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‘Evil, cowardly’: Mum of boy murdered by dad speaks out

Written by on May 22, 2024

The mother of a toddler murdered by his own father has described his death as an “evil and cowardly act of violence”.

Two-year-old Rowan was found dead in a unit in East Lismore on Sunday night alongside his dad James Harrison, after he failed to return to the boy to his mother following an access visit.

Police believe Harrison, 38, who worked as a business analyst with NSW Health, had planned the horrific crime and had rigged up a deadly gas poisoning system in his rental property.

His former partner Dr Sophie Roome had taken out an apprehended violence order out against him in August.

The intensive care specialist shared custody of Rowan with her ex, and took the toddler to Harrison’s home on Sunday while she worked a shift at Lismore Base Hospital.

“Rowan’s life was ended by an evil and cowardly act of violence, perpetrated by a person he should have been able to trust the most,” the family said in a statement.

“There are no possible excuses for this hurt, and no end to the pain it has caused.

“We are devastated. We will love and miss Rowan forever”.

The family also described little Rowan as a “beautiful, joyful and adored little boy”.

“He had so many amazing qualities, and his short life was filled with rich and happy experiences,” they said.

“He loved music, the beach, swimming, his friends and his family. He touched the hearts of everyone lucky enough to be in his world.”

The powerful statement comes after Harrison was described as a “wonderful colleague and beloved friend” in a “tone-deaf” staff email.

A NSW Health manager sent out an email on Wednesday to a number of Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) staff praising Harrison after his death.

“It is with indescribable sadness that I find myself letting you know that James Harrison and his son Rowan died on Sunday,” CEC Director of Information Management Andre Jenkins said in the email leaked to The Daily Telegraph.

The email, which listed “support services” available for staff, also praised Harrison as “generous with his time”.

“Many of you also shared and memories of Rowan popping up in meetings with his proud dad,” Mr Jenkins wrote.

Staff who spoke to The Daily Telegraph slammed the email, which came three days after the deaths and did not acknowledge police were treating it as a murder-suicide, as “tone deaf”.

A spokesperson for NSW Health called the email “inappropriate” and said the body does not endorse and did not approve the message.

“The tragic events that unfolded in Lismore last weekend are having a profound impact on the community, including many of our staff members,” they said.

“Our focus is on making sure support is available for staff members who need it during this difficult time and in the days and weeks to come.”

Established in 2004, the role of the CEC is to “lead, support and promote improved safety and quality in clinical care across the NSW health system through consultation and collaboration with clinicians, health consumers, other pillars and the NSW Ministry of Health”.

Its two main areas of responsibility are “setting standards for safety, and monitoring clinical safety and quality processes” and “improving performance of individuals, teams and systems in prioritising safety”.

The couple had moved to Lismore with their son last year but split shortly after.

When Harrison failed to drop Rowan back at 4.30pm on Sunday, Dr Roome called the police.

Police did a welfare check at around 5.30pm before leaving and returning again to Harrison’s home at around 9.45pm.

On the second visit they forced entry and found Harrison and Rowan dead.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Harrison’s behaviour towards his former partner became concerning after they split and she went to Lismore Local Court in August to seek out an AVO against him.

In March that AVO was extended banning Harrison from assaulting, stalking or intimidating Dr Roome.

Police believe Harrison had planned the horrific crime and had rigged up a deadly gas poisoning system in his rental property.

Harrison, 38, was a business analyst with NSW Health. His social media profile shows him hiking and camping but also includes rants about Covid-19 and other issues.

Dr Roome’s family have travelled from Tasmania, where she is from, to comfort her.

“It’s devastating, we are all devastated,” a family member told the Telegraph.

News of the tragic murder suicide broke on Monday with police revealing that there was no weapon involved in the pair’s death.

“The father has created a system where both he and the child have passed away as a result of the system he set up,” Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Thurtell said.

“A more tragic event you wouldn’t come across.

“Any of these issues are difficult for the police, but they are well trained.

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“Our welfare systems in place look after our officers. Our focus should be on the poor mother who has lost a child.”

The tragic deaths come in the wake of a number of domestic violence-related deaths across Australia including the alleged murder of tragic mum Molly Ticehurst.

A post-mortem will be held this week to determine the cause of the deaths.