Builder shot his two daughters and fiancée dead with shotgun during lockdown before killing himself just hours after making FaceTime call to family and ordering a takeaway, inquest hears

  • Robert Needham shot dead partner Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, at West Sussex home
  • The father also shot daughters Ava, four, in the head and Lexi, two, in the chest
  • He is then believed to have turned the shotgun on himself in ‘diabolical’ incident
  • Inquest hears the family had an unremarkable first Saturday night in lockdown 
  • Needham was granted shotgun license despite repeatedly lying on application
  • He failed to disclose police caution and two bouts of depression he had suffered
  • For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit its website 

A builder shot dead his fiancée and their two young daughters days into lockdown before killing himself – hours after making a family FaceTime call and ordering a takeaway, an inquest has heard. 

Robert Needham, 42, shot Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, and daughters, Ava, four, and Lexi, two, at their £600,000 home in Woodmancote, West Sussex, in March 2020 – a week into lockdown.

Needham, who along with Ms Fitzgibbons had racked up combined debts exceeding £30,000, is then believed to have turned the gun on himself before firing a bullet into his own head.

The family were last seen by a delivery driver who brought takeaway food on the first Saturday night of national lockdown restrictions.

Needham took part in a family FaceTime call and nothing was out of the ordinary, an inquest heard.

The family then enjoyed what appeared to have been an unremarkable night together.

Later the same evening, the two young girls got into their parents bed, where their bodies were found the next day. Ms Fitzgibbons’ phone was found still plugged in beside the bed.

West Sussex Coroner’s Court heard that it is impossible to know the timing or order in which they were killed, only that Needham was last.

They were all shot from close range or with the muzzle of the gun in direct contact, with Ms Fitzgibbons having suffered a defensive gunshot wound to the arm before she was shot in the head.

In her conclusions today, coroner Bridget Dolan QC apologised to the families, saying she was sorry the inquest had not answered the single biggest question.

Robert Needham (left) killed his partner Kelly Fitzgibbons and their two children, Ava, four and Lexi, two (also pictured) 

Needham is pictured with Ms Fitzgibbons. Their bodies were found at their the family home in Woodmancote, West Sussex

Police tape surrounds the garden of a house in the West Sussex village of Woodmancote in March 2020

Kelly’s twin sister Emma Ambler (pictured outside West Sussex Coroner’s Court last week) said the decision by police to grant the firearms certificate cost three ‘innocent’ lives

Earlier, the inquest heard how Needham had been granted a shotgun license despite repeatedly lying on his application, an inquest heard.

He failed to disclose a previous police caution and did not tell Hampshire Constabulary about two bouts of depression, in 2003 and 2017, for which he had received medical treatment.

Yet when police discovered the important omissions, they gave his application the green light anyway.

How do you get a gun licence in the UK? 

To get a firearm legally in the UK, you have to have a firearm licence.

You also need one to buy ammunition.

They are issued by local police forces who need to be satisfied you don’t pose any danger to the public and do not have any violent previous convictions.

They will ask for a passport photo and a referee.

You will need two referees for a firearm licence and one for a shotgun licence.

These referees need to have known you for at least two years and cannot be a relative, arms dealer, or a member of the police.

The cost of a UK gun licence is around £80. 

Source: GOV.UK 

Today, the family of Ms Fitzgibbons said the decision by police to grant the firearms certificate cost three ‘innocent’ lives.

Emma Ambler, Kelly’s twin sister, said: ‘We firmly believe that if Rob hadn’t had access to a weapon that allowed him to kill them in such a fast and cowardly way, they would still be here now.

‘The monitoring and information exchange between medical professionals and the police is a shambles, with both parties having different interpretations of the guidance.

‘Any dishonesty on the application form or failure to declare mental health conditions or convictions, as in Rob’s case, then an individual should not expect to progress the application or be granted a firearms license.

‘As the police identified themselves during the course of the inquest, five years is not nearly frequent enough for licence holder reviews. These should be carried out annually with the full cost recovery born by the applicant.’

Her views were shared by Hampshire Constabulary Chief Superintendent Nigel Lecointe, who also told the inquest that he believes new firearms applications should be carried out yearly.

Needham and Ms Fitzgibbons had been suffering financial and relationship difficulties.

In February they had exchanged a series of texts where the couple, who had been together for 11 years, agreed to a trial separation to try and repair their relationship.

But the following month Mr Needham, who had a history of cocaine use, had shown a registered firearms dealer his legal shotgun certificate and had bought a semi-automatic shotgun.

He took it home and just days later he shot his fiancée and the family dog dead and executed his two young daughters, Ava and Lexi, under the duvet of his bed.

The two girls who were described as ‘angelic’ and ‘mischievous’ by family members were found lying side by side on the double bed in their parents’ bedroom.

Miss Fitzgibbons, a part-time legal secretary, was found lying face down on the floor while Mr Needham was found in the hallway with the gun cradled in his arms and the barrel pointing towards his head.

The family’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bill, was found dead near the bathroom with a gunshot wound. 

Coroner Bridget Dolan said police had failed to properly investigate Needham’s application in 2016 after it emerged he had lied.

Needham had declared that he had no history of mental health issues, nor a criminal conviction.

But the inquest, in Horsham, West Sussex, heard he had been treated for depression in 2003 and 2013 and also had a caution from police for stealing a bicycle when he was 25.

The inquest in Horsham, West Sussex heard that when a firearms enquiry officer (FEO) from Hampshire Police conducted a home visit, he questioned Needham about the application.

And after being informed that his GP would be contacted, Needham disclosed the two bouts of depression for which he had received treatment.

He also told the officer he had not declared the caution because his fiancée had completed the application and she was unaware of it.

But the hearing was told Needham had actually completed the entire application himself and a simple handwriting test would have revealed as much.

Needham and his partner Ms Fitzgibbons had two children – Ava, four, and Lexi, two

A photograph Ms Fitzgibbons posted on social media two days before the family were found dead

In 2016, firearms licensing guidance stated: ‘Whether the applicant is found to have made a false statement is of particular relevance. 

‘Deliberate failure to declare relevant convictions, medical conditions or medical history tends to show unfitness regardless of whether the certificate would have been refused if the appropriate declaration had been made.’

Ms Dolan said: ‘The relevance of false statements are important. High integrity is needed as there had to be a level of trust in the applicant.’

She said that none of the issues, such as the bouts of depression and police caution, would have been enough to bar him from holding a shotgun license, but that lying on the application may have been.

The coroner continued: ‘They all made it clear that these matters were relevant and these matters should be disclosed and he hadn’t done that.

‘He then told further lies face to face by saying it was Kelly who had completed the application and she was unaware of the caution. 

‘There is no record of any probing of these lame excuses the FEO.’

She said the officer had failed to show any ‘investigative curiosity’ when dealing with Needham’s application.

Ms Dolan continued: ‘None of these would have barred him from having a license but the issue is that once this obfuscation was discovered then this was clearly an important lack of candour.’

However, the coroner said there have been great progress made in tightening up firearms licensing in recent years.

She added that there was now no need for her to write a Regulation 28 letter, also known as a prevention of future deaths report, to seek changes.

Ms Dolan said: ‘There is nothing in the background that suggests there was a risk, no history of violence and no history of threats of violence.’

All four were found dead at the detached property in the quiet village of Woodmancote in the evening of Sunday March 29, 2020 – just a week after lockdown was imposed 

Although the couple had some financial worries and their relationship had been under strain at the time, she said there was nothing so serious as to cause such a ‘diabolical’ incident.

Giving her conclusion, she added: ‘Having brutally murdered his family, Robert took his own life. The outstanding question is why these dreadful events happened.

‘There’s an awful lot to speculate on but very little evidence. I’m very sorry for you there is no explanation. Everybody who investigated this tried to find one for you. We just cannot take this point any further.

‘His own family said there was no plausible explanation for his diabolical actions and I agree with that.’

The coroner recorded a conclusion unlawful killing on the deaths of Ms Fitzgibbons and Ava and Lexi Needham, and one of suicide on Robert Needham.

She added: ‘I am so sorry this investigation has not been able to answer why this atrocity happened. 

‘These were simply horrific killings of Kelly, Ava and Lexi and It robbed the world of those two bright little girls.’

  • For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit its website 

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