35 years later: man charged with the murder of Justice David Opas

July 29, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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A man has been charged with four counts of murder relating to the Family Court murders of the 1980s which claimed the life, amongst others, of Justice David Opas…shot at his family home in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra.

From NSW Police:

The charged man being escorted by detectives

The charged man being escorted by detectives

Homicide detectives have charged a man in relation to the Family Law Court murders and bombings, which occurred in the early 1980s.

In 2012, detectives attached to the State Crime Command’s Homicide Squad re-commenced an investigation into a series of attacks between 1980 and 1985 in Sydney, targeting judges of the Family Court of Australia, their families, a lawyer and members of the community.

Following extensive inquiries, Strike Force detectives, assisted by officers from the Tactical Operations Unit, arrested a 68-year-old man at Campbelltown about 11.30am today (Wednesday 29 July 2015).

He was taken to Narellan Police Station and charged with numerous offences, including:

  • Four counts of murder;
  • Attempted murder;
  • Two counts of destroy or damage building by explosive with intent to murder;
  • Two counts of maliciously cause explosive substance to explode with intent to do grievous bodily harm;
  • Two counts of blow up building whereby life endangered;
  • Three counts of place gunpowder near building with intent to injure;
  • Two counts of place gunpowder near building with intent to damage;
  • Two counts of break, enter and commit felony in house of worship;
  • Blow up building whereby life endangered; and
  • 13 counts of burn or maim by maliciously exploding other substance.

He has been refused bail to appear at Campbelltown Local Court tomorrow (Thursday 30 July 2015).

Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas said today’s arrest is another example of the excellent work of the Unsolved Homicide Team.

“This is demonstrated proof of the persistence and focus of the detectives on this team; like all NSW Police Force investigators – they never gave up,” Deputy Commissioner Kaldas said.

“Literally decades after these events occurred, we have been able to re-examine the evidence and, with modern methods and technologies.

“As a detective – and former Commander of the Homicide Squad – I am pleased this Strike Force has delivered the results we have worked toward for more than 30 years,” Deputy Commissioner Kaldas said.

State Crime Command’s Acting Assistant Commissioner, John Kerlatec, said many people have suffered, and continue to suffer, as a result of these horrendous events.

“Today we remember each and every one of those victims. We also encourage anyone, who may have been reluctant to come forward with information beforehand, to do so now,” Assistant Commissioner Kerlatec said.

Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Mick Willing, praised Unsolved Homicide detectives for their continued determination and dedication.

“This case has been embedded in the psyche of not only this state, but this country, and investigators are determined to bring finality to the families of victims,” Det Supt Willing said.

“Throughout the years, these events from the 1980s have been investigated by some of the best detectives this state has ever seen; this Strike Force has demonstrated skills and dedication that does every one of them proud,” Det Supt Willing said.

Police are urging anyone with information in relation to this incident to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page: https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au/ Information you provide will be treated in the strictest of confidence. We remind people they should not report crime information via our Facebook and Twitter pages.

From:  the Australian Dictionary of Biography

David Opas    Photo: Daily Telegraph

David Opas Photo: Daily Telegraph

David Louis Opas (1936-1980), judge, was born on 30 June 1936 at Waverley, Sydney, son of London-born parents Maurice Opas, commercial traveller, and his wife Bessie, née Hart. Maurice served as a ship’s canteen manager and died when H.M.A.S. Sydney was sunk in 1941. Educated as a Legacy ward at Sydney Grammar School (1947-53), David did well in English and history, and represented the school at debating. He worked as an articled clerk with the solicitors Pike & Pike, studied part-time at the University of Sydney and passed the Barristers’ Admission Board examinations. On 26 July 1963 he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar.

As a young barrister, Opas soon established his reputation and moved into chambers in Macquarie Street. Although small, he had a powerful and strikingly modulated speaking voice. He built up a successful practice, dealing initially with criminal and family matters and later exclusively with family law. On 17 December 1970 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, he married Kristin Mary Bisset, née Deck, a 29-year-old assistant-pharmacist and a divorcee. Opas was a devoted husband and father who lived for his family and his work. His interests included reading, listening to classical music and playing tennis.

Opas became known for his humane and patient approach to the law. On 27 October 1977 he was appointed a judge of the Family Court of Australia. He sat at Parramatta. The Family Law Act (1975) required proceedings to be conducted without robes and with minimum formality. Focusing on basic issues, Opas was intolerant of garrulous counsel and of litigants who tried to use the court as a platform for their prejudices.

About 7 p.m. on 23 June 1980, while having dinner with his family, Opas answered a call at the security gate to the courtyard of his Woollahra home. When he opened the gate, he was shot in the abdomen by a single bullet from a .22-inch (5.6 mm) calibre rifle. He died that night in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was buried with Jewish rites in Rookwood cemetery; his wife, son and daughter survived him. Despite an extensive investigation by the police, his murderer has not been brought to justice. Opas’s murder came as a blow to the Australian judiciary: it was thought to be the first occasion in which a judge was killed while holding office in Sydney.

Justice R. S. Watson, Opas’s colleague, said of him: ‘We miss his infectious laugh, his quick wit, his clear insight, his sheer joy in all things beautiful, lively and challenging, his deep compassion for all people’. Senator Peter Durack, the Commonwealth attorney-general, declared that Opas had met the onerous demands of family law work. These opinions of Opas were widely shared.

Robert Goot, the president of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, was president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies at the time of the Opas murder. He told J-Wire: “The community was aghast at what was seen as a cold-blooded premeditated murder. The fear generated by this crime initiated heightened security within the Family Court system.”

Opal’s wife Kristin left Sydney following her husband’s murder returning to her native Tasmania.

The Australian newspaper has named the accused as being 68-yr-old Leonard John Warwick. He was arrested in Campbelltown.

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