Suspect held 30 years after Australia bomb murders

Police search the home of suspect Leonard Warwick near Sydney, Australia. Picture: AP
Police search the home of suspect Leonard Warwick near Sydney, Australia. Picture: AP
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More than 30 years after a series of bombings and shootings in Sydney left four people dead, police have arrested a 68-year-old suspect in a case that terrorised Australia’s legal fraternity.

Leonard John Warwick was arrested yesterday after a three-year cold case investigation into a Sydney crime spree that became known as the Family Court bombings because it targeted Family Court judges and their families, said New South Wales Police homicide squad commander, Superintendent Mick Willing.

Warwick faces 32 charges, including four counts of murder, one of attempted murder and 13 counts of burning or maiming with an explosive substance in a total of five bombings, Supt Willing said. A bomb, allegedly planted by Warwick, was also found under a Family Court lawyer’s car.

Warwick is a former firefighter who had an extended dispute in the Family Court with his estranged wife over the custody of their infant daughter in the early 1980s.

His first alleged victim was his brother-in-law, Stephen Blanchard, who was shot dead at his home in 1980. Five weeks later, Family Court Justice David Opas was shot dead at his front door when he answered the doorbell.

A judge’s wife, Pearl Watson, was killed by a bomb at her front door in 1984. Jehovah’s Witness minister Graham Wykes was killed by a blast at a church hall in 1985 that wounded 13 people. Warwick’s sister-in-law was a member of the congregation.

Justice Richard Gee, who took over Warwick’s case after Mr Opas’s death, survived a bombing at his own home in 1984. The Parramatta Family Court in Sydney was destroyed by a blast in 1980, but no-one was injured.

“These crimes not only were crimes against individuals, they were crimes against our society,” Mr Willing said. “A pillar of our society is our legal system and these were direct crimes against a pillar of our society.”

Assistant Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas credited the tenacity of police investigators for the arrest of the longtime suspect.

“The evidence that we’ve gathered includes significant new evidence, historic evidence that has been enhanced using technology that was probably not available 30 years ago,” he said.

Victim Pearl Watson’s stepdaughter Sue Chapman welcomed the arrest, but regretted that her father, Justice Ray Watson, did not survive to see it.

“I’m still in a state of shock and I’m totally churned up inside, but in a way I’m very relieved and I think it’s about time that the person concerned was brought to justice,” Ms Chapman said.

“I’m just very grateful that they have finally arrested someone,” she said. “I’m just so terribly sorry that my father, who died about four years ago, is not around to see justice done.”