Undercurrent – the wash swamps the conviction

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:

Meaghan Vass (fb 2019)

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.

Media correction:
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.

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29 Responses to Undercurrent – the wash swamps the conviction

  1. I believe Meaghan. I thank those who offer her support, protection, empathy and courage right now.
    Stay Solid.

  2. michael mullins says:

    We are told that in Tassie a Coroner cannot make a finding that contradicts an existing verdict.

    But a coroner with integrity could say “There’s no mechanism to make a coronial finding that contradicts the existing verdict, but as a private citizen it’s obvious to we that
    the verdict needs to be contradicted and it’s also obvious that various authrities in Tassie fave been misbehaving”.

    So could an attorney-general or other pollie or official. They could speak as private citizens.

    • MM says:

      It’s written in federal law (I think). I remember Andrew Wilkie mentioning it during one his rallies to free Sue – he said the Coroner cannot contradict the findings of the Crown. Which makes you wonder why have a Coroner to start with if they can’t do their job, right?

      Interestingly, the Coroner in the Martin Bryant case wrote to many victim’s families and made a poor attempt to admit the findings of the State were not entirely consistent with the findings of coroner and that they were legally unable to prove/say otherwise…. or something to that effect.

      It certainly had the impact of convincing some families that something wasn’t quite right since some posted their responses on youtube. I’m guessing they were just as powerless as the coroner to do anything further with the information.

  3. nola scheele says:

    Meaghan Vass was more than agitated when she had the meeting with Colin McLaren and why did she go to the meeting at the Hotel ????
    I’m more suspicious about the way she needed breaks all the time and why go in the first place if she wasn’t prepared to say about being on the boat ???

  4. nola scheele says:

    How was Sue close to the murder when she was on land and the boat was anchored no where near land ??
    Why did Meaghan Vass under cross examination say NO to having been offered money ?

    • Michael says:

      The boat was anchored 200metres from Marieville Esplande and that is the only accessible way to get to the boat… so relatively close.

      If you read the court notes Colin McLaren admitted to suggesting a payment to Meaghan Vas’s as per the ABC article below:


      There is massive question marks around Sue’s whereabouts and her constant lying throughout the investigation, the private incestigation is massively scewed one side towards creating doubt that she was there.

      It would have been better to see a more objective investigation and interviews with Sue herself.

      • andrew says:

        Repeating the mistaken, biased approach of the prosecution isn’t persuasive.

      • MM says:

        @Michael re your comment “the private incestigation is massively scewed one side towards creating doubt”

        The prosecution has to prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Innocent until proven guilty means the onus is on the prosecution, not the defense.

        The private investigation was launched to challenge the prosecution, to prove doubt existed and was not considered. If you were expecting the defense team to incriminate their own client then perhaps your understanding of the law needs to be reviewed.

    • Andy says:

      Because she has never recieved any money at all so that would be why

  5. Pat O'shannessy says:

    Absolute travesty
    It should be the cops in the cover up being charged with perverting the course of justice

  6. Pat says:

    Absolute travesty
    It should be the cops in the cover up being charged with perverting the course of justice

  7. Michael says:

    Let’s break down the facts.

    She has no alibi and a ever changing story of her where abouts, she has strange phone calls made from her home phone at all hours of the night, she denied having owned a jacket that was found near the crime scene and denied going close to the crime scene that night and then later admitted she had.

    The investigators offered the homeless girl $10k to sign a statement to say she was there, the prison inmate Gaby said she had been offered education bonds for children and money to help get Sue out and the homeless girl said she was pressured to say she was on the boat.

    Not saying this makes Sue guilty but it doesn’t look good, and the theory he was killed by underworld characters, I’d ask where is there DNA on the boat?

    • MM says:

      Those are circumstances, not facts.

      The phone calls corroborate her alibi of being home. It’s the only corroborating evidence in the entire case. There is no known time of death, so any noticeable gaps are still only circumstantial.

      The red jacket wasn’t part of her regular wardrobe, it was stashed away for emergencies/backup. I recently unpacked and reorganised my shed and found plenty of items/clothing I’d forgotten about. Again, this is circumstance not fact.

      Vass denied she was offered any money. Gabby didn’t testify. These are allegations, not facts.

      But I do agree with one thing, all of the above was deliberately thrown around in order to make things look very bad for Sue. We have come to expect that from the DPP.

    • Andy says:

      I can 100% say that Meaghan has never received a cent from anyone during this and is homeless to this day rather than be at a fixed address and an easy target

  8. MM says:

    Looking forward to the 60 minutes interview with Meaghan. Since viewing the final episode of Undercurrent I can’t help but feel as much empathy for her predicament as Sue’s. There’s a number of interesting aspects regarding Meaghan.

    The obvious conclusion, in Meaghan’s mind if she clears Sue, is that she will go to jail in Sue’s stead. All the other charges laid against witnesses (and now a lawyer) only serve to concrete this conclusion. This is exactly the type of Ace-card that police would be inclined to play on her. That she is the only one who hasn’t been arrested for perverting justice is very interesting indeed.

    There’s also the question of who Meaghan is most afraid of – the murderers or the authorities. Life on the run or jail – which would you choose? Witness protection isn’t exactly a viable option, the authorities can’t possibly keep her safe if they believe there are no murderers to protect her from.

    The fact is, nobody who has pressured Ms Vass one way or the other can protect her. The only way she can move forward is to name the perpetrators and the only way she is going to be inclined to do so is if they’re arrested immediately and as much effort to keep them in jail as has been put toward keeping Sue in jail is the primary focus.

    Sue is proof the authorities have the power and capacity to do this – all they need is the motivation (and I don’t believe for one second they don’t already have the names). You’d think their very reputations might be the motivator. They have to realise eventually the only way to come out of this with their reputations intact is to put a concerted effort towards getting 2 murderers off the streets.

    That is what the community at large is demanding of them. That is the only way forward, for Bob, for Sue, for both families, for Ms Vass and to restore public confidence in the Judiciary. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also the responsible thing to do.

    With elections drawing nearer, the government would serve itself better to remember our constitution provides for “Good Governance” in the best interests of the public. They only need to CONSIDER an Enquiry to sufficiently motivate the Judiciary and authorities into affirmative action.

    • Andy says:

      In reply, as a close friend to meaghan who protects her when the police haven’t made this any easier for her all these years…. who will protect you from those who are involved and the ones meant to protect, its a rock and a hard place and she isn’t doing well at the moment, not to mention southern cross and win tv all too scared to air 60 minutes with the last hope landing with tdt as they are free to air what they like. They of course said no also. Do the powers that be think we will quiet over this. Notice there’s been no comment re the 60 mins story from police or parliament.
      And for the record meaghan recieved no money for the interview. Airfare and accommodation were paid and that is all.

      • MM says:

        Thanks for filling us in Andy. I’m glad someone is looking out for Meaghan, those whose actual responsibility it is seem to be more concerned about their own asses. She may not have the strength to do so right now, but I certainly hope she becomes well enough to raise charges of coercion and threats against those authorities who convinced her to change her testimony at the last court hearing. Threatening/intimidating witnesses carries a heavier penalty for those in authority positions than anybody else. Meaghan deserves justice too!

      • John says:

        They can’t comment until after Justice Brett announces his decision. Surely you know that it would be inappropriate for the State Government, the Police, and the DPP to comment whilst the Justice of the Supreme Court is in the process of decision making.

        • MM says:

          Absolutely! I wasn’t suggesting she or anyone else do it publicly. I’m encouraging them all to consider the right thing to do just as soon as the first opportunity arises.

  9. michael mullins says:

    scum of the earth

  10. The police detectives (if you could call them that) in the original investigation were, lazy and inept.
    In the light of new evidence, they have done their best to intimidate and obstruct justice. Backed by a complicit Government, who are scared of being sued.

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