against Mrs Bristol in her
capacity as a mother, in her case also there is evidence
that she is a caring parent.
Finally, I can advise that I am concerned that the children
may be drawn into this dispute on violence. I have already
been asked to see one child concerning such allegations.
I can only say that if what she said to me was accurate,
then it is likely that the Court would want to be aware of
such matters prior to making any decision on the Non-
Molestation and Non-Violence Orders.”
21.9.93 Christine Bristol as a result of information which she discovered
which led her to believe that applications had apparently been
made or were being made by Alan Bristol to obtain passports for
the three children, with a view to removing them from New
Zealand, made application to the Court, ex parte, for orders for
the surrender of any passports and travel documents.
22.9.93 An interim order was made by the Judge requiring the surrender
of the children’s passports and/or travel documents to the Court.
He also ordered that Alan Bristol and counsel for the children be
served with the application and the order, and that the interim
order be reviewed on 24.9.93 on which date the interim nonviolence
order was to be reviewed, the earlier date of hearing of
that review – 23.9.93 – having apparently been changed to
24.9.93 The parties represented by counsel along with counsel for the
children appeared before the Judge. He made the following
“1. The interim non-violence order to continue until further
order. Hearing of the domestic protection application is to
be deferred pending hearing of the Guardianship Act
proceedings. (This was in accord with the
recommendations of counsel for the children made in his
memorandum of 20.9.93).
2. I nterim order requiring surrender of children’s passports is
cancelled. The passports may remain in the safe keeping
of the Registrar at the request of Mrs Bristol, but are not to
be released to any other person without leave of a Family
3. Counsel for the children is directed to inquire into the
circumstances of the issue of passports for’ the children
and to obtain copies of the relevant documentation on
behalf of the children and to report thereon to the Court.
The other directions of 13.8.93 (shared care of children)
are to continue.”
29.9.93 The report of the Psychologist was released to counsel. That
report confirmed bonding and attachment of the children to both
parents. The oldest child, Tiffany, expressed a clear preference
to remain in the care of her father. Both parents were regarded
as equally capable of caring for all three children, but the
psychologist clearly preferred ongoing arrangements where the
children remained in the family home with the father but spending
regular time with the mother.
29.10.93 The parties, their counsel and counsel for the children met and
discussed care arrangements for the children and later that day
met to sign a memorandum setting out matters agreed upon
which were to be the basis of an application to the Court for a
The same day counsel for the children wrote to the Court setting
out proposals, “more or less acceptable”, for the custody of the
three children and for dealing with the outstanding domestic
protection applications and full custody hearing.
Also on the same day Mrs Bristol’s counsel wrote to the Court
advising that she had instructed him to proceed no further with
the non-violence and non-molestation applications and to have
Counsel for the parties and counsel for the children filed in the
Court the “memorandum of consent” signed by the parties
agreeing to the making of certain specified orders. On the same
day the Court made the orders “by consent”.
The Court order provided:
“1. The child Tiffany will be in her mothers care from gam
Sunday to gam each Monday unless noted otherwise
Claudia will be in her fathers care from gam Saturday to
gam Sunday unless noted otherwise below.
3. Holly will be in her father’s care from gam Monday to gam
the following Monday. She will then for the alternate week
from gam Monday to gam the following Monday be in her
4. Both parties agree that the school holidays are to be
shared in that all three children commencing at gam on
Monday will spend a week with one parent. The alternate
week will be spent with the other parent.
Christmas and birthdays are to be shared together.
6. All other applications before the Court relating to domestic
protection and custody and access matters are to be
7. Both mother and father agree that if either parent requires
baby sitting assistance then the other parent will be the
first port of call.
This order is subject to review on or aboutl4 February
It will be noted that that order of 1/11/93 provided for a shared
custody regime. It was not however observed by Christine
Bristol for long.
8.11.93 She left Wanganui and went to Whakatane taking the two
younger girls with her. The reason given by Christine Bristol for
leaving Wanganui was. that Alan Bristol would not accept that the
marriage was over and that he frequently arrived at her house
and subjected her to physical abuse and emotional intimidation.
11.11.93 Alan Bristol took steps through the Court to have the two younger
girls returned to Wanganui so that he could exercise his shared
custody in accordance with the Court order of 1.11.93.
He applied ex parte for an order granting him interim custody of
all three children and at the same time applied for a warrant to
enforce the custody order when made. Although the applications
were made ex parte copies of all documents were served on
Christine Bristol’s counsel that same day and Mr Taylor
telephoned Christine Bristol and told her he had received the
applications. Both of those orders were made by the Court.
Christine Bristol on 12.11.93 through a Whakatane solicitor, had
an affidavit in reply to Alan Bristol’s applications sworn and sent
to the Wanganui Court by fax. It arrived at the Court after the
orders were made by the Judge.
13.11.93 On this day Christine Bristol having been advised of the making
of the interim custody order in favour of Alan Bristol and also of
the issue of the warrant returned to Wanganui with the two
younger children and surrendered them to Alan Bristol at the
Wanganui Police Station. (Thereafter all three children remained
i n the custody of Alan Bristol).
17.11.93 Alan Bristol fearing that Christine might be about to go overseas
with the children made application to the Court ex parte for an
order that Christine Bristol surrender the passports and travel
documents relating to all three children. The passports had been
uplifted from the Court by her on 4.11.93. The Judge declined to
make the order sought ex parte and directed that the application
be served on Christine Bristol. This was done and on 23.11.93
Christine Bristol consented to an order being made that the
passports remain in the possession of the Registrar of the Court.
Christine Bristol applied to the Court for orders:
Setting aside the interim custody order made on 11.11.93
i n favour of Alan Bristol.
(b) Granting her interim custody of the two younger children
Holly and Claudia reserving reasonable access to Alan
Granting her on an interim basis reasonable access to
Granting her on a final basis custody of Tiffany, Holly and
Claudia reserving reasonable access to Alan Bristol.
At the same time Christine Bristol applied ex parte for an order
abridging to three days the time within which Alan Bristol should
file a Notice of Defence to her custody application.
The Judge made an order abridging time for filing Notice of
Defence as sought and directed:
That the application (relating to custody) be served.
That if opposing the application Alan Bristol should file and
serve his affidavit in reply not later than 7.12.93.
Alan Bristol gave notice that he intended to defend Christine
Bristol’s application for custody and filed his affidavit in reply.
The two custody applications thus required a formal hearing by
the Court before a decision upon them could be made.
10.12.93 As a formal defended hearing of the custody applications could
not be held before Xmas, there was a conference of counsel with
the Judge to resolve holiday access of all three children who
were in the custody of Alan Bristol pursuant to the court order of
11.11.93. Counsel appeared for the parties and for the three
The Judge’s note records:
“Counsel for children to arrange for urgent referral of both parties
to a counsellor with a view to, at least, agreed access being
Short hearing to be made available on 22 December 1993 in the
hope that the parties will then agree on holiday access, failing
which, the Court will be able to make orders after hearing the
recommendation of counsel for the children. (There will not be
ti me for anything more.)
Counsel will try to agree on a timetable order for 22.12.93.”
The counsellor appointed duly reported to the Court on an
agreed access arrangement.
A memorandum of consent to interim orders as agreed by the
parties before the counsellor was filed.
The Court then made the following orders:
“… By consent the applicant (Christine Bristol) and the
respondent (Alan Bristol) shall have access to the children on the
Both parties will share Christmas Day 1993 with the
children together at the family home.
Each parent will have an equal time during the school
holiday period for travelling holidays or the equivalent.
The applicant shall have access to the three children for
two days and two nights per week from 1 January 1994
1.2.94 Christine Bristol filed an application under the Matrimonial
Property Act 1976 for orders determining the shares in and the
division of the matrimonial property.
That was served on Alan Bristol’s solicitor on 3.2.94.
Counsel for the children wrote to the Court advising:
“Some access is continuing although I understand there is not
universal satisfaction concerning same. I am being urged by
counsel for the mother to take further steps with regard to the
welfare of the middle child ….”
Also on the same date counsel for Christine Bristol wrote to the
“This matter was last before the Court on 22 December 1993
when interim access orders were made. Since that time there
have been numerous negotiations regarding access.
I n the meantime custody remains in dispute and we would
appreciate the matter being placed back into the Family Court
fixtures list for the purposes of a pre-trial conference. We seek
directions at this pre-trial conference in order to timetable this
matter to a defended hearing ….”
AT THIS STAGE THE COURT FILE ENDS
Summary of the State of the Court Proceedings As At 3.2.1994
The parties had on 1.11.93 agreed upon a shared custody regime and the
Court had-made an order “by consent” on the agreed terms. Christine Bristol
however on 8.11.93 left Wanganui for Whakatane taking the two younger girls
(Holly and Claudia) with her. The eldest girl Tiffany was left in Wanganui with
Alan Bristol, when he learned that Christine Bristol had gone to Whakatane
with the two younger girls, applied on 11.11.93 for and obtained an order in
his favour for the interim custody of all three girls and at the same time
obtained a warrant to deliver the two younger girls into his custody.
I n the event it was not necessary to act on the warrant, as Christine Bristol on
being advised of the interim custody order and the issue of the warrant,
voluntarily returned the two girls to Wanganui on 13.11.93 and handed them
over to Alan Bristol in whose interim custody all three girls thereafter
Eleven days after returning to Wanganui Christine Bristol applied on 24.11.93
to set aside the interim custody order which had been granted ex parte in
favour of Alan Bristol and in addition applied for a final custody order in her
favour in respect of all three children.
Alan Bristol gave notice that he intended to defend those applications and
sought orders for final custody of the children in his own favour.
With the hearing of the final custody applications being not possible before
Christmas the parties on 10.12.93 sought a conference with the Judge in
order to resolve questions of access to the children as an interim
arrangement. This conference resulted in reference to a counsellor and to
negotiations taking place between counsel culminating in the Court on
22.12.93 making a consent order defining on an interim basis the access of
the parties to the children over the holiday period.
Those arrangements continued in force, albeit not to the general satisfaction
of the parties, up until the tragedy occurred on 4/5 February resulting in the
deaths of Alan Bristol and the three children.
I n the result, at the date of the tragedy the only matters then before the Court
to be dealt with were:
1. The applications by Christine Bristol and Alan Bristol each seeking
custody of the three children, to be decided by the Court after a full
hearing to be held at a future date.
The matrimonial property proceedings filed by Christine Bristol which
had not reached the stage where a date of hearing could be given.
The Events Leading Up to the Tragedy
I do not wish to dwell at length upon these matters but in order to consider
adequately my second term of reference – “As to the need for any change in
the law or in Family Court practice concerning any matter that arose in the
proceedings” – it is necessary to inquire whether any aspect of the law or
Family Court practice was deficient or ineffective and thus causative of the
events which subsequently occurred. The actual cause or causes of the
tragedy insofar as such can be discerned need therefore to be considered.
The narrative of events which follows is based upon my examination of the
court files and on my own inquiries of the Police, counsel for the parties and
counsel for the child and Christine Bristol, and also from evidence presented
at the Coroner’s inquest on 3 March 1994 and the findings of the Coroner.
The three children were as a result of the interim custody order -made by the
Court on 11.11.93 and the delivery up of the two younger children on
13.11.93, thereafter in the custody of Alan Bristol. The parties had
subsequently agreed upon holiday access for Christine Bristol to all three
children and this agreement was embodied in a consent order made by the
Court on 22.12.93. It provided for Christmas and holiday arrangements and
from 1.1.94 gave Christine Bristol access to all three children for two days
and two nights per week.
Those arrangements continued throughout January and early February
although not without considerable friction between the parties due Christine
Bristol alleged to Alan Bristol’s obstructive behaviour and to his verbal and
sometimes physical assaults upon her when she was collecting or returning
the children. On 29 December 1993 Christine Bristol complained to the
Police that when she arrived at the house in Maryland Road to pick up the
children, Alan Bristol tried to force her into the bedroom intending to have
i ntercourse with her. Alan Bristol was subsequently visited by a police
constable who warned him that a complaint had been made although the
matter was not going to be taken further.
On 2 February 1994 Christine Bristol again made a complaint to the police to
the effect that when she went to the house that day to drop off Holly and
Claudia who had been with her for the day, Alan Bristol again assaulted her,
this time the assault being accompanied by acts of indecency. The police
i nvestigated the complaint and also interviewed an independent witness who
corroborated Christine Bristol’s account of events. Alan Bristol was arrested
on 3 February 1994 and charged with indecent assault and assault upon a
female. He was later bailed to appear in the District Court on Tuesday 8
Also on 3 February 1994 Christine Bristol’s solicitor in response to a
suggestion by Alan Bristol’s solicitor that there should be fixed access
arrangements (instead of the provision in the consent court order of 22.12.93
which simply gave Christine Bristol access for two days and two nights per
week.) faxed to Alan Bristol’s solicitor Christine Bristol’s agreement to such a
course provided she have all three children on Saturday and Sunday of each
week until 8.30am on the Monday morning.
On 4 February 1993 Alan Bristol’s solicitor communicated with Christine
Bristol’s solicitor and indicated that he believed that access should be on
Sunday and Monday (being Christine Bristol’s non work days).
At 11.30am Alan Bristol called on his solicitor and discussed with another
member of the firm the handling of the defence to the criminal charges. He
also discussed with his solicitor the proposed new access arrangements. As
a consequence of those discussions a fax was sent to Christine Bristol’s
solicitor confirming that access until further agreement would be on Sunday
and Monday of each week commencing next Sunday with Mrs Bristol Senior
delivering and picking up the children at the same times as under the current
arrangement. At the meeting that day both Alan Bristol’s solicitor and the
other member of the firm who was to handle the defence to the criminal
charges, found Alan Bristol to be calm and rational and he did not appear
distressed. When he left their offices at 1.15pm he appeared his normal self.
Shortly after leaving his solicitors office Alan Bristol called on a male friend
who he had known for’ many years. Alan Bristol discussed the charges laid
against him and was concerned about having to spend 10 years in prison. He
l eft about 2pm. When he left his demeanour appeared quite good and he
gave no indication that the tragedy which subsequently occurred was likely to
happen. At approximately 2.10pm that same day Mrs Bristol Senior was at
the house at Marybank Road looking after the two younger children when
Alan Bristol arrived. (I now give a precis of part of Mrs Bristol’s statement
tendered to the Coroner relating to Alan Bristol’s condition and concerns on
He looked shocking. He was white from head to toe; his eyes looked tired:
his face was sunken: he looked absolutely dreadful. He was concerned that
if he was convicted he could get 10 years in gaol on the assault charge and
20 years on the indecent assault charge. (Those penalties are in fact
He was also concerned that the eldest girl Tiffany (with whom he appeared to
have a very strong attachment) would be called to give evidence against him
and that Christine Bristol had applied to the Court for custody of Tiffany (in
addition to the two younger girls).
Alan Bristol sat down in the lounge and made very little further conversation
and in Mrs Bristol’s words appeared “as if he wasn’t with us for the rest of the
day … he spent a lot of time just sitting there with his head back and his eyes
About 5pm Mrs Bristol prepared a meal and she and Alan Bristol and all three
girls (Tiffany had by then returned home) had tea.
About 7pm Mrs Bristol left to return home. At that stage Alan Bristol in the
words of Mrs Bristol “was still looking like death warmed up, very quiet and
Prior to Mrs Bristol leaving Alan Bristol never said anything to her or did
anything that made her think he would hurt either himself or the children in
On 5 February 1993 at approximately 9.30am Mr Bristol Senior visited the
house at Marybank Road. He found no-one about. He entered the garage
and found Alan Bristol and the three children in the rear of a Suzuki hatchback
motor car, all apparently dead.
._ Subsequent police investigations showed that the deaths were planned and
that the preparations must have taken some little time to accomplish. There
was some evidence tending to indicate that Alan Bristol may have belatedly
realised what he was doing and tried to take some steps to arrest the
procedure he had initiated.
The Coroner held an inquest into the deaths on 3 March 1994. His findings
“… that the deceased Alan Robert Bristol died on the evening of 415
February 1994 at 25 Marybank Road Wanganui as the result of carbon
monoxide poisoning, death being self inflicted. The deceased Tiffany
Anne Bristol, Holly Alyse Bristol and Claudia Abby Bristol all died
during the evening of 4 February and early morning possibly of 5
February 1994 at 25 Marybank Road Wanganui, each as the result of
carbon monoxide poisoning.”
The Coroner also observed:
“It is to my mind reasonably clear that the deceased Alan Robert Bristol
became deeply concerned, to the extent of being one might say,
worried out of his mind perhaps, although there is no indication that he
was mentally disturbed by the charges that were laid against him a day
or two earlier. That presumably was the trigger but one can only
THE LAW APPLICABLE TO AND THE PRACTICES OF THE COURT
The Statutory Provisions and Practices Applicable
The statutory provisions applicable to the exercise by the Family
Court of its jurisdiction in this case are:
The Family Courts Act 1980
The Family Proceedings Act 1980
The Family Proceedings Rules 1981
The Domestic Protection Act 1982
The Guardianship Act 1968.
Certain parts of those statutes and rules I now refer to, in order to
highlight relevant procedures adopted by the Court which have been
commented upon and been considered in my inquiry.
First Nature of Jurisdiction
The Family Court was established as a division of the District
Court (Family Courts Act 1980 s.4). Family Court proceedings
shall be conducted in such a way as to avoid unnecessary
I n all matters in issue between husband and wife in proceeding
under the Family Proceedings Act or the Guardianship Act
1968 it is the duty of legal advisers to promote reconciliation
and conciliation (Family Proceedings Act 1980 s.8) mediation
conferences chaired by a Family Court Judge are provided for
(s.14) and it is the duty of the Court to consider reconciliation
and conciliation between the parties (s.19).
“Ex Parte” Applications
Family Courts are authorised to hear and determine
applications “ex parte”. That is to hear and determine them
without notice to and without hearing the other party.
That power derives from two sources. The first is the Family
Courts Act 1980 which makes the Family Court a division of
the District Court (s.4) and which authorises a Family Court
Judge to exercise any of the powers of a District Court Judge
(s.5(4)) and gives the District Court power to hear and
determine any ex parte applications relating to proceedings
heard in a Family Court (s.15).
The second is the Family Proceedings Rules 1981 which
provide that an order may be made or a warrant may be
issued on an ex parte application made under stated sections
of The Family Proceedings Act 1980 and of the Guardianship
Act 1968 and in any other case if the Court is satisfied:
“(i) That the delay that would be caused by proceeding on
notice would or might entail serious injury or undue
(ii) That the delay that would be caused by proceeding on
notice would pr might entail risk to the personal safety of
the applicant or any child of the applicant’s family or
(iii) The application affects only the party moving or is in
respect of a matter of routine or is of so unimportant a
nature that the interest of the other party cannot be
effected thereby.” (Family Proceedings Rules 1981 Rule
16(2)(a)(i, ii, iii)
Rule 16 goes on to say that any person against whom an order
has been made ex parte under Rule 16(2) may at any time
apply to vary or rescind the order.
The Family Court Practice Note relating to ex parte
“Where an application is filed ex parte in the Family Court,
seeking substantive orders, particularly under the Domestic
Protection Act, it must be accompanied by affidavit evidence,n
which fully and frankly discloses all relevant circumstances,
whether or not they are advantageous to the applicant.
This information will include disclosure of any other relevant
proceedings past or present in any court, and the identity of
any legal advisdor acting for the respondent or for any
It is not appropriate for counsel to proceed ex parte at the
same time serving copies of the application on counsel for the
respondent before the application is heard.
I n every case where an ex parte application is under
consideration counsel should decide whether the proper
course is not rather to proceed on notice accompanied by an
application for an abridgment of time for a defence to be filed.
Where counsel is known to be acting for a respondent or
children copies of the application and accompanying affidavits
should be forewarded to such counsel immediately upon
service of the, order of execution of any consequential
Third “Consent Orders”
Family Courts are given power (except in proceedings relating
to the status of marriage) to make orders by consent. (Family
Proceedings Act 1980 s.170).
The reader of this report will have observed that my
examination of the court files contains a number of references
to the court having from time to time made orders “ex parte”
and by “consent”.
I t is quite clear that the Court had power i.e. to make ex parte
orders and consent orders. In the case of “ex parte” orders
made under the authority of Rule 16(2) of the Family
Proceedings Rules 1981 the only pre-requisite to the court
doing so was that it be satisfied that the circumstances came
within one or more of the provisions in subclause 2(a)(i, ii, iii)
of that rule as set out ante. Once the Court was so satisfied,
then, it was for the particular judge at the time to decide as a
matter of judgment whether he would deal with the matter ex
parte and make the order sought or drequire the application to
proceed on notice but abridge the time for a defence to be
I n the case of “consent” orders, they may be made “by the
consent of all the parties to the proceedings”. The Court is
thus given a discretion as to whether it will make the order or
Enforcement of Custody and Access Riqhts
Where any person is entitled to the custody of a child a Family
Court may on the application of the person so entitled to
custody issue a warrant to a constable, social worker or
person named therein to take possession of the child and to
deliver him to the person entitled to custody or to some other
named person on behalf of the person entitled to custody.
(Guardianship Act 1968 s.19(i)) However where more than
one person is entitled to the custody of the child no warrant
issued under subsection 1 (ante) shall authorise the removal of
the child from the possession of one of those persons and
delivery of him to another of them (Guardianship Act 1968
The effect of s.1A is that the warrant procedure cannot be used
by one j oint legal custodian against another; however it is
available whether there is an order granting custody to both
parties but at different times i.e. shared custody.
Where there are practical difficulties in enforcing the return of
a child for a ;short period, from a distance or where the childis
taken away on what appears to be a permanent basis which is
really an indication not to be bound by the order another
procedure has been commonly adopted. That procedure is for
the person whose custodial rights have been breached to
apply ex parte for an interim order giving him full custody of the
child and upon the making of such order to ask the Court to
i ssue a warrant to take possession of the child and to deliver
him to the applicant.
Such order for custody is an “Interim” Order only until the issue
of custody is further determined by the Court, and the interim
custody order having been made “ex parte” may be subject to
an application by the person against whom it is made to
rescind or vary it at any time.
An Examination of the Court’s Application of the Law and its
Practices in the Bristol Case
At the outset of this section of my report I wish to establish
unequivocally the basis upon which my enquiry has proceeded.
My inquiry is limited by the terms of reference which have been given
They restrict my inquiry, after an examination of the Court files, to a
consideration of “the need for any change in the law or in Family
Court practice concerning any matter which arose in the
I am not empowered to exercise a judgment as to whether the Family
Court Judges who dealt with the case were right or wrong in the
decisions they made or in the ways in which they exercised the
powers given them under the various statutes which they applied. I
am not entitled to second guess – or should I say second judge those
decisions. I am not sitting as an appellate body. My inquiry is
directed solely at whether there is any need for change in the law or
Family Court practice.
Having made those preliminary observations I now examine the
course followed by the proceedings as disclosed by the files. This is
necessary in order to see first, what matters arose in the course of
the Bristol proceedings that I should consider, and second, whether
the legal provisions which the Judges were required to apply were
adequate to enable them to deal with circumstances that arose in this
case and whether the practices of the court were appropriate or are
in need of change.
Two main issues concerned the Court in the Bristol case. They
were: the protection of Christine Bristol from alleged assaults by the
application of the relevant provisions of the Domestic Protection Act
1982 and the making of orders relating to custody of and access to
the children under the relevant provisions of the Guardianship Act
t do not find it necessary for me to traverse the first file which closed
when the parties were reconciled in 1989. The material on that file is
merely historical. That phase of the Bristol case was long drawn out.
It covered about 31/2 years during which time proceedings were
brought before the Court for non-violence and non-molestation orders
against Alan Bristol and for custody orders in respect of Tiffany .
None of the proceedings ever reached the stage where a contested
application was heard and decided by the Court. All matters were
resolved by agreement and orders “by consent” were made by the
Court. The significance of that is that the Court never had the
opportunity to hear the parties give evidence or to test the truth or
otherwise of the various allegations made. I commence my
examination with the opening of the second file on 13.7.93. It
discloses that on 5.7.93 whilst the parties were living at the family
home at Marybank Rd, Wanganui Alan Bristol allegedly took
Christine Bristol to her parents home and Wanganui, kept the three
children at the family home and at the same time told her the
marriage was at an end.
The important events which followed – omitting those not greatly
relevant to the decisions made by the Court are:
The first occasion when the problems of the Bristol marriage came
back before the Court was on 13.7.93 when Alan Bristol applied for
i nterim custody of the three children. This was opposed by Christine
Bristol who sought an order that custody of the children be given to
A pretrial conference before a judge at which both parties were
represented by counsel was held on 28.7.93 and by consent the
judge made orders, pursuant to the Family Proceedings Act 1980
s.162 appointing a senior family court counsel to represent the
children. He authorised the obtaining of a psychological report on
the children directed to custody issues pursuant to the Guardianship
Act 1968 s.29A and requested the Registrar to give the case priority
for hearing on interim custody.
Before custody issues could be brought before the Court, counsel for
the parties and for the children discussed arrangements for the
interim care of the children and on 11.8.93 the Court approved
shared care arrangements to remain in force until further order of the
Court. On the same day Christine Bristol applied ex parte to the
Court for a non-violence order and a non-molestation order against
Alan Bristol as provided for in the Domestic Protection Act 1982 ss.4
& 13. The issue of violence within the domestic scene was once
again raised by Christine Bristol – as had been done earlier in the
relationship. There were allegations of violence made by Christine
Bristol in her affidavits and denials of violence by Alan Bristol in his.
The Court in accordance with its usual practice where there are
al’egations of violence made an interim non-violence order to protect
Christine Bristol to the extent that such an order can provide
protection but directed that the non-molestation order application
proceed on notice to Alan Bristol.
The parties represented by counsel next appeared before the Court
on 24.9.93 being the date fixed by the court for the review of the
interim non-violence order. At that time a memorandum from
counsel for the children was tabled relating to the course that the
court might follow in dealing with the matters which were before it,
The custody applications by both Alan Bristol and Christine Bristol
The hearing of Christine Bristol’s application for non-violence and
non-molestation orders which application was opposed by Alan
The Judge directed that the interim non-violence order continue until
the further order of the Court and that the hearing of the Domestic
Protection applications (for non-violence and non-molestation orders)
be deferred pending the hearing of the Guardianship Act
No further proceedings relating to custody came before the Court
until 1.11.93 by which time the report sought from the psychologist
relating to the custody of the children had been received and
considered by all counsel.
Prior to that date the parties, their counsel and counsel for the
children had all met and discussed care arrangements for all three
children and a “memorandum of consent” had been signed setting
out agreed arrangements for the care of all three children and
requesting the Court to make orders by consent accordingly. It did
so. The terms of those orders are set out in full earlier in this report.
Apart from defining the care arrangements which established a
shared custody regime, the Memorandum of Consent and therefore
the order also, provided that “all other applications before the Court
relating to domestic protection and custody and access matters, are
to be withdrawn”.
I n making that order for the shared custody of the three children the
Court was required to apply the provisions of the Guardianship Act
“Welfare of child paramount – (1) In any proceedings where any
matter relating to the custody or guardianship of or access to a child,
or the administration of any property belonging to or held in trust for a
child, or the application of the income thereof, is in question, the
Court shall regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount
consideration. The Court shall have regard to the conduct of any
parent to the extent only that such conduct is relevant to the welfare
of the child.
(1A) For the purposes of this section, and regardless of the age of a
child, there shall be no presumption that the placing of a child in the
custody of a particular person will, because of the sex of that person,
best serve the welfare of the child.”
I n view of the report of the psychologist and the consents of the
parties and counsel for the children to the orders sought the court
would have had little doubt that the consensual arrangement
proposed would best promote the welfare of the children as required
by the section of the Act above referred to.
That consensual arrangement followed by the court order effectively
concluded all matters between the parties then before the Court.
Except that the order was to be reviewed on or about 14 February
1994. It should be noted that at the time when the order was made:
1. There had been no formal contested hearings on their merits,
of any applications made to the Court. The allegations of
;violence by Christine Bristol, the denials of Alan Bristol and
counter allegations against Christine Bristol remained just
allegations and no opportunity had been given to the Court to
determine where the truth lay.
2. Both parties and all counsel had received the report of the
psychologist who considered both parents as equally capable
of caring for the children but preferred ongoing arrangements
where the children remained in the family home with the father
whilst spending regular time with the mother.
3. That although Christine Bristol had made allegations of
violence against Alan Bristol there was no suggestion that the
children would ever be in danger of violence at his hands.
4. The Court had been asked to make the order on 1.11.93 with
the written consent of the parties after both had been advised
by competent senior counsel experienced in Family Court
matters and after the interests of the children had been
safeguarded by senior counsel having been appointed to
That Court order should have ended the problems of the Bristol
family. It didn’t. The reason it did not was, according to Christine
Bristol, because immediately after the order was made on 1.11.93
problems arose between her and Alan Bristol over the carrying out
some of the arrangements agreed upon, Alan Bristol allegedly
continuing to harass her and calling at her home on 5.11.93 and
assaulting her. On 8.11.93 Christine Bristol left Wanganui with the
two younger children and went to Whakatane. After he learned of
Christine Bristol’s departure, Alan Bristol sought the assistance of the
Court to have the children returned to Wanganui so he could resume
the shared custody of them which had been provided for in the Court
order of 1.11.93.
On 11.11.93 he applied to the court ex parte for an order for the
i nterim custody of all three children and at the same time sought a
warrant under the Guardianship Act 1968 s.19 to have an appropriate
person take possession of the two younger children (then in
Christine Bristol’s care in Whakatane) and deliver them to him.
When that application was made to the Court the only Family Court
Judge then available to deal with the matter was one of the three
Family Court Judges then located in the central region of the Family
Court but who had traditionally a responsibility for the Hawkes Bay
area and sat only occasionally at Wanganui. He was temporarily
sitting at Wanganui on 11.11.93.
Alan Bristol’s applications were placed before him to deal with as the
matter was regarded as one of some urgency and the Judge who
usually sat at Wanganui and who had dealt with the Bristol case
earlier was not available.
The matter was placed before the Judge as one where Christine
Bristol had departed from Wanganui, and on the affidavit evidence of
Alan Bristol had done so with the intention not to comply with the
Court Order of 1.11.93 to which she had been a consenting party. In
point of fact as at 11.11.93 Christine Bristol was not actually in
breach of the Order of 1.11.93 as Claudia was not due to be returned
to her father’s care until 9am on Saturday 13.11.93 and Holly to her
father’s care until 9am on Monday 15.11.93. But the evidence before
the Court was that she had left Wanganui and her stay in Whakatane
“has some permanency”, and that she would be unlikely to comply
with the Court Order of 1.11.93 to give the children into the care of
Alan Bristol when required.
The Judge because he had not dealt with the case previously,
examined the Bristol file and the course followed by the proceedings
leading up to the consent order 10 days earlier and finding nothing to
indicate any reason relating to the children’s welfare or safety why
the consent order should no longer be appropriate decided it would
be better for the children to be returned to Wanganui. He therefore
made the interim custody order in favour of Alan Bristol (to the extent
that he did not already have custody) and ordered the issue of the
warrant accordingly. The procedure which was adopted of making
an order for interim custody followed by the issue of a warrant to
enforce it was adopted because there is no procedure provided for in
the Guardianship Act 1968 s.19 (relating to the enforcement of
custody and access rights) other than by the issue of a warrant to
take possession of a child and to deliver the child to the person
entitled to custody. In the case of shared custody of a child and
especially if the child is some distance away from the person entitled
to custody, and such person is entitled to custody for only part of the
ti me in short periods (as was so in the Bristol case) it is rather
impractical to use a warrant to enforce a series of short periods of
custody. I n such cases the Court commonly makes an interim
custody order followed by a warrant to enable the child to be
returned to the custodial parent. Once that has been done the other
party can then apply to have the interim custody order varied to
enable the shared custody regime to be reinstated or some other
Shared custody which usually involves a child being in the custody of
each parent for a comparatively short time relies on the cooperation
of the parties for its success rather than the enforcement by warrant.
The other factor which influenced the Court in making the interim
custody order was that on the evidence before the Court Christine
Bristol had taken the children to Whakatane’with some permanency”
and had thus indicated an intention not to comply with the order for
shared custody. In the event the warrant did not need to be executed
because Christine Bristol on being advised of the Interim Custody
Order and the issue of the warrant returned voluntarily to Wanganui
on 13.1.93 and handed over the two younger children to Alan Bristol
at the Wanganui Police Station.
Now it is a feature of orders made ex parte by a court that the party
against whom such an order is made can apply at any time to rescind
or vary that order. This is a safeguard against orders claimed to
have been wrongly made. Had Christine Bristol been concerned
about the safety of her children, she could have applied promptly
after she returned to Wanganui on 13.11.93 to have the interim order
for custody rescinded. She did not do so however until 24.11.93. On
that date she applied to the Court for orders: setting aside the
Interim Custody Order made in favour of Alan Bristol on 11.11.93:
granting her interim custody of the two younger children: granting
her reasonable access to Tiffany and granting her final custody of all
three children, reserving reasonable access to Alan Bristol. Alan
Bristol gave notice that he intended to defend those applications.
The whole issue of custody then awaited a court hearing but this
could not be held by the Court before Christmas.
Counsel for the parties and for the children therefore on 10.12.93
arranged a meeting with the Judge, (who was the one who had
mainly dealt with the earlier proceedings) to discuss access for
Christine Bristol to the children over the Xmas period. The Judge
directed that arrangements be made for urgent referral of both
parties to a counsellor in accordance with the provisions of Part II of
the Family Proceedings Act 1980 with a view to, at least agreed
access, being decided upon. He also set a short hearing for
22.12.93 in the hope that the parties would agree on holiday access
but if they failed to do so the Judge indicated that the Court, after
hearing the recommendation of counsel for the children would make
orders for access.
In the result the parties reached agreement upon access before the
counsellor and at the hearing on 22.12.93 a Memorandum of
Consent was filed and the court made orders in terms of that consent
Both parties will share Xmas Day 1993 with the children
together in the family home.
Each parent will have an equal time during the school holiday
period for travelling holidays or the equivalent.
Christine shall have access to the three children for 2 days and
2 nights per week from 1 January 1994.
That was the last occasion on which the Court was to deal with this
matter. Apart from the making of the Ex Parte Interim Custody Order
and Order for the issue of the warrant on 11.11.93 all other orders
had been made by the consent of the parties. The issues still
outstanding before the Court to be dealt with were
The separate custody applications of both Alan Bristol and
Christine Bristol in respect of the three children: and
The domestic protection applications.
A subsequent application was filed on 1.2.94 by Christine for division
of matrimonial property under the Matrimonial Property Act 1976.
3. I s There a Need for any Chanqe in the Law or in Family Court
Practice Concerninq Any Matter that Arose i n the Bristol
Before change can be considered it is first necessary to see whether
the law or practice of the Court failed or proved inadequate or
i neffective to deal with a situation that arose in this case.
I n the previous section of this report I have set out in summary form
how the Court dealt with the various situations that came before it.
If there are found to be any applications of the existing law or
practices which caused or contributed to the unfortunate deaths of
the four persons in this case or there were any omissions in the law
or practices which allowed them to happen then such would provide
strong grounds for recommending change.
However before I can make any decisions on those matters and
decide whether there is need for change I must first decide whether,
the existing laws as contained in the Domestic Protection Act 1982
and the practices of the Court were adequate to protect Christine
Bristol from the alleged domestic violence to her and next to decide
whether the provisions of the Guardianship Act 1968 were adequate
to protect the children in relation to matters of custody and
access.the deaths might have been preventable it has been
necessary for me to endeavour to establish why the deaths occurred
and for that purpose to examine in some detail in my earlier narrative
the known events which preceded them.
Insofar as the protection of Mrs Bristol is concerned the evidence
shows that a non-violence order made by the Court under the
Domestic Protection Act 1982 remained in force from 11.8.93 until
withdrawn by consent on 1.11.93. During that period . I find no
evidence of violence by Alan Bristol having occurred. Following the
withdrawal of the non-violence order on 1.11.93 however, Christijne
Bristol made one allegation of violence on 5.11.93 supported by a
medical certificate as to injuries, and she also made two complaints
of violence to the police on 29.11.93 and 2.2.94. The absence of any
violence during the period the non-violence order was in force and
the allegations of violence after it ceased may be considered to
support a view that the existence of the non-violence order had
prevented violence. To that extent it does not appear that the
application on the provisions of the Domestic Protection Act was
inadequate to protect Christine Bristol when an order under that Act
was in force. However I doubt whether the powers of arrest and
detention provided for under ss.9-12 of the Act provide any great
deterrent effect. A breach of a non-molestation order only incurs a
penalty up to 3 months imprisonment or to a fine not exceeding $500.
Heavier penalties may be incurred however if assaults are charged
under the Crimes Act.
I nsofar as I must examine the protection of the children and whether
the provisions of the Guardianship Act 1968 and the practices of the
Court were adequate to protect them from the tragedy which
overtook them I first need to know what caused the tragedy – not
merely to know what was the mechanism which caused their deaths
but why that mechanism was set in train by Alan Bristol and whether
any application of the existing law and practices of the Court could
have prevented it.
Whilst it is not possible for me to be totally satisfied as to why Alan
Bristol took the lives of himself and his three children, I believe the
answer is to be found in the events which occurred on Wednesday
2nd, Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th February 1994 as narrated earlier
in detail in this report. Those events were the alleged assault by
Alan Bristol on Christine Bristol on Wednesday followed by her
complaint to the Police: his being interviewed by the Police on the
Thursday and his subsequently being arrested and charged with
i ndecent assault and assault on a female: his being bailed to appear
i n Court on the following Tuesday to answer those charges: and his
interview with his solicitors on Friday when the likely consequences
of those charges were discussed.
The evidence given before the Coroner indicates clearly that a great
change came over Alan Bristol after he left his solicitors at
approximately 1.15pm on Friday and an old time friend nearly an
hour later and returning to his home at approximately 2.10pm the
same day. There is little doubt that by then he was of a disturbed
state of mind – a condition which appeared to continue into the early
evening when he was last seen. The Coroner in his findings as
noted earlier observed that it was reasonably clear that Alan Bristol
became deeply concerned to the extent one might say, worried out of
his mind by the charges that were laid against him a day or so
That leads me to ask the question – what Court could when dealing
with the issues involved up until the last Court order on 22.12.93
have reasonably believed that Alan Bristol posed a threat to the
safety and the lives of his three children. Let me examine the known
1. Although there were allegations by Christine Bristol of violence
against her by Alan Bristol and denials of such by Alan Bristol,
the Court on no occasion was required to hear evidence and
adjudicate on the issue. So to that extent the allegations were
unproven. However even if, for the sake of argument the Court
accepted there was such violence against Christine Bristol
there was absolutely no evidence of any violence against the
children. On the contrary Alan Bristol appeared to have a
deep affection for them and appears to have been a very good
2. Christine Bristol had no fears that Alan Bristol would harm the
children when they were in his care. Throughout the whole
proceedings except for the interim custody order on 11.11.93
arrangements for care were always resolved “by consent” and
one would have imagined that had there been any such fears,
that they would have been expressed in one or more of the
affidavits filed in court in relation to custody proceedings and
domestic protection proceedings or to counsel for Christine
Bristol, counsel for the child or to counsellors or to the
psychologist who reported to the Court.
3. Counsel for the children who was appointed by the Court was
senior and very experienced in Family Court matters and had a
close involvement with the Bristol case over a number of years
and he apparently saw no danger in the children being given
into the care of their father as has been shown earlier in this
The psychologist who reported to the Court preferred that the
children remain in the family home with Alan Bristol.
5. Neither of the counsel for the parties ever expressed any
concerns for the safety of the children at the hands of Alan
6. The domestic protection orders which had been made from
time to time were discharged or withdrawn by consent, the last
occasion being when the Court made the consent order on
1.11.93 one of the terms of which was that all other
applications before the court relating to domestic protection
and custody and access matters be withdrawn. The
withdrawal of Domestic protection proceedings would have
tended to indicate to the court an absence of continuing fears
of violence on the part of Alan Bristol towards his wife.
Now in deciding what a court knew or should have known about a
certain situation it is important to realise that a court is dependent for
its knowledge of the facts of a case upon the information supplied to
it by the parties and witnesses in evidence given orally or by
affidavit: in reports supplied to the court such as from psychologists,
counsellors, counsel appointed to represent children etc and from
inferences properly drawn from that information.
I n my opinion there was nothing whatever in the material placed
before the court from which a Judge could have been alerted to the
probability or even the possibility that to give the children into the
custody of their father might create a situation of danger for them.
The trigger to the unfortunate events on 4/5 February 1994 appears
to have been the assault allegedly committed by Alan Bristol on
Christine Bristol on 2.2.94 resulting in her laying a complaint with the
police, and to Alan Bristol being subsequently arrested and charged
with the two offences earlier referred to. The evidence before the
Coroner clearly indicates the concerns Alan Bristol had about those
charges and the state in which he appeared at his home at
approximately 2.10pm on 4.2.94 shortly after a meeting with his
solicitors and a visit to an old friend.
What he did later that night may not be thought to be violence or
assault of the type commonly found in domestic situations. It was not
of the same type of violence alleged by Christine Bristol to have
been committed against her. In effect however it was the ultimate
violence. It appears that Alan Bristol was worried out of his mind and
for reasons best known to himself – which one can only guess at -
decided to take his own life and to take those of his three children
also. There was nothing before the Court which could have alerted it
to the possibility of Alan Bristol acting as he did.
It might be suggested that had Alan Bristol not assaulted Christine
Bristol on 2.2.94 and thus been charged with assaults then he would
not or might not have become worried out of his mind and done what
he did. But from the court’s perspective, Christine Bristol had
withdrawn by consent on 1.11.93 all domestic protection applications
then before the court. In any event it was not reasonably foreseeable
that even if Alan Bristol were to assault his wife and be charged
before the Court that that would cause him to act as he did and to
take his and the children’s lives. If he were to vent his anger on
anyone it would surely be more likely to be on Christine Bristol.
I commenced this section of my report by considering whether the
deaths in this case could have been preventable by any action of the
court. My conclusion is that under the law as it presently is and with
the current practices of the Family Court the deaths in the
circumstances of this case were not foreseeable and were not
They were not preventable simply because the law and practices did
not deal with a situation where a parent, although he had allegedly
been violent to his spouse was otherwise e~regarded bar ll whof~ls` alts` MA ,
with him including ‘
s children and there was no requirement of the c- ‘-
law or practice of the Court that it should investigate his fitness to do °r
so when faced with an application to make the orders sought by
But that conclusion goes only part way to answering the question
posed earlier or whether there is any need for any change in the law
or in Family Court practice.
The conclusion gives rise to the further question of whether had the
l aw and practices been different might the deaths have been
preventable – with the consequence that the law and practices should
now be changed so as to avoid possible repetitions of the events of
the Bristol case in the future. Whether such changes should be
made is in my view dependent upon there being a willingness of
society to recognise the seriousness of domestic violence and to be
prepared to adopt a quite different philosophical approach to dealing
The present law and practices are adequate to deal with cases
where domestic violence is not an issue but I believe that the
increase of such violence over the years, the growing public
awareness of it and the recent examples of some of the horrific
consequences that have ensured have brought about a situation
where there will be general approval for the law to be changed to
provide for new rules relating to custody and access to be laid down
to deal specifically with the person who uses violence and abuse in a
For myself I believe that there should be changes to both the
Domestic Proceedings Act 1982 and to the Guardianship Act 1968.
What Chanqes Should be Made?
Before I consider any changes to law or practice I propose first to consider
what circumstances require change and then decide what changes if any
should be made to deal with such circumstances. I do this under several
Does Violence to a Spouse Indicate a Potential for Violence to
I n my examination of the circumstances of the Bristol case and
particularly in relation to issues of custody and access I have noticed
that no great significance appears to have been placed upon the fact
that Alan Bristol was alleged to have used violence to Christine
Bristol in spite of the numerous allegations she made and the nonviolence
orders issued. It seems as though it was generally
assumed that even although Alan Bristol might have used violence to
his wife he had not done so to his children and that he could still be
regarded as a suitable custodial parent for his children. It was not
thought necessary to investigate the alleged use of violence further.
The psychologist reporting to the Court apparently did not consider
the matter at least it is not referred to in his report and counsel for the
children and counsel for Christine Bristol did not raise objections on
these grounds when various consent orders were being sought. And
of course the matter not having been raised before it the Court did
not raise the matter when faced in the circumstances with
applications to make consent orders for custody. A study of reported
decisions in domestic cases indicates that it is not uncommon for
courts to allow a person who has been a spousal abuser to be a
custodial parent to a child and that violence towards a spouse is
regarded as not necessarily detrimental to being a custodial parent.
It also appears to be a commonly held view that it takes two parties
to create circumstances resulting in violence and abuse by one party
to the other and to use an expression I have encountered in my
researches – it takes two to tango.
I have wondered how it can be accepted that a person can use
violence to a spouse and yet so long as he has no record of violence
or abuse to a child or children be regarded as no danger to the child
or children if he is allowed to become the custodial parent or even
have unsupervised access to them.
Various studies from around the world have concluded that children
from homes where a wife is battered are in a very high risk category
in terms of child abuse. In a study carried out by the US Department
of Health Education and Welfare in 1990 half the women interviewed
related that their children had been abused by their fathers. (Bowker
Arbitell & McFerron “on the relationship between wife beating and
I n a paper delivered to the (US) National Family Violence
Conference in 1984 Starke & Flitcroft examined direct links between
violence to children and violence to mothers by screening the
medical records of abused children for indications of violence to their
mothers. They found that “battering is the most common context for
child abuse” and that “the battering male is the typical child abuser’.
The same authors in a publication “Women and Children At Risk”
(1968) found that 45% of children had mothers who had also been
abused. A further 25% were identified as coming from families
where there was “conflict” within the family. A similar result was
obtained in a 1988 study conducted by the Paediatrics Department of
Boston City Hospital. In that study 60% of mothers of child abuse
patients had themselves been battered.
In another study, of a volunteer sample of 1000 battered women
Bowker, Arbitell & McFerron found that men who battered their wives
also abused children in 70% of the families in which children were
These findings have been replicated by research in the United
Kingdom on child protection
The findings recorded in the overseas literature have been mirrored
in New Zealand. In a study carried out by the National Collective of
Independent Women’s Refuges in 1991, of the 6668 children who
were admitted (with their mothers) to womens refuges in 1990 50%
had been physically (non-sexually) abused: 12% had been sexually
abused: 80% had been verbally abused and 80% had experienced
other forms of abuse, isolation, intimidation and neglect. So far as
weapons were concerned 72.5% of children had fists used against
them: 22.5% guns: 17.5% knives: 17.5% bottles: 30% by burning
cigarettes and 42.5% had been abused by other weapons, including
belts, sticks, cattle prods and stove elements.
I n the recent “High Profiles” child homicide cases (Ratima children,
the Poli children, Craig Manakau, Delcelia Witika) the mothers were
all victims of spousal abuse.
If one accepts as a generalisation that studies show that a large
proportion of persons who use violence to or abuse their spouses
use violence to and abuse children of the family or the relationship
also, one must surely ask the questions:
I s there a factor in the make up of a spousal abuser that he
has the potential to abuse children also?
2. Can one safely assume that such a spousal abuser will not
abuse children where they are in his care after he has
separated from his spouse?
I do not presume to be able to identify all the possible behavioural
factors which cause one person to use violence and to abuse another
i n a domestic situation but surely elements of power, domination,
control, anger and punishment must feature amongst them. There
may in some cases be some psychiatric disorder present (probably a
small minority) but I do not believe they are by any means the root
cause of domestic violence.
I believe that in the great majority of such cases the violence or
abuse is triggered off by situations arising where circumstances give
rise to one or more of the elements I have referred to above.
I have not in the time available to me been able to conduct more
detailed research into any studies which might deal with this
particular topic nor to see whether cases in NZ throw light upon it.
But this is a subject upon which it may be thought proper to
commission further research.
It does however seem to me that there is good cause to suspect that
factors which trigger off violence in a domestic situation aimed at
punishing a spouse when they are living together may also cause
violence to children when the parties are living apart even though
there was no evidence of violence to the children whilst the parties
were living in the same household.
Could not a situation which triggered violence when parties were
living together also trigger violence if they are living apart if such a
situation then arose? Is not the Bristol case an example of that?
There was evidence of violence by Alan Bristol to Christine Bristol
before and after separation but no evidence of violence to the
children. An alleged episode of violence to Christine Bristol occurred
on2.2.94 and Christine Bristol reported the matter to the police, who
subsequently arrested Alan Bristol and charged him with two
assaults and bailed him to appear in court to answer the charges the
following week. The next day Alan Bristol killed the children who
were in his custody. Why did he do so? One can only speculate.
There was no apparent psychiatric dysfunction. What triggered his
actions? In all probability it was something to do with his being
arrested and charged and the anticipated effect of his being
convicted upon his chance of obtaining custody of the children. Was
it that Christine Bristol went to the police with the consequences that
followed that caused him to decide to deprive her of her children?
Was he seeking to punish her? or had he adopted the attitude – ‘If I
can’t have the children then neither will you?” Whatever the reason
Alan Bristol might have had for killing the children does that case
itself not provide an example of the risk which may be involved in
permitting children to be given into the care of or even allowing
unsupervised access to one alleged to have used violence to his
spouse until such time as one can be satisfied that the risk of harm
probably no longer exists.
I know that there are those who quite rightly would argue the
i mportance of maintaining the parental relationship between father
and child and in allowing a father to participate to the greatest
possible extent in the upbringing of that child but what is in the best
interests of the child? Is it not that its safety should first be ensured
as far as possible and then that it enjoy the development of a
relationship with the father.
Do Times of Access and Chanqeover Times Create Opportunities for
Conflict and Even Violence Between Spouses?
One of the difficult problems in the case of a broken marriage or a
broken relationship where there are children is to make satisfactory
arrangements for access to the non-custodial person so as to ensure
that antagonisms are avoided at changeover times when there is
opportunity for the former partners to meet face to face.
Evidence placed before me indicated that in terms of NZ homicide
statistics, domestic violence is a major cause of homicide in NZ with
almost half (24) of the 55 deaths in 1993 a result of such violence.
As well it was said that approximately 80% of assaults attended by
police were domestic assaults and that within the domestic homicide
statistics the highest risk occurs during access changeover times.
A recent example of domestic homicide during an access
changeover is found in the R v Keoqan (CA unreported 29.9.93
CA266/93) again the Bristol case is another example of conflict
during access changeover.
It was on Wednesday 2.2.94 that Christine Bristol whilst returning the
children after access, claims she was assaulted by Alan Bristol and
reported the assaults to the police with the consequences that then
followed. In fact it may be thought that it was the alleged assault on
that occasion, and what followed from it, that provides some insight
into the reason for the deaths of the children.
The Current Community Attitude to Domestic Violence
I believe that the incidence of domestic violence in NZ has reached
the point when the community as a whole recognises that drastic
steps must be taken to protect as far as possible those persons at
risk whether they be children or adult. Recent high profile cases
involving domestic violence have appalled serious thinking people
and there is agitation afoot for appropriate action to be taken to
I n considering laws relating to domestic protection and to protection
of children in custody.and access situations I believe that they are
inadequate to deal with the types of domestic violence that we are
currently faced with.
The present laws and practices dealing with domestic cases where
violence and abuse are not factors to be considered, seem to me to
be quite adequate.
I n order to deal with cases involving domestic violence however a
completely new social philosophy needs to be adopted.
First Domestic violence must no longer be considered on the basis
that the other spouse in some way induced or provoked the violence
or abuse. No-one has a right to use violence to or abuse another no
matter what the circumstances. Domestic violence must not be
regarded less seriously than violence committed in a non domestic
Second Penalties for violence committed in breach of non
violence orders and non-molestation orders should equate with
penalties for assaults under the Crimes Act.
Whilst I do not believe that deterrence will of itself be sufficient, it
must be considered as one factor. A major improvement will only be
brought about by such things as anger training and by education
aimed at showing young people that violence is not an acceptable
form of conduct. I wonder how many children witnessing violence in
the home come to believe that such is acceptable as the norm. One
only has to recall the numbers of young people brought before the
courts charged with offences of violence for whom the plea in
mitigation is often made that they came from a broken home and
were themselves subjected to violence in their home environment.
They would likely carry their notions of violent conduct into their own
domestic situation. That cylce of violence must be broken.
Third There should be stricter enforcement or laws relating to
Fourth I n the areas of custody of and access to children, once a
person has been shown to have used violence in a domestic
situation either to his spouse or to a child or to both, then such
person should be presumed (unless exceptional circumstances are
shown to exist for deciding to the contrary) to be unsuitable either to
have custody or unsupervised access to the child until such time as
such person can establish that it is safe for the child to be given into
his/her custody or for him/her to have unsupervised access to that
Fifth I t should be recognised that there are danger periods during
access arrangements when persons one of whom has been
subjected to violence by the other are required to meet at
changeover time. Ideally I suppose children should be delivered and
collected by an independent person or the delivery and collection
should be supervised by an independent person. There may be
occasions where that person is a family member but that is not an
i deal situation as it would depend on the availability of the family
member from time to time and further there may arise friction
between that member and the person to whom or from whom the
child is to be delivered or collected.
A social service officer would appear to be the ideal person.
Whether such would be feasible – I have not had time to investigate.
Sixth Where access to a child is granted to a person shown to have
used violence in a domestic situation, it should initially be supervised
access until such time as that person can show that it would be safe
for the child to allow that access to be unsupervised. The violent
person, who has been shown to have used violence to his spouse
may well prove to be a good parent who can safely care for the child.
But he should first satisfy a court that such is so before he can be
given the opportunity to have the child in his uncontrolled care.
It would be hoped that the adoption of the principles referred to
above would go some way to deterring domestic violence first by
reason of the heavier penalties suggested and secondly by sounding
a warning to would be abusers in a domestic situation that violent
conduct could make it difficult for them to have free control and
access to any child should the parties separate and questions of
custody and access become issues before the Court.
It may be thought by some that adoption of the foregoing principles
would be too hard on the violent spouse or that they would deprive a
child of the opportunity of benefiting from a close relationship with his
or her parent. However I see no middle course which could be
adopted if we are to try seriously to reduce the amount of domestic
violence we are experiencing in this country and to protect those
persons that society deems in need of protection.
I recognise that there are strong views held that a child should not be
deprived of one parent. A recent decision of the Family Court
‘The approach is prescribed by law and that is that the welfare of the
children is of paramount concern. While the man is a poor partner if
he is a good parent it would be wrong to deprive the children of the
father as a matter of moral condemnation of him in respect of his
conduct towards his partner. Moreover, once the parties have
separated, the problem of violence occurring in front of the children
may no longer be present. The focus is on the children. All the facts
need to be considered. It is usually in the interests of the children to
have access to both parents. It is a dramatic thing and an extremist
thing, to deprive the children of one parent.”
I n another statement the Court said:
“Now that it is accepted that the marriage is finished the real
question is the quality of the parenting each of these people will be
able to offer in the future. As I have already indicated there has been
no suggestion that the father’s qualities as a parent should be judged
by the events between the husband and the wife which led to the
I have no great quarrel with the opinions so expressed except to say
that the question of the safety of the children if given into the care of
a violent parent (albeit violent to the other party only) is not really
addressed by the Court. The existing laws governing this topic were
enacted before cases of violence had grown to the numbers being
experienced today. Possibly there are more cases now coming to
public notice. I do not know. It seems to be assumed that if one
party has shown violence to the other party only – then he is still a
suitable person to be given the care of a child or children. In many
cases he may be. But I think in order to provide a greater element of
safety for the child he should be presumed not to be so until he
satisfies a court to the contrary. If one accepts the possibility, even
in a small proportion of cases that a person using violence to his
spouse may when the parties are separated if the right trigger to do
so exists also use violence to a child, then persons who have used
domestic violence to a spouse should be screened, as it were, by
being required to satisfy a court that it is safe to be given custody of
the child or unsupervised access to the child.
Seventh The Family Proceedings Act 1980 s.170 empowers a
court to make orders by consent. Many orders were made by
consent in the Bristol case. This is in line with the philosophy behind
the practices and procedures of the Family Court. However where
there have been allegations of domestic violence or where such has
been shown to have occurred I believe that all persons involved in
Family Court proceedings – the parties, their counsel, counsel for the
child – psychologists, counsellors and other disciplines reporting to
the court should be required specifically to take into account such
violence and the safety of the child when considering whether or not
the Court should be asked to make consent orders.
Evidence given before me has indicated that it is not uncommon for
parties who have been subjected to violence may be overborne by
the conduct of their partner to the extent that a consent given in a
domestic proceeding may not be given freely and of the persons own
volition. It is often given after a bargaining session – you agree to
this and I will agree to that.
What Chanqes in the Law are Suqqested?
I do not intend to act as a draftsman and draft suggested law
changes but simply to indicate the nature of the suggested law
changes themselves. They are:
1. Penalties for breach of non-violence orders and non-violence
orders should be increased to indicate the seriousness with
which the law regards such breaches.
2. Where proceedings come before the court relating to the
custody of and/or access to any child and allegations of
violence and/or abuse in a domestic relationship are made the
court shall forthwith satisfy itself whether they are true or not.
3. The Guardianship Act 1968 s.23 provides that “welfare of a
child is paramount”. There should be incorporated a
presumption that a parent who has used violence or to a child
in a domestic situation is not to be regarded as a fit and proper
person to have custody of/or unsupervised access to that child.
However such presumption may be rebutted at any time if
such parent satisfies the court that it is safe for the child to be
entrusted into his care or if there are established exceptional
circumstances which require the child to be given into that
parents care. (A case of exceptional circumstances may arise
if for example the other parent is living in a situation which
gives adequate protection for the safety of the child.)
Given the significant changes in behaviour that occurred in familycaught$, both before the Bristol murders and suicide and after, it is important that this report receives close scrutiny.
If it was marked in accordance with professional social science research standards, in my opinion it would receive an E rating. It is not fit for the purpose of informing legislation, but unfortunately it did have a little impact.
When I suggest that this report had only a little impact, this is because the changes in the behaviour of the familycaught$ occurred well before the Bristol murders and suicide. This is seen in men’s suicide figures and also to a slight extent in spousal murders too, well prior to the Bristol murders and suicide.
This report just gave an illusionary basis for the Domestic Violence Act.
Causation is very difficult to prove, even afterwards. MurrayBacon – also a murderer.