Who killed Bob Chappell? The cops don’t know but we do…

Andrew L. Urban.

At the risk of ‘spoiling’ the hottest yarn on television this year, it can be said that Seven’s new true crime series, Undercurrent (9pm Wednesdays x 6 from January 30, 2019)shows up the most miserable chapter in Tasmania’s crime investigation history, contrasting with a text book case of ‘how to’; it points the finger at the suspects in the decade old cold case of Bob Chappell’s murder. The police and the legal system should rejoice. But they are shitty. (And trigger happy, threatening anyone pursuing this line with legal action. The series is not showing in Tasmania for legal reasons. Even this review is embargoed from the hapless Isle.)

It was a case of the truth, the half truth and nothing is the truth as police fixated on Chappell’s partner of 18 years, Sue Neill-Fraser, the DPP prosecuted the half baked case based on flimsy circumstantial evidence and the jury fell for the ‘theory’ (as the judge called it) put forward by the Crown. But within that single sentence lies material for a 6 x 1 hour documentary that traces the story from its very beginning … but not quite to its end. You see, the story isn’t finished. 

On February 5, 2019, the Supreme Court in Hobart will hold yet another hearing in a three-year sequence of hearings in which Sue Neill-Fraser is seeking leave to appeal (again) against her conviction and 23 year sentence. Justice Brett will then decide if her appeal can go ahead.

Produced by Missing Man Productions’ Eve Ash and Sydney based CJZ Productions, Undercurrent, is gripping from the start, showing the cinematic flair Ash demonstrated with her award winning 2013 doco on the same subject, Shadow of Doubt. That film raised doubts about the police investigation. This series leaves no doubt: they charged the wrong suspect.

McLaren and Ash – on the case in the ‘situation room’

On the case in Undercurrent is ex-homicide detective Colin McLaren (who will be cross examined via video link on February 5), whose book Southern Justice (Hachette) also on this case came out on January 29 – the eve of the first episode of Undercurrent: The Boat and the Body. We follow this as an active investigation with its surprises, especially for those who know the details of the case; those who don’t may end up thinking the series is a fictional drama, produced to make Tasmania’s legal system – especially the police – look bad. But it isn’t. It’s a fact filled and frightening documentary. 

Weaving together the basic elements of the story with the enormous emotional ramifications makes the series compelling. Like a thrilling book you can’t put down, each episode takes us into the darkness of the Neill-Fraser family’s nightmare. And as her daughter Sarah Bowles points out, if it can happen to them, an everyday, middle class family, it could happen to anyone. In that respect, the series is a valuable lesson for anyone caught up in an investigation; everything you say can and probably will be used against you.

This is especially so with anything that can be labelled a lie. Sue Neill-Fraser was charged and convicted through her innocent mistakes labelled as lies, and McLaren dissects these with his experienced professionalism. It’s fascinating to watch him at work.

As he closes in on key witnesses and persons of interest, the expectation and anticipation rises to fever pitch.

Amidst all the ups and downs, the facts and factoids, is the overriding pull of the mystery. From the time Eve Ash sets up a situation room and hires Colin McLaren, the series becomes a real life crime investigation. We see exactly how McLaren works; he’s thorough and relentless. So is Eve Ash as the filmmaker, telling this amazing, disturbing story with pictures, with the tools of cinema. And this is what sets this series apart: the filmmaker inserts herself as a partner in the investigation, a seeker of truth, and not just an observer. Her personal commitment and emotional involvement adds considerably to our connection to the story and the people.

It would not surprise if the series added fuel to the fire of outrage that sets off a Royal Commission. It should.

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23 Responses to Who killed Bob Chappell? The cops don’t know but we do…

  1. Pingback: TONIGHT, 9pm, Ch 7: ‘UNDERCURRENT’  CLA special:  Sue Neill-Fraser's wrongful conviction. 6-part series begins - Civil Liberties Australia

  2. James says:

    I will watch it to see how it compares with the Supreme Court proceedings. I am aware that one scientist has claimed that there is an error in a previous documentary on the case that Eve Ash produced. He commented that a white dinghy can be perceived to be grey under some daylight viewing conditions. What do you say to that? He also wrote on Tasmanian Times that there is evidence in the trial transcript that Sue’s white dinghy was described by some eyewitnesses to be grey. I checked this morning and he is right. A good example is the email that the rowing coach sent out. He saw Sue’s dinghy on the morning of 27th. In his email he referred to it as grey dinghy. This isn’t mentioned in Eve’s documentary on the case.

    • Ky Singleton says:

      Did he say in that email that he saw Sue on her Dingy? If not it is an assumption that Sue used the Dingy to board the boat as I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be impossible for someone else to use the Dingy to gain access to the boat. Still circumstantial evidence and riddled with reasonable doubt.

  3. Geraldine Allan says:

    James, beware! There are times that so-called ‘experts’ are not really overly reliable, most especially when operating with bias. It seems to me that you have selected one aspect about which perhaps the “one scientist” has become obsessed.

    In the name of transparency and fairness, let’s keep an open mind and consider the evidence now available in its entirety, including that which has recently come to light and more that will continue to be published. More recent publications together with the Undercurrent series seem to be exposing much evidence that was it seems, deliberately withheld from the Supreme Court jury members.

    I have said this before, yet it is worth repeating — if I were one of the empaneled jury members in this trial, I would be furious that I was duped into a ‘guilty’ verdict, when there was more evidence available yet withheld. Jury members are not scientists and/or experts, thus are entitled to have all available evidence presented to them. Also, it ought be offered in a clear and non-confusing manner, in order that they arrive at a fair decision. That is not what happened. It was a case of ‘whatever it takes’ to gain a guilty conviction. That is wicked and shameful. Every citizen is entitled to a fair trial. It didn’t happen. Thus let’s not get distracted on one debatable issue; rather let’s re-look at the bigger picture — the deplorable state of justice in Tasmania

  4. nola scheele says:

    I first heard about the case when it aired on TV on the 30th January 2019. But even just seeing that I would like to see more substantial proof of guilt.

  5. Stephen Menadue says:

    Get the then teenager in court and try to get her for contempt. If she knows anything, a period of time inside will loosen her lips. If being sneaky(within the law) is the “norm” then play hard and win.

  6. Megrita says:

    I have had some interest in this case a while now. Why has there not been scrutiny applied to explore the presence of the subject’s DNA on the yacht? How can this be of such little significance considering the seriousness of the alleged crime?

    It staggered me entirely that no coroner’s investigation and hence report was ever undertaken. In conjunction with no recovery of a body, how can there be proof beyond reasonable doubt of exactly how Bob Chappell died and who might have been responsible? Surely without either there is a real premise of concern that theory under speculation is insufficient grounds for conviction?

    I was astounded by the proposition of a winch being used to lever a body up two flights of small staircases. This would require logistical knowledge, especially in actual set up and use according to the cabin internal space layout . A strong singular person with expertise and practice, maybe, but a slight woman of older age? A lengthy process I would have thought.

  7. Garry Stannus says:

    Geraldine (January 30, 2019 at 12:47 pm ) you wrote “𝐽𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑠, 𝑏𝑒𝑤𝑎𝑟𝑒!” I would rather caution readers to ‘𝐵𝑒𝑤𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝐽𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑠!’

    We’ve seen in the past how a certain “one scientist” has been exposed for operating under pseudonyms, in the apparent attempt to bolster up his unsupported propositions. We both know, Geraldine, that on the afternoon of 26Jan2009, Paul Conde from 50 yards away, saw a dark grey dinghy alongside the Four Winds. Conde, in the 2010 trial court, when asked to view two photographs of the Four Winds dinghy [white, with blue and grey trim, and the word ‘Quicksilver’ on the side, in large lettering], told the court:

    “𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑄𝑢𝑖𝑐𝑘𝑠𝑖𝑙𝑣𝑒𝑟 𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔ℎ𝑦 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝ℎ𝑜𝑡𝑜𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑝ℎ𝑠 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔ℎ𝑦 𝐼 𝑠𝑎𝑤 𝑎𝑡 𝑓𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑓𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑜𝑛 𝐴𝑢𝑠𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑙𝑖𝑎 𝐷𝑎𝑦 𝑙𝑎𝑠𝑡 𝑦𝑒𝑎𝑟. ” [Trial transcript: page 431, lines 41-43]

    That, as you know Geraldine, is the final evidence given by Mr Conde during re-examination by Tim Ellis. Mr Ellis did not challenge this statement of Mr Conde.

    By the way, in case anyone should think otherwise, I can inform readers that whoever James really is, that “one scientist” he refers to has had no formal connection with the case, has not presented any evidence to the court and has not been present at any of the trial or subsequent 2nd appeal application hearings.

    I wonder whether ‘James’s’ comment is yet another incognito attempt by that ‘one scientist’ to again flog a dead horse. Again, Geraldine, I advise readers to be wary of comments such as his.

  8. Anne MacKelvie says:

    After watching the program last week and reading ‘Southern Justice’, I am convinced. I feel sorry for anyone living in Tasmania and involved in police investigations or the legal system. So much evidence seems to have been ignored. They must know the wrong person is wasting their life in jail but not prepared to accept that huge errors have been made. I hope a Royal Commission will take place.

    • andrew says:

      You can sign the petition for a Royal Commission at http://www.savesue.com

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      Thanks for your sentiments Anne. There are numerous instances where ignoring the evidence appears suspicious and/or deliberate.

      An urgent and open examination of the overall Tasmanian Justice system is warranted and well-overdue. Some in the know refer to it as the “injustice system”.

      Yet, stupidly the powers that be regurgitate the, “we have every faith in the system” to the point of insulting decent thinking peasants, me included.

  9. Peter Stevenson says:

    What Bullshit,i was the Skipper who took the yacht to Hobart and had 18 days of hell,Bob was a great Person and very capable sailor.
    No One has come to see me regarding the events of the delivery,
    Get the facts ,not crap.

  10. Carol Trotter says:

    How could the hair and skin found on the hatch be noticed immediately by first responders and not been given the correct significant attention by the police/investigators?

    There seems to be a shocking miscarriage of justice for Sue and her family here.

    Thanks to Eve Ash and the private investigator and all others concerned for bringing this case to the public’s attention.

  11. Mike Williams says:

    Most “true crime” TV shows I’ve watched or listened to gain my sympathy. “Undercurrent’ does not.

    For this viewer, Eve Ash herself on screen, is a liability, demonstrating a lack of impartiality, rigour or rationale….and poor film making to boot.

    Then there’s Colin Mclaren’s “experienced professionalism”, a man of such high regard, he wrote a book on the assasination of JFK…talk about a cold case expert. He’s your go to man! Given recent events, I do question Andrew’s’ description just a little bit and what about Eve Ash’s judgement? Hmmm.

    And of course the comical “PI”, Mr Macgyver himself, making disparaging remarks of the daughter’s carer property and using such an observation to suggest something ‘fishy” must be going on….wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Talk about “flimsy evidence” Andrew! Not to mention poor editing …the whole scene/s should of been on the cutting floor.

    Then there’s’ the “clutching at straws” involving drug runners, without a skerrick of evidence ..there’s that ” flimsy evidence ” again Andrew. A scattergun approach hardly does the defence any favours . ‘Pointing fingers’, to use your term Andrew, does not guarantee credibility.

    Admittedly I have watched only 3 episodes (though they could of been cut to 2) ..so surely “Undercurrent” must improve on the drivel presented thus far.

    Of course any conviction based on just circumstantial evidence , leaves many questions to be answered. However, Undercurrent’s lack of impartiality and its clumsiness, leave viewers no closer to the truth than any judicial findings it seeks to question.

    Andrew Urban writes ” Sue Neill-Fraser was charged and convicted through her innocent mistakes labelled as lies”. Puhhleaese …they were lies! When you are suspected of murder and lie, under questioning from police, about where you are on the evening of the murder …that is no innocent mistake. Though it is most definitely a mistake to do so.

    Further, Eve Ash is quoted in Undercurrent as saying “telling lies, doesn’t make you a murderer”. Well Eve, when you’re a murder suspect it kind of does!

    By all means be critical of the justice system, and demand it operates to the highest probity, but if doing so, hold yourself to at least some level of impartiality and rigour. Otherwise be judged as hypocrites.

    And when it comes to documentary critiques, perhaps Mr Urban suffers the same lack of impartiality as the filmaker critiquing Sue Ann Neill’s conviction does.

    • andrew says:

      I suggest you either read up on the case in greater detail and/or watch the rest of Undercurrent before you talk about Neill-Fraser’s ‘lies’ or about my bias. As I wrote here just recently, I believe the conviction is wrong having read the trial transcript, the appeal transcript and the High Court transcript, not to mention discussing the details of the case with lawyers. Bias is an unreasoned view. I have formed the opinion that I hold based on consideration of the facts. Evidence – and lack of it.

      For instance, the large volume of DNA found on the yacht which was matched to then homeless 15 year old Meaghan Vass was dismissed by the prosecution as a ‘red herring’ and continues to be downplayed in the ongoing hearings. It is not biased to consider this evidence as potentially exculpatory, especially as no forensic evidence links Neill-Fraser to the murder. Nor is there any physical evidence pointing to her, like the wrench dreamt up by the prosecution as the murder weapon. Call me biased, but you can’t hang a murder on her unproven trip to Bunnings that afternoon.

      And just to nitpick your writing, it is ‘should have’ and ‘could have’ not ‘should of’ and ‘could of’ – and her name is Sue Neill-Fraser not Sue Ann Neill …

    • DonJK says:

      Oops.. am I in the wrong territory by mostly agreeing with you? Did you see how Eve reacted when she heard that the DNA test of the hair on the red jacket proved that the hair wasn’t Meaghan’s? When I saw that it made me realise just how much Eve was dead set on finding anything that could tie the girl to the crime. I also thought that the PI was crude. Why they thought a need to speak to Mr King? Coincidences do happen.
      Watch “Unreal man hit by lightning twice see what happens” on YouTube

      Why didn’t Sue call Bob or provife Mr King her mobile phone number so that he could call Bob? Was Bob already dead at that time?

      Andrew asks you to read more and to watch more. There are a number on interesting news articles since August 2017. We don’t need to see the rest of the episodes of Undercurrent to know that the Tasmanian authorities have busted a conspiracy that was based on several false witness statements. It is a bit silly to think that Undercurrent will provide compelling fresh evidence given that we already know what was presented in the Supreme Court until as recent as 10 days ago.

      Don JK

  12. DonJKTas@hotmail.com says:

    There is very much more than the lies about the Bunnings. The video interview of May 09 indicates that the detectives knew that Sue gave several different versions as to how she got to the river late at night. Did you see that in virtually every scene of Sue being interviewed she had one hand on her face and she mostly said “I can’t remember”. Detectives could have played some of the audio recordings they had of Sue talking with Bob’s sister via a telephone. Aren’t you at all interested in where Sue was after she left the yacht in the afternoon and what she did before 9 in the evening? I think that an unbiased reporter, or an unbiased investigator, would question Sue’s whereabouts as much as the whereabouts of the girl whose DNA sample was on the boat. You seem more interested in pursuing the homeless girl and her dna. I read in the media that the forensic scientist could not exclude secondary transfer. I think that Colin went beyond what forensic scientist opined and on his own chose to believe that the DNA sample was a certainty that Meaghan was on the boat. That was an over-assumption by Colin and it might even ruin his reputation.

    Don JK

    • andrew says:

      So I would imagine you are all in favour of a thorough investigation of the trial as would happen through an appeal presided over by three judges, as is being sought. The sooner the better.

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