Andrew L. Urban.
Journalists (including this one*) have been saying it for years: the 2010 Sue Neill-Fraser murder conviction is wrong. Meaghan Vass’ DNA found at the crime scene (the yacht Four Winds) should have been urgently & thoroughly investigated. In the 7 Network’s 6-part series, Undercurrent (last ep aired yesterday, March 6, 2019), a traumatised Vass reveals her years-long torment of knowing what really happened and how she has thought of convicted and jailed Neill-Fraser every day since, wishing she could “go and unlock the cell door for her”.
Well, maybe Vass has finally as good as done that. You don’t have to be a hotshot detective or a brilliant psychologist to understand what she is saying in an interview that is part of the final episode of Undercurrent (Eve Ash/Missing Man/CJZ Productions). See what you make of these extracts from it:
Vass is in a Hobart hotel room for the interview, with her boyfriend and Colin McLaren (former detective now crime author). It had been arranged to record Vass finally revealing** that she was on board at the relevant time (hence her DNA) and she witnessed … something that would exonerate Sue Neill-Fraser. She can’t quite bring herself to say it explicitly. She never has been able to. She is so conflicted, torn by fear (risks from reprisals of all kinds and jail) and a sense of responsibility for Neill-Fraser’s plight …
Meaghan Vass (agitated): Eleven fucking years it’s taunted me mate.
(taunted … haunted … tormented? It was actually eight years at the time of the interview but must have felt like 11 to her)
Meaghan Vass: No. I would like to go please.
Boyfriend: Well, where are you going?
Meaghan Vass: To hell, I guess.
Colin McLaren: Do you ever think of the lady in jail?
Meaghan Vass: Every day for the past 11 years I have thought of that lady.
Colin McLaren: It wasn’t your fault, sweetie.
Meaghan Vass: I know that.
Colin McLaren: Somebody did the wrong thing by you.
Boyfriend: You’re the one carrying it all. Do it for yourself Meaghan for fuck’s sake.
Meaghan Vass: I’m trying so fucking hard.
Colin McLaren: No you are not. You’re…
Meaghan Vass: What would you know?
Boyfriend: You’re not going to get another fucking chance.
Colin McLaren: I know a lot about this shit.
Meaghan Vass: Yeah, well not about the fuck I’m going through you don’t.
Colin McLaren: What do you think of when you say you think of this lady in jail all these years every day?
Meaghan Vass: Mate!
Colin McLaren: What do you actually think of?
Meaghan Vass: Oh, how fucking horrible it would be. God! I would go and unlock the cell door for her today if I could but I can’t.
Meaghan Vass: I can’t go to jail.
Colin McLaren: You are scared.
Meaghan Vass: Fucking done!
Colin McLaren: Why do you blame everybody else?
Meaghan Vass: Oh that’s right. Well guess what mate, it wasn’t fucking me. So there’s one for ya! Now can we go please?
No, ‘it’ wasn’t her. But it wasn’t Sue Neill-Fraser, either.
And it wasn’t just episode 6; the entire series is an embarrassment to TasPol – and by extension to the Office of the DPP (not to mention the trial!) – showing how the investigation should have been carried out, what persons of interest should have been questioned and what evidence was missed. All of that showed that the DPP should not have accepted the brief of evidence against Neill-Fraser.
Meaghan Vass completes the unravelling of the case against Neill-Fraser on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes this coming Sunday (March 10, 2019). In the wake of Seven’s Undercurrent, Nine’s 60 Minutes records her confirming that she was witness to the murder – and it had nothing to do with Neill-Fraser. (Promo clip)
That sound you hear coming from Tasmania is the sound of the lid blowing off this wrongful conviction.
* Urban’s articles about the case (here various, since August 15, 2013) and in The Australian (Dec. 30, 2013 & March 25, 2015), Tasmanian Times (various), have repeatedly claimed this was a wrongful conviction. On August 24, 2014, Urban reported specifically on the DNA report by Victoria Police Forensic Services, which confirmed that the DNA was a direct deposit, not a transfer as claimed by the prosecution. Other media questioning the conviction included previous reports on 60 Minutes (17 March, 2013, 24 August 2014,); A Current Affair (31 July, 2013); Sunday Night on 7 (16 July, 2017) and Herald Sun (10 March, 2018).
** In the witness box on 29 September 2010, Meaghan Vass – then 16 and homeless – told the court in a very brief examination, that she had never been on board the yacht, Four Winds. Her DNA was found on the deck when forensic scientists swabbed it in the murder investigation after Bob Chappell’s disappearance from the yacht. In April 2017, she signed a declaration to say that she had been on board on that fateful Australia Day in 2009. But back in court on 30 October 2017, she was highly agitated and adamant that she had signed under duress and didn’t remember anything about being on the yacht.
This month’s Women’s Weekly (March, 2019) carries a 5-page spread – The Derwent’s Darkest Hour– on Robin Bowles’ new book about this case, Death on the Derwent.
Page 59, second column … Yet Neill-Fraser’s attempts to have her conviction set aside have repeatedly failed. An appeal, a High Court Appeal and the coronial investigation all found Neill-Fraser was responsible for Bob’s death.
This is incorrect.
It would be more accurate to say:
Yet Neill-Fraser’s attempts to have her conviction set aside have failed. Her appeal failed, an application to the High Court was refused and the Coroner, Glen Hay, stated that the Coroner’s Act did not permit him to bring down a decision that was contrary to a jury’s verdict.