Woodmancote Murders: Coroner issues verdict

Heartbroken relatives may never know why a loving father murdered his partner and their daughters before turning the gun on himself, a coroner said.

Robert Needham, 42, used a legally held shotgun to kill Ava, four, and Lexi, two, at close range on Sunday March 29, 2020.

Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, suffered a defensive shotgun blast on her arm before a fatal shot to the head.

The family dog, Billy, was also killed with the shotgun purchased by Needham just days earlier.

In her conclusions at the Horsham inquest, coroner Bridget Dolan QC apologized to the families and said she was sorry the inquest had not answered the single biggest question.

She commended the remarkable dignity and composure of Kelly’s family who attended the inquest, saying, “I am so sorry that this inquest was unable to answer why these atrocities happened.”

Ms Dolan said the world had been robbed of these two bright little girls who showed so much promise.

Despite the lack of an explanation for the murders, it was perfectly clear that Robert Needham had killed his family and then himself in the converted farm building they shared with his mother at Woodmancote, near Chichester.

Ms Dolan said: “The only person responsible for the death of his family is Robert Needham.”

The family were last seen by a delivery driver picking up takeaway food on the first Saturday night of the national Covid lockdown in March 2020.

Needham attended a FaceTime call with family and nothing was out of the ordinary.

The family had an apparently unremarkable first Saturday night in lockdown, the coroner said.

The girls came to their parents’ bed, where their bodies were found the next day.

Kelly’s phone was still plugged in by the bed.

The coroner said it was impossible to know the time or order in which they were killed, only that Needham was last.

They were all shot at close range or with the muzzle of the gun making direct contact.

Legal Secretary Kelly had a gunshot wound to the arm.

The coroner said she sustained the injury while raising her arm to ward off danger.

“After brutally murdering his family, Robert took his own life,” Ms. Dolan said.

“The open question is why these terrible events happened.

“There is a lot of speculation, but very little evidence,” the coroner said.

“I’m very sorry for you, there is no explanation.

“Everyone who’s researched this has been trying to find you one.

“We simply cannot elaborate on this point any further.

“His own family said there was no plausible explanation for his diabolical actions and I agree,” the coroner said.

Kelly and Needham were described as a loving couple who had been together for 14 years.

They had some personal debt, but nothing unmanageable, the corner said.

Kelly could still afford to get her hair and nails done, and the family had two holidays planned.

“It didn’t look like they were struggling with crushing financial problems,” the coroner said.

Text messages in the two months leading up to the lockdown indicated there was tension in their relationship and Kelly raised the possibility that they should take a break.

“However, there were no threats, no verbal abuse, no sustained or protracted altercations,” the coroner said.

“At the highest point, Kelly mentioned that he was angry.

“Nothing to suggest violence or provide a reason for Robert’s subsequent callous actions.”

His history of cocaine abuse was likely not a factor, the coroner concluded.

“We know that he had recently taken cocaine and tried to get it,” she said.

“Withdrawals just don’t fit our picture.”

Needham was treated for depression although he was never referred to a psychiatrist, the coroner said.

Hampshire and Sussex Police had shown a lack of investigative curiosity in considering Needham’s shotgun and firearms license applications.

The coroner said even if there were significant questions about the permitting process, further consideration of his applications would not have resulted in a denial.

He had lied on the application forms and the police should have investigated further.

The false statements are important, but did not lead to a rejection of his application, the medical examiner said.

“There was nothing that alone justified denial of a license to Robert.”

Police found six spent shotgun shells in the home after the bodies were found on March 29, 2020.

The inquest revealed the family were found dead at their home in Woodmancote, near Chichester, less than a week into the Covid national lockdown in March 2020.

Emotional descriptions of both girls and their mother were read by the coroner.

Kelly’s identical twin sister Emma Ambler said they are inseparable sisters.

Kelly wanted to be a mother more than anything, the investigation found.

Ms. Ambler adjusted her eulogy for the investigation.

She said: “People couldn’t tell us apart.

“Kelly loved school and although we weren’t athletic, we could never be beaten at three-legged races.

“She was an amazing sister and we were very loyal to each other.

“No one made me laugh more.”

Kelly is said to have always had a positive outlook on life, even when her mother died when the twins were 15.

Kelly worked as a legal secretary after leaving school and was always very popular

Ms Ambler said: “Everyone would comment on her smile, her kindness and her fun and caring nature.

“She was warm and loving and people naturally felt warm for her.”

Kelly had longed for children and was thrilled when Ava was born in the same hospital as the twins.

Ms Ambler described the loss of her sister and nieces as incomprehensible to the family.

Ava is a “beautiful, angelic little girl,” she said.

“She was a talker with inner strength when she wanted to.”

Lexi “had cheek everywhere”.

“She greets a character like that with energy and enthusiasm every day.

“We will never understand what happened and we will always feel blessed to have had her in our lives.”

Lexi Needham, two, was shot in the head and Ava, four, was shot in the chest.

https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/20286585.woodmancote-murders-coroner-delivers-verdict/?ref=rss Woodmancote Murders: Coroner issues verdict

Fry Electronics Team

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