Meaghan Vass – (inconvenient) eyewitness to murder

Andrew L. Urban.

On 60 Minutes tomorrow (8.30pm, Sunday, March 10, 2019, Channel Nine), Meaghan Vass will confirm that convicted and jailed Sue Neill-Fraser did not kill Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009. Vass knows because she was an eye witness, as her on-board DNA indicated, though it was dismissed as a ‘red herring’ by the prosecution for the past 10 years. (promo clip)

Meaghan Vass could have been offered immunity for her testimony, as suggested to Tasmania’s Government by Robert Richter QC back in 2017, when it was evident she was too frightened to reveal everything – and everyone – she had seen at the time. And she should be protected and cared for from now on. (In August 2013, Richter proposed a Commission of Enquiry into the case; also ignored.)

Vass was a vulnerable, homeless 16 year old when she took the stand in Sue Neill-Fraser’s 2010 murder trial, to answer one big question: was she on the Four Winds yacht in January 2009, around the time Bob Chappell was murdered, as her DNA – found on the deck – suggested? She said no. The court simply accepted her denial.* New information that she had lied about where she really was prompted a request to recall her for another cross examination. Prosecutor Tim Ellis SC fought against her being recalled and presiding (then) Justice Blow denied the request.

The result is the wrongful murder conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser and a severe blow to trust in Tasmania’s criminal justice system. The police had built a flimsy case on circumstantial evidence against Neill-Fraser and the prosecution turned it into a skyscraper of guilt. It would have been most inconvenient for the Crown case to have a stranger present at the crime scene. Of course, by the time of the trial, six months after the DNA was matched to Vass, it was far too late. It should never have got to that.

What do police usually do in a murder investigation when there is DNA evidence at the crime scene? (This is not a trick question …)

Although terrified and distraught, Meaghan eventually tells a few close friends, ex detective Colin McLaren – now true crime author – and 60 Minutes that she was indeed on the boat and witnessed Bob Chappell in a fight with her then boyfriend – but still can’t bring herself to do so in court. So far.

Bob Chappell on Four Winds – in happier times

January 2017 Meaghan tells her story to friend code named ‘Gabby’, that – essentially – she was on the Four Winds on the night of Australia Day 2009 with two male friends. They went there to steal and discovered Bob Chappell was on board. A fight broke out between the men. Meaghan left the yacht, and the men stayed behind. (Bob Chappell was never seen again, the yacht was discovered taking water, with Bob’s blood spatter visible and signs of violence.)

January 2017 Meaghan has a phone call with McLaren, and tells him the same story. And she names the two men she was with. McLaren makes notes of the conversation.

March 2017 Meaghan meets McLaren face-to-face and reiterates fragments of the story. This time it is tape recorded.

April 2017. Meaghan swears a Statutory Declaration with lawyer Jeff Thompson, re-iterating the same story.  She affirms that Sue Neill-Fraser was not there.

October 2017 Meaghan is called to give evidence in the new appeal quest by Neill-Fraser. She renegs on her Stat Dec of April, saying it was made under duress. Distraught and almost hysterical, she just “can’t remember” anything.

February 2019 Meaghan travels to Melbourne and tells a counsellor that she was on the yacht. She makes a brief – signed – statement to that effect.

February 2019 Meaghan tells her friend code named ‘Sharyn’ that she was on the yacht with two men and planned to steal, before a fight broke out.

February 2019 Meaghan tells 60 Minutes Producer the same story.

Liam Bartlett on 60 Minutes with Meaghan Vass

February 2019 Meaghan records an interview with 60 Minutes journalist Liam Bartlett. She tells him the same story. Neill-Fraser is innocent. She agrees that one of the men she was with kept hitting Bob Chappell. She saw blood …The 60 Minutes interview airs March 10, 2019 (except in Tasmania – although the promo spot is available online on the 60 Minutes fb page). Before you ask: 60 Minutes producers have confirmed they did not pay Vass a fee for the interview.

That ‘red herring’ has now been caught – as it was always going to be.

* By contrast, Sue Neill-Fraser’s claim that she was at Bunnings that afternoon was labelled a lie and formed the basis of the character assassination that injured her in the eyes of the jury. Yet there was no forensic evidence to link her to the murder. Vass was believed despite the DNA evidence.

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43 Responses to Meaghan Vass – (inconvenient) eyewitness to murder

  1. Jim Bennett says:

    I am very sorry for the injustices you have had to endure. I too have been victimized by improper police work when I was assaulted back in 2009. My situation could have ended with me being in jail, but thankfully I got the right people involved. I dont want to make this about me. Your situation is far worse and I pray that the right people take notice and you are vindicated.

  2. Jackie says:

    How can I help Meaghan?

    • MM says:

      I dare say the best help we, the public/community, can provide Meaghan is being a positive support structure.

      The more people use this forum as a means to point fingers at her, call her names and put her down the less likely she will ever beat drug-addiction. Australia has a very sad and sorry history of treating drug-addiction as a crime. Let’s not jump on that bandwagon.

      Perhaps the best way to demonstrate our support is to appreciate her difficulties and to show compassion for her situation. I truly believe, if she can beat the very vulnerability that others have preyed upon, she will emerge a victor – both in her battle with drugs and her legal struggles.

      • Henry K says:

        Police interviewed Meaghan recently:

        Notice what the Assistant Police Comissioner said:

        “The version of events given by Ms Vass on 60 Minutes is contrary to her previous police interview, contrary to her sworn evidence in court and contrary to last week’s police interview,” Commander Cowling said.”

          • Henry K (retired forensic scientist) says:

            Meaghan wasn’t on the yacht. That is the main point. Therefore it was a secondary transfer like it was argued by the former DPP. I am not the only scientist who stated that Meaghan’s DNA on the yacht was most likely to be secondary.

            I read what you posted there. But that is a legal opinion not a forensic science opinion.

          • andrew says:

            You’d know …

          • MM says:

            Also Henry, re you’re not the only scientist to support secondary source theory… Let me ask…

            In addition to the experiments performed by world expert DNA scientists in Making a Murderer, how do you suppose Victoria Police Forensic Services was able to produce a scientific study in 2014 which concluded “.. there is no evidence that the DNA detected.. was the result of a secondary transfer event caused through foot traffic on the deck of Four Winds”?? The VPFSD report went on to say exactly what the DNA scientists proved in Making a Murderer.

            The reason both scientific findings are so damning is, while they undeniably support each others conclusions, the Avery case depended on the opposite assertion: that the existence of his DNA in the car was actually a secondary (planted) deposit.

            How do you suppose two totally separate scientific experiments in two completely different countries could produce the exact same results whilst trying to prove totally opposite theories?

        • MM says:

          That was so very supportive and positive of you Henry. My comment made no reference at all to statements, nor did Jackie’s, so your reply is relevant and just looks like more Meaghan-bashing. Aren’t you the model citizen (n’t)?

  3. MM says:

    Well done Meaghan! You are a brave soul. You have demonstrated great courage to overcome the pressures put on you by a corrupt legal system.

    I hope you somehow find peace when all this is over. You deserve a well-earned break. I can appreciate how difficult it must be for you, but please please please look after yourself and resist the urge to bury it with drugs again.

    You are a strong, beautiful woman and have a whole life ahead of you. I realise the past was robbed from you by the actions of others, but please do let it start now. Allow yourself to rise from the ashes of destruction and despair to emerge the worthy and deserving human being that you have demonstrated yourself to be today.

    It is only by defeating vulnerability that you can be truly free of the authorities hold over you.

    Stay safe and well lovely xxx

  4. Beth Muller says:

    When will this travesty be ended for Sue ?
    Soon I hope & the DPP & Chief of police Tasmania in charge at the time should be held to account.
    When do the the DPP & Chief of police Tasmania think it’s right to ignore forensic evidence in a murder case & not offer protection to a homeless woman ?

  5. Karen Keefe says:

    Andrea Brown, where exactly did you get your information that i dragged MV anywhere????? I was actually in prison when she signed her statement. And your the one who sent MV to the mainland to meet 60 Minutes so why exactly you feel the need to comment is beyond me….oh but thats right… you were paid….for your….assistance!!!!!
    You really need to be a little more careful with the things you put on the media… you have a habit of telling lies.

    • Jenny says:

      Hey Karen, where is Meaghan’s diary Colin says you told him about?

    • MM says:

      Touche Karen!

      Anybody with half a brain already knew you were in jail. In fact, those of us who are following every detail of the case paid no attention to your role at all other than being a 3rd party witness to Maeghan’s confession.

      It’s probably safe to assume those who have a vested interest in Sue staying in jail will most likely target this website to spread misinformation. Pays to keep your eyes on the ball peeps!

      The prosecution has held the floor publicly for 10 long years, only showing one side of the story. This investigation and subsequent community discussion was a long time coming and provides the balance that was previously missing from the public view.

      To suggest it is somehow unbalanced now is also to ignore the BS the media/police/prosecution has been feeding us for the past decade – and keeps repeating every time another arrest is made.

      I hope you are left alone to live in peace now that the truth has emerged and vindicated you Karen. Best wishes xxx

      • Jenny says:

        MM, That is very nasty. It was Karen who told Sue that she knew Meaghan. It was Karen who introduced Meaghan to Colin McLaren and helped to facilitate the initial face to face interaction between Meaghan and Colin. But it appears that Karen lied to Colin about having Meaghan’s diary from 2009 that had notes about Meaghan being on Four Winds. The diary hasn’t surfaced yet.

        • MM says:

          Which part was nasty exactly? I did acknowledge that Karen was a 3rd party witness – which is pretty much what you are describing here.

          I’m not presuming that a diary does not exist or that Karen lied about it, YOU are! I suspect the diary is where it SHOULD be – in the hands of the defense team. I’m patiently waiting for them to decide what to do with it and I don’t expect it to become public knowledge until its usefulness has been exhausted in court.

          What many people don’t seem to understand is that due-process does not include publishing hearsay, ad-hominem accusations or opinions that may damage the impartiality of the judiciary.

          This is why the courts are increasingly issuing gag-orders to the press. Recall Lindy Chamberlain?? Trial by public opinion is NOT due-process.

          • Jenny says:

            Sue could have been out by now had the alleged diary existed and been provided to the defence team in 2017 prior to Meagan withdrawing her statement. There is no need for you to change the subject to other matters. Where is the diary MM?

          • MM says:

            I’m not sure how you think a person who is in jail could have escaped and collected the diary to turn it over to the defense.

            But we digress, what was said between Karen and Meaghan is hearsay (ie inadmissible). If you’re expecting to hear anything about the diary (ie possibly admissible evidence) prior to its use in a current appeal then you’re obviously ignorant of due-process.

            Or you are deliberately trying to sabotage use of the diary by pressing the topic here??

        • MM says:

          OK… about the diary specifically: in my mind there is nothing to suggest it doesn’t exist and plenty to suggest that it probably does.

          To assert that the diary is an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card indicates the complexity of this whole case has gone right over your head.

          If the defense can’t get Meaghan’s testimony regarding being on the yacht into evidence, then they can’t tender her diary as evidence either because it has no relevance to anything else other than corroborating Meaghan’s admission of being on the yacht.

          You can’t just tender irrelevant evidence to the court.

          There are other considerations as well; the diary may well contain self-incriminating evidence against Meaghan herself (falling under protections from statutory encroachment). Or the diary may be more useful in a retrial situation rather than an appeal situation.

          Procedural fairness provides that both the prosecution and the defense have equal access to ALL evidence tendered to the court however, the diary is not tendered yet so it’s still an ace up the sleeve of the defense. If I was on the defense team, I certainly wouldn’t be revealing any aces until the last possible moment that the law permits.

          There’s a lot of valid reason the public may not be told anything further about the diary until it’s usefulness has been exhausted.

          Anyhoo, mounting a social war online over it is really quite pointless, especially considering those concerning themselves with it are all in agreement regarding Sue’s innocence!

          Let’s just hope that a diary does exist to put the slime-bag-prosecution’s “unreliable witness” avenue to bed.

    • Andy says:

      Where are the diaries…. Um, knocking on the doors of nerida place to put her in the boot or yr pH calls to keep an eye on the little slut til u get out…. Not exactly words or actions from someone who cares

  6. Garry Stannus says:

    Well, it’s just a few hours to go now, but probably it won’t stop the questions. I began my interest in the case firstly I suppose because it was there in my face. Being a Tasmanian, reading Tasmanian Times daily, I could not help but become interested. As matters progressed, then the trial and the verdict and crushing penalty, and with Neill-Fraser’s continued insistence on innocence, I felt that it wasn’t unreasonable to wonder at the verdict. No body, no weapon, no witness of a murder, an unconvincing suggested motive, no confession. There was a long comment thread on Tasmanian Times, with a title something like: ‘𝑆𝑢𝑠𝑎𝑛 𝑁𝑒𝑖𝑙𝑙-𝐹𝑟𝑎𝑠𝑒𝑟 : 𝑇𝑤𝑜 𝑣𝑖𝑒𝑤𝑠 𝑜𝑛 ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝐺𝑢𝑖𝑙𝑡’. One article – two authors: Ben Lohrenberger for the ‘guilty view’ and Andrew Urban for the ‘not guilty’ side. [Forgive where memory leads me astray…]

    At some stage Ben made the not unreasonable complaint that it seemed that the ‘defence side’ were cherry picking from the Trial Transcript and perhaps were keeping unpublished, material that was not favourable to SN-F, material that had been put before the jury, I suppose. So in that thread, I asked Barbara Etter to even things up, to publish the transcript. Lo and behold! Tas Times published it – whether it was through my request or through the efforts of others I do not know.

    Anyway, that opened my eyes. It was a huge (>1500 pages) document which is like the bedrock for my current understanding of the case (informed as it is by attendance at all the hearings involving the witnesses for the 2nd Appeal Leave Application. One thing that stuck out, that could not be ignored, or rationalised, in my opinion, was Justice Blow’s refusal to allow Vass to be recalled to the stand. By any standard of fairness that suggests itself to me, that was a miscarriage of justice. Neill-Fraser, guilty or innocent, was not accorded justice.

    And now we wait for 60 Minutes. I hope that it lives up to its touted claims, that the tiny clips of Meaghan Vass saying there was lots of blood is not a clip that is taken out of context, that her apparently agreeing to the interviewer that she was present when Bob was killed … I hope likewise that this will not prove to be an incomplete or out-of-context statement. Whatever is in the ‘Confession’ tonight, I hope that it is clear and unequivocal.

  7. Gloria Boswell says:

    Since when does the Tasmanian judicial system have the right to jail a person on circumstantial evidence. Surely if they used their common sense, they must realize how could a lone woman kill a fit man then dispose of his body? There is a lot more to this story than the public have been told. I only hope Megan Vass truthfully tells the authorities what happened that terrible night and Sue will be released. It’s a total miscarriage of justice.

  8. Pingback: Tasmanian justice system self-harmed | Wrongful Convictions Report

  9. Dixie Lee says:

    Mr.Tim Ellis, the Public Prosecutor in this case, made up a fairy tale of Sue using a wrench to hit her partner Bob one or two times then winched his body from the floor of the cabin to the cockpit floor. She then winched his body from the cockpit floor into an inflatable boat and then proceeded to take his body out to the sea.
    In his summary of the address to the jury the judge should have advised them that what the prosecutor had put forward came from his imagination and there was no evidence to back it up. However the judge mentioned the word ‘ wrench’ 8 times and stated that this was probably what happened. The jury heard this fairy tale which the judge believed and returned a guilty verdict.
    An appeal was launched with three judges who did not overturn the verdict but decided to take 3 years off the original sentence of 26 years.
    An approach was made to present this case to the High Court but this was denied.

  10. Geraldine Allan says:

    LB, you ask sensible questions, to which none of us have a reasonable explanation.
    As if … other than the reasons given in the trial transcript, we could fathom a fair and just reason “why both Justice Blow and Mr Ellis refused to have Ms Vass recalled all those years back”. Of course “it should have been the routine and obvious course of action by the court at the time”
    As for indemnity/immunity and protection refusal, my understanding is so too did DPP Coates refuse, on a separate application.

  11. Geraldine Allan says:

    I’ve just posted 2 comments to Tasmania Times. Since it is closing down, I’m unsure if they will be added to the thread. Re-posting here fyi.

    Tas Times Saturday 09 March 2019 — 9pm
    “Lola, as I posted yesterday, “… There will always be a selection of ppl who may well be influenced by ‘cash for comment’ incentives; certainly not all. It seems to me to be further derogatory (even defamatory) of MV to suggest/publish that she is now creating an untruth as opposed to revealing the truth, because of $$’s offered. …”.

    I stand by the my observation that some comment, “seems to me to be further derogatory (even defamatory) of MV…”. The horrible innuendo and speculation about this young woman who is attempting to resolve a huge conflicting situation, is way beyond the pale.

    For your information I quote, “… The 60 Minutes interview airs March 10, 2019 (except in Tasmania – although the promo spot is available online on the 60 Minutes fb page). Before you ask: 60 Minutes producers have confirmed they did not pay Vass a fee for the interview.

    That ‘red herring’ has now been caught – as it was always going to be. …”
    Lola, my understanding is that TT Editor has now provided you my email address.”

    “William, my understanding is that the 60Minutes tomorrow night (Sunday 10th March) has an embargo for Tasmania, due to current maters before the courts. There is always a danger of contempt. Thus that may solve the ‘mystery’ for you.

    It is frustrating to read the red herrings, especially when they are disparaging of other persons, and without evidence. Nevertheless, some of us know a lot more than we record; some of us sat though recent Supreme Court hearings; some of us have reliable access to transcripts; some of us care too deeply about seeing justice done for Susan Neill-Fraser, insofar as she is afforded a fair & proper trial.

    Those who support the wrongdoing as has happened, and which has clearly been identified, are naive of systemic modus-operandi, thus are unable to differ between the real perverters and those who have been so wrongly accused — the good guys.

    Stay true to yourself William, I have every faith in you. There is no point in lowering personal standards to compete with those who seem to be unable to accept they hold mistaken beliefs. “

  12. LB says:

    Henry – you mention “confident”? Not at all – who would have ANY confidence in justice in Tasmania now? You are correct that the whole sorry mess has been a decade of innuendo, speculation and in many people’s views an orchestrated cover -up! The books written by Andrew Urban, Colin McLaren and Robin Bowles are hardly fiction….

    I wonder if someone can adequately explain why both Justice Blow and Mr Ellis refused to have Ms Vass recalled all those years back when (according to experts) it should have been the routine and obvious course of action by the court at the time? To add to the mess, why was indemnity/immunity and protection for Ms Vass also denied, when requested by Robert Richter QC? If authorities say “no” often enough, do they really think this travesty will simply pop off into the ether? THE LONGER IT GOES ON, THE WORSE IT IS GOING TO GET, SURELY?

    • Andrea Brown says:

      Robyn bowles has the wool pulled over her eyes when it comes to karen keefe saying that everyone owes her an apology as she actually led them to Meaghan… DNA led to Meaghan and karen coerced and dragged not led Meaghan. She had dollar signs in her eyes. Also the diaries that she had? Where are they? They don’t even exist. Belting on doors looking for her to drag her out isn’t going about it the right way at all so no one owes her an apology at all. Also in Robyn’s book she claims Sam devine was in supreme court initially and cross examined. Another fallacy. Also if she plugs her own book one more time I think I’ll scream.

      • Michael says:

        Did you find any errors in Andrew Urban’s book or Colin Mclaren’s book?

      • Brian Johnston says:

        I got half way through the book and wondered if I could finish it. Not a good read. The foolish comments she was making about the guy with the stolen goods and what the Henchmen got up to could get her into all sorts of trouble. The book was all about Robyn. She hasn’t helped at all.

        • Andy says:

          Jenny I have known her for rnd two years. I got paid? What on earth would I get paid for?
          Air tix and accomodation is all she’s ever received although I havnt seen her recently.
          Everyone’s quick to say about payments being made…. Maybe some people just wanted to help her for no financial gain and maybe she thought it was time to let out her secrets..

      • Jenny C says:

        Robin Bowles seems to have a soft spot for Karen Keefe.
        Colin McLaren seems to have a soft spot for Stephen Gleeson.
        How well do you know Meaghan?

  13. What leaves me breathless is the level of malevolence and hatred the Australian justice system harbours and acts upon, to deny many innocent people a fair go.
    When the egos of those involved in murder cases overrule every avenue of appeal, new evidence and pity, we look like naïve teenagers trying to be grownups. Tasmania, it’s time to become adult. Only a rolling Royal Commission will cleanse bigotry & nepotism from the justice systems in every state in Australia, starting in Tasmania. Our young, arrogant country needs (more) courageous people to act.

  14. Margaret O'Callaghan says:

    TasPol – why has it taken a dedicated film maker, journos, retired police and authors to come up with what should have been obvious from the beginning? How much government money has been expended on hiding the evidence and harassing witnesses?
    Tas-mania indeed. Utterly shameful.

  15. FINALLY the truth comes out – a decade too late for Sue..
    Mainland judges for the appeal, and a commission of inquiry into the Tasmanian “justice” system are essential.

    • Henry K (retired forensic scientist) says:

      I wouldn’t be as confident as you. (REST OF COMMENT DELETED – innuendo and speculation, possibly defamatory)

      • MM says:

        I’m still waiting for a retired forensic scientist to explain the difference between the quality of DNA from a secondary source vs a primary source and to explain how the so-called secondary source was not a mixture of DNA if it was, indeed, transferred there via shoe/boot.

        Perhaps you’re not as knowledgeable on the subject as you’d have us believe?

        • Henry K says:

          There doesn’t necessarily need to be a difference in the quality between the primary and the secondary.

          A primary deposit that is 3 days old and is exposed to weather can be of lower quality than a secondary transfer that is 1 day old and is exposed to the same weather.

          A forensic scientist cannot tell by looking at DNA whether it is primary or secondary transfer.

          Why should there be a mixture?

          • MM says:

            I suggest you watch Making a Murderer and take special note of what the world’s leading DNA scientists have concluded regarding your assertions.

            They don’t just give an opinion – they actually PROVE it scientifically by recreating experiments.

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