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Concerns raised about father week before daughters killed

Child protection authorities were contacted about the safety of two girls after electrical service in their father’s Oak Bay apartment was cut off, the Times Colonist has learned.
Bouquets of flowers have been left on the front lawn of Oak Bay's Haro Apartments on Beach Drive, where the girls bodies' were found. Dec. 27, 2017

Child protection authorities were contacted about the safety of two girls after electrical service in their father’s Oak Bay apartment was cut off, the Times Colonist has learned.

Chloe Berry, 6, and Aubrey Berry, 4, were found dead inside the ground-floor apartment at 1400 Beach Dr. around 5 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Major crime investigators are calling the deaths homicides.

Andrew Berry, 43, the father of Chloe and Aubrey, is in hospital with self-inflicted wounds. RCMP said Wednesday that Berry is not in police custody but also said they are not looking for other suspects.

Court records show that the Ministry of Children and Family Development conducted investigations into Andrew Berry in 2015 and 2016 after Sarah Cotton, the mother of the two girls, raised concerns about his parenting.

A person close to Andrew Berry confirmed that the Ministry of Children and Family Development was notified about a week ago about the lack of electricity in Berry’s apartment.

B.C. Hydro cut off the power about two weeks ago because of an unpaid bill, the friend said.

Friends said Berry had a gambling problem, which caused a serious financial strain.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development’s involvement with Andrew Berry was outlined in a May 31, 2017, judgment by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Victoria Gray. The judgment aimed to settle child custody issues between the two parents.

According to family court documents, the ministry was contacted about Berry in October 2015 after Aubrey spoke of inappropriate touching.

After the ministry investigated, Berry’s visits with his daughters were supervised for one or two weeks. The ministry recommended that the girls attend counselling.

The ministry conducted another investigation in January 2016 after Cotton noticed a large soft spot on Aubrey’s head, and expressed concern that the injury happened when Aubrey was in Berry’s care. Berry disputed this in court.

The ministry investigated, and Berry’s visits were supervised for less than a week. Berry and Cotton signed a safety plan prepared by a ministry child-welfare worker.

Gray ruled that Berry should be entitled to overnight visits and to care for the girls on alternating holidays.

“The father is a loving father who has much to offer his daughters. It is in the best interest of the girls to have significant parenting time with the father,” Gray wrote in her decision.

Gray ruled that Berry owed Cotton $51,096 in outstanding child-support payments and fees for daycare, school and extra-curricular activities.

This payment would be offset by Cotton buying Berry’s share of the Oak Bay home they purchased together in 2011.

Cotton and Berry met in 2010 when both worked at B.C. Ferries. Their relationship broke down in the summer of 2013.

That September, Cotton alleged that Berry pinned her to a bed, court documents say. After he left, she called the police and Berry was arrested. He was charged with causing Cotton to fear he would injure her.

A restraining order prevented Berry from contacting Cotton and the girls from September to November 2013, when the parents started mediation through the family court system.

Berry was placed on a 12-month peace bond with the condition that he not communicate with Cotton unless he was complying with a family-court order.

Cotton asked the court to require Berry to have counselling, but that was request was not granted.

“Counselling is not called for,” said Berry’s lawyer, Michael Mulligan. “There’s no other history since or prior to this to suggest an ongoing problem.”

Court documents state that Berry spoke negatively about Cotton in front of their daughters, refused to attend parenting classes and took the girls out of Greater Victoria without telling Cotton.

Berry ignored Cotton’s emails asking if he would pay for half of Chloe’s swimming lessons or arts camp. Berry refused to pay child support or for the girls’ extracurricular activities, despite an annual income of $80,372 and winning $100,000 in a lottery in October 2016.

In August 2017, Berry’s bank sued to recover $12,000 in outstanding credit-card debt.

Berry had Chloe and Aubrey in his care Christmas morning but did not drop them off at noon as he was supposed to, according to friends close to Cotton.

After Cotton went to the Oak Bay police station to report the girls missing, officers went to Berry’s apartment, where the girls were found dead and their father injured.

Bernard Richard, B.C.’s child and youth representative, said his office is aware of the contact between the ministry and the family.

He said his office is compiling information about the case, but cannot investigate until the police and coroner’s investigations are complete.

“It will be several months before we’re in a position to decide whether we’ll be conducting a full investigation,” Richard said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Children and Family Development said the deaths are “a heartbreaking tragedy” and expressed condolences to the family. “In the face of such horror and loss, we understand the public desire for answers — how could something like this happen and what could have been done to prevent it?”

The ministry said the Child, Family and Community Service Act prohibits the release of details about its involvement with families. “In circumstances like this we would co-operate fully with investigations that involve the police or coroner’s office,” the ministry said. “Where there is ministry involvement, a preliminary review is conducted to determine if an in-depth review is appropriate.”

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