Sue Neill-Fraser case: key witness denies recanting to police

Andrew L. Urban.

The key witness in the Sue Neill-Fraser case, Meaghan Vass, has today denied claims attributed to police in today’s The Australian that she has recanted her 60 Minutes testimony admitting she was on board Four Winds at the crime scene on Australia Day 2009. She names a Tasmanian detective she believes may be behind the latest move to discredit her, if the story originated from TasPol.

Under the headline Yacht murder witness changes her tune again, The Australian‘s Tasmania correspondent, Matthew Denholm, writes:

The star witness for Susan Neill-Fraser’s murder appeal has again changed her story, in a blow to those hoping to secure the convicted murderer’s freedom.

 The phrase “has again changed her story” suggests testimony given very recently. Denholm’s story goes on: The Australian understands Ms Vass — contacted by Tasmania Police after promotional material for the 60 Minutes story was aired — told officers her claims in the interview were untrue.

But that claim by police was first reported in the media on March 11, 2019 (and March 12 here) and police did not provide any comment at the time as to what Vass had said, either to this writer or to the court that sat on March 21 to hand down the decision to grant Neill-Fraser a further appeal. Police had issued another brief statement on March 21, and when asked for further comment today, they referred to that statement by Assistant Commissioner Richard Cowling, who had said: “Further evidence associated with that interview will be provided to the Director of Public Prosecutions.” That suggests the information will form part of the DPP’s response to the upcoming appeal. (Oddly enough, that statement is headed: Bob Chappell case)

But reinforcing the currency of the information, and underlining the likely damage to Vass’ credibility, Denholm writes: her latest retraction to police may further reduce the credit that appeal judges attach to her statements made outside of court.

The article doesn’t identify or quote a source for the information. Ms Vass, whose DNA was found on the yacht, is understood to have told police she lied to the show (60 Minutes) because she felt it was the only way to make the case go away. (All emphasis added) (Ed: Sounds unlikely; saying she was at the crime scene is guaranteed NOT to make the case go away.)

It is unclear whether police provided new information on which Denholm’s story relies. Denholm was not at work and unavailable today for personal reasons. We will publish a further story with his comments as soon as possible.

Legal representatives of Sue Neill-Fraser and Meaghan Vass declined to comment. Vass has been in a rehab facility in recent weeks.

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37 Responses to Sue Neill-Fraser case: key witness denies recanting to police

  1. michael mullins says:

    enormous corruption by “authorities”

  2. Andrea says:

    They were asked twice to comment and be a part of the sixty mins story but declined….. You really cant see the forest for the trees can you…. poor poor deluded woman. Why do you think Meaghan went to sixty mins in the first place? Think about it….BECAUSE THE COPS WOULDNT LET HER TELL THE TRUTH….. When it finally came to light about the size of the dna and it not being a secondary transfer she was relieved, that maybe the cops would let their egos go and conceed defeat in admitting they right royally fucked up…. But no they just keep going making themselves look worse and thinking the public are stupid.

  3. andrew says:

    We don’t need to re-litigate this case incessantly, now that it is going to be reviewed by an appeal court of three judges. Over the past few years, I have seen people argue about almost every aspect of the case, offering speculation (as you do) but not dealing in the evidence (like DNA). Or the mistakes at trial, such as the prosecution speculating WITHOUT evidence (such as non-existent wrench), or the prejudicial summing up of both the DPP and the judge. What I and many others have been seeking is a REVIEW by the appeals court. A fresh review. We have to wait till then and see who will be disappointed and why. But surely, we all want to let the evidence and the facts to show us the truth of what happened. Don’t we?

    • andrew says:

      You can believe whatever you like.

    • Diane Kemp says:

      Totally agree Andrew – a fresh review of all aspects of the case is required urgently but where do you find unbiased people in Tasmania to conduct this? This is not simply about MV but is about every aspect from the investigation to conviction and dealing in evidence not make believe.

      • Diane Kemp says:

        Caroline what you are interested in is keeping the truth from coming out that Sue is innocent!!!!
        You can continue to push your view and we will continue to push for a Royal Commission to clear out the corruption in Tasmania. We will also continue to support a woman who has spent 10 years of her life behind bars based on lies and flawed so called evidence produced by DPP.
        Give it up – you will find little support for your biased views based on no evidence here.

    • Lola Moth says:

      No, Andrew, not everybody wants the facts to show the truth of what happened. There are many people out there who have declared SN-F guilty and will never accept any other view.

      There is a woman in prison who says she wasn’t there and didn’t do it. There is another woman who says she was there and saw who did it. People won’t allow MV to be telling the truth because that would mean their own abilities to tell truth from lies, and fact from fiction, are not as great as they think they are.

      This case is like a puzzle. When some people overestimate their powers of deduction they can feel very foolish when shown they are wrong. They become even more defensive when the solution is seen to be both right in front of their faces and fairly simple as well. That is one reason people prefer to believe conspiracy theories over simple stupidity when it comes to crime. These people scream the loudest that Sue is guilty no matter what the evidence points to. They can no longer use their power of reason to figure things out.

      There are also people who put their careers on the line to help convict Sue. They were so sure of her guilt that a few white lies and cover-ups meant nothing if it helped their case. They don’t want any part of the truth to come out.

      And there sits Sue. Getting older, weaker, and more frail by the day. She needs the truth to come out, but she seems to be the only person on earth who is not allowed an opinion or indeed a voice.

    • Gruntle Massey says:

      I agree with your third paragraph. It is a very salient point. If Vass had witnessed a murder she would certainly have remembered how she left the scene. She just cant be trusted.

      • Lola Moth says:

        I disagree with your view that MV would have remembered how she left the scene if she had witnessed a murder. She had been out robbing boats with her friends before and if it wasn’t for the murder she would probably not have remembered going out that particular night.

        The things she does remember are those that had a personal impact on her. She saw her friend hitting Bob with something. She saw a lot of blood. She vomited. Everything else is a blur probably because of her drugged state and because she was advised to forget it for her own good.

        I would be very suspicious if she were able to account for her every move that night and to be able to give a minute by minute account of what happened.

        I am sure that at first she was pressured into finding those details that she has no memory of, and gave false statements to appease her interrogators. In the 60 Minutes interview she admitted she couldn’t remember many of the details of what happened that night and that admission is more credible than the vague guesses she has stated at other times.

        Unless you have been in a similar situation you will never really understand how your brain function and memory work in such circumstances.

  4. marie leone says:


  5. Roscoe says:

    I hope that most folk will be concerned that Sue, whilst behind bars in Risdon is able to see, or indeed, hug her grandchildren. Maybe I am wrong, but if that is not the case, and I heard it some time ago, then surely that at least should be rectified.
    Please say it aint so!

    • roscoe says:

      Re my post, (16/4/2019, 8.46pm). Our felons, et al, jailed in Victoria have what is known as “contact” visits. And they are people who are “inside” for worse crimes than that of Sue’s: Enjoying Motel visits outside, grog and weed; babes. You name it.
      Come on feminists, rally around Sue, if you are not concerned with her case, then at least allow her the basic interaction physically to embrace those of whom she loves, not just the phone calls. Email the contacts in this report and invite your friends to do so. Ask them, by the way, what does Port Arthur remind them of?
      If it is cruelty, then they should read further into this case.
      Martin Bryant enjoys a better lifestyle than that of Sue. Inside, he remains a monster, outside, Sue IS the monster. Let’s change that.

      • roscoe says:

        Today in Melbourne, Boris Risteviski, gets 9 years for killing his wife, callously dumping her dead body, uncovered, in the bush, wedged between two tree stumps,which he admitted to. Manslaughter was the verdict. The Cops originally went for a murder charge after many, many, months of incriminating eveidence against him. And his lies.
        He will be out maybe in 4.5 years we hear.
        Remember, Sue would probably out well before now if she pleaded to a similar charge. Why does a woman, found guilty of a similar crime suffer such injustice? Maybe it is that she is a woman?
        Come on feminists, get on board ( sorry about the juxtaposition). It’s never too late. You, like Sue will be the losers. Later on, maybe so hang your shingles out now, before you are the ones. Or, your daughters, sisters.
        Good luck and God speed Sue..

        • Lola Moth says:

          You are right about women being seen as worse than men when it comes to murder. Men get away with manslaughter and shorter sentences because they are men. We are told men can’t control their anger and because of their superior strength they can snap a woman (or a smaller man) in two in a moment of rage without meaning to. It was a moment of passion that turned them into murderers so we should be lenient with them. The cause of their anger (the victim) is no longer around to enrage them so they are not likely to murder again.

          Women are seen as calculating murderers because even in a fit of rage they are unlikely to be able to kill someone without a weapon. Using a weapon to kill means they were armed before they killed and so the crime must have been premeditated. Women must plan to kill to be successful, is the reasoning. Even Lindy Chamberlain was accused of planning to murder her infant daughter rather than to have killed her in a fit of rage.

          Murder seems to be a male dominated crime in our society, so they are given a bit of slack when it comes to their trials and punishments. Women are unnatural murderers so they need to be punished for their evil.

          • Roscoe says:

            Lola, your points are well made.
            The sentencing of Risteviski will be appealed as “manifestly inadequate” by the OPP in Victoria, but assuming that is rejected he will be out in 5 odd years. Risteviski has to date shown no remorse and refuses to say how he killed his wife and under what circumstances.
            What changed the Prosecution to drop the murder charge and accept manslaughter was due to “advice” from senior legal eagles, stating that he would likely get off on the murder charge. The reason given was that it would be difficult to prove “murderous intent”. If you draw a parallel with the SNF case then you would think that Victoria and Tasmania operate in a different legal universe. That is, where and what was the murderous intent of SNF? And, further more, there was a body found in the Risteviski case. Here is an update on the Victorian case:

  6. Garry Stannus says:

    it is a source of growing concern to me that the Tasmanian Police Force seems to be acting beyond its expected functions. I am also concerned that Tasmania’s police might be working in too-close conjunction with Director of Public Prosecution officers and that it is now seeking to neutralise the effect of Meaghan Vass’s 25 Feb 2019 affidavit.

    I am dismayed to have read Matthew Denholm’s recent article and I find that it falls short of the journalistic standards which he usually displays: in his article he uses un-named sources, no quotes (except from years ago) and he uses that old hackneyed cliche, the expression: ‘It is understood…’

    I have written to Matthew and (it’s early days) have not heard back from him. I have also supplied him with an uncorroborated account of how Meaghan Vass, after the news of the then upcoming 60 Minutes program was publicised, was picked up by police, searched, a bud (i.e. ‘small amount’) of marijuana found in her handbag, arrested, taken to Glenorchy police station and presented to ‘Damian’ … the policeman who’d been in court, the policeman who one of Vass’s friends alleges was responsible for her recanting when she came before Justice Brett, 30 Oct 17; was it?

    I recall that there have been calls for a Royal Commission, and while understanding that a second appeal will now take place, I suggest that even when Sue Neill-Fraser is released, there will still be many serious questions which should be answered. When should, or ‘when can’ a Royal Commission take place? I don’t know, but we have a need to understand what is going on in our police-judicial-govt system … it, in my opinion, now goes way beyond the simple matter of the rightness or wrongness of Susan Neill-Fraser’s conviction.

    Thank you, Andrew,
    Garry Stannus.
    Liffey. TAS.

    • Caroline ex-cop says:

      Wasn’t one of the functions of the Tasmanian Police in this case to follow-up with Meaghan Vass by re-interviewing her after she appeared on 60 minutes to verify her new version of events and then passing the results of that interview to the DPP, who are then required to pass it onto Sue’s lawyers?

      • Roscoe says:

        So , “Caroline ex-cop”, Taspol would “re-interview her”. (Meagan).
        In the same way Taspol “interviewed” Sue N.F. all those years ago.
        And pass it on to DPP?
        And, no legal representation normally afforded to those of whom are so interviewed in such cases. And,” Carolyn ex-cop” where were Sue’s lawyers, during the Taspol detectives interview of her during the initial investigation, once again, so many years ago.
        Yes, Sue was “represented”. By Taspol. Please “Caroline -ex cop”, name the defence lawyers who represented Sue during those interviews filmed whilst she was questioned. I only recall the detectives present.

      • Garry Stannus says:

        It’s a fair question, Caroline … what police functions were being exercised when Meaghan Vass was picked up and ‘interviewed’ by police when it became known that 60Minutes was about to screen her publicly stating that she was on the yacht, etc?

        The relevant police function that I can identify is “Investigate crime”. If that is the function which has led police to pick her up on the street, ‘interview her’ and report that she has told them her 60Minutes interview and associated affidavit is not true? In which case then, they might have submitted that to Justice Brett … before he made his decision. Counsel for the applicant submitted her affidavit after Justice Brett had reserved his decision and I don’t recall that it was opposed by the DPP.

        Also, if the police function to investigate crime is behind MV being picked up on the street and so forth, then we would have expected (in light of her affidavit) that her then boyfriend would have similarly been picked up and that there would have been some mention of him. So too with the bloke serving time for murder, who’d with a mate and a teenage girl (apparently identified as MV) had (‘coming out of nowhere on a dinghy’) met up with a bloke walking his dog on the beach in question, on the early evening of 26Jan2009.

        It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the police have been selective as to what information they have been willing to release to the public. Moreover, it does not seem unreasonable to me to wonder whether perhaps picking MV up on the street was not really about investigating crime, but was about ‘holding the fort’.

  7. Robin Bowles says:

    There are better and more relevant stories for the media than a non-attributed beatup on the MV saga. For example, Jeff Thompson, when he attended court last week, the prosecutor GOT A MIGRAINE! (I’ve never heard that before in 20 years attending court —she probably read Jeff’s submissions and they gave her a migraine!) so couldn’t proceed, after Jeff paid representation from Perth and Adelaide to present his case. He now waits more months before he can argue his case and return to work. How is he supposed to be supporting his family when the only person who can present the crown case gets headache? How about Karen Keefe, still facing charges from many months ago? Karen Keefe, not on court list on her due date for court last week, but thought she should go anyway. Got dressed for court, arranged child care, missed TAFE, attended all hyped up ready for court and case adjourned until June as no one there to run the state’s case. What is going on ?? When will the media start reporting this gross obstruction for cases connected with SNF? String the defendants along, cost them a fortune (financially and professionally in Jeff’s case and draining and emotional in Karen’s), beat them up psychologically, drag out, drag out, no matter the impact on the defendants’ lives? Jeff cant work as a lawyer and the TAFE knocked Karen back on two courses (one of which she topped the class in last year’s module) and although they didn’t say so I bet it was because she had a trial hanging over her. She got into hospitality thru sheer determination. The whole thing is outrageous! I’d like the media to print THOSE stories! The impact of the obfuscation and ill-prepared ‘charges’ against people who were only trying to do the right thing and help Sue using information the police should have uncovered in the first investigation. !

    • Lola Moth says:

      If the stories of what happens to witnesses before, during, and after trials were to be published it would result in no more future witnesses. It is so much easier to vanish from the scene and say, “I saw nothing and I know nothing” than to deliberately ruin the rest of your life to help a stranger. The bravery required to do the right thing in the face of threats and intimidation deserves a medal, but there is usually not even a thank you.

      My life changed at 22 because I was a witness and I was still going to court 8 years after the crime was committed. Just at the time when my career was taking off it crash landed into a court case and couldn’t be saved. Every job I got thereafter was lost when detectives came to visit me at my workplace with subpoenas in hand. My name was splashed about in newspapers and threats to my life were made regularly.

      You get nothing from doing the right thing in court as a witness. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and you will ruin you life by admitting the truth of what you witnessed.

      Anyone who thinks people like Karen Keefe and Meaghan Vass are coming forward to somehow make their lives better through notoriety and financial reward is deluded. We can take our noses out of the newspaper at any time and our lives go on unaffected by this case, but the witnesses will have no respite from it for the rest of their lives.

    • Sandra Crack says:

      Robin,I need to meet with u.

    • Caroline ex-cop says:

      You forgot to add that J. Thompson wasn’t authorised by S. Neill-Fraser’s then solicitor, B. Etter, to work on the case when he obtained S. Gleeson’s affidavit.

    • Gruntle Massey says:

      Interesting how the state can forget to attend court, and the matter gets adjourned to another date. If you do that as a litigant, you forfeit, have a warrant issued for your arrest, or get sentenced in absentia!

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      Is it well past time to visit Australian Press Council?

      The Council is the principal body with responsibility for responding to complaints about Australian newspapers, magazines and associated digital outlets, such as websites. Its jurisdiction extends to all the print publications and related digital outlets of its constituent bodies, which collectively account for about 90 per cent of all print media sales in Australia.

      Statements of Principles
      The Council’s Statements of Principles are binding on all publications which are subject to its jurisdiction. They Council’s Standards of Practice relating to print and online publishing are contained in:
      • the Statement of General Principles; and
      • the Statement of Privacy Principles.

      The Statements of Principles are interpreted and applied to by the Council responding to particular complaints. Along with the Specific Standards, they form the Council’s Standards of Practice.
      The Statement of General Principles

      Publications are free to publish as they wish by reporting facts and expressing opinions, provided they take reasonable steps to comply with the following Principles and the Council’s other Standards of Practice:
      Accuracy and clarity
      1. Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion.
      2. Provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.

      Fairness and balance
      3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
      4. Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.

  8. Brian Johnston says:

    Meaghan Vass in not a freak, she is one scared person who can’t go any further.

    What happens if something happens to MV

    That Triffit’s uncorroborated statement was called evidence is a travesty in itself.

    The freaks are busy working out how to keep Sue locked up.

    Vass vomiting as a witness to a violent crime is the only part of this whole drama which makes sense

    If Sue is released would Blow and Ellis go to gaol? Just asking.

    It is simply staggering that Ellis was able to pull off his invented fanciful novel.

    Staggering the jury bought into all that nonsense

    Seriously folks remember when Ellis said to the effect: Because Sue struck Bob from behind he would have no injuries to his face. Does it get any worse than that. Well it does. Sue winching a body around a boat in the middle of the night with the lights off.

    Praying for Sue

    • Caroline ex-cop says:

      Why do you think that Sue winched a body around a boat in the middle of the night with the lights off?

      I saw that a torch is mentioned over 30 times in the trial transcript. Why didn’t you consider that a torch may have been switched on and left on the floor of the saloon where it would provide some light onto the deck via the various windows and the skylight hatch?

      • Roscoe says:

        “Why do you think that Sue winched a body around a boat in the middle of the night with the lights off?
        Ans: Her gym instructor said it will help the degeneration of her back. And her optometrist said that in the dark it will not dim her resolve.
        “The torch”: The torch was replaced by a wrench, although reading the transcripts I only saw a wrench mentioned, although it was not mentioned 30 times, although plenty enough I believe. The Jury accepted that it was in fact a wench with a wrench.
        Game, set and match.

  9. Diane Kemp says:

    Some desperation appears to be occurring by those who do not want any action or investigation. The police officer who MV called out to in court needs to be stood down now until a full and public investigation of his interactions occurs – and he is just 1 of many. This journalist needs to be accountable for what he has written however, there is ample evidence aside from what MV has provided to still have Sue released to home detention immediately.
    This stinks of distraction and a stronger determination by those in power to not move an inch – Royal Commission to clear out the lot of them urgently needed. Keep MV safe and away from police please.

    • Caroline ex-cop says:

      You are suspicious of the detective who stood at the back of the court. But have you done the research to find out why the police felt that there should be a police officer at the back of the court?

      Please read this and you will find out what the police found out via secret recording of a conversation between Sue and one of her jail visitors.

      Pay attention to this paragraph:

      “The court was told in another secretly recorded conversation between Neill-Fraser and a jail visitor, they had discussed having a man stand in the back of the court while Vass gave her evidence “so she would know not to say the wrong thing”.

      Do you now think it reasonable that after hearing about the above conversation that the cops decided to protect Vass from any possible intimidation in the court by having a police detective at the back of the court to keep an eye on people?

      • Diane Kemp says:

        Sorry Caroline but as an ex cop and with what I have learnt in this case, I would not believe any so called ‘secret recording’that happened to come into police hands. There has been ongoing intimidation by police of a whole range of people involved in order to protect those involved in this massive cover up which appears to include court. Really – a prosecutor got a headache so Jeff”s cáse could not be heard.
        Enough is enough – there is no credibility left and the sad case is that an innocent woman remains behind bars because of the bloody mindedness of those in power.

      • roscoe says:

        “by having a police detective at the back of the court to keep an eye on people?”
        People? Whom and why?
        Not a “person”.
        Why plural?

  10. Gruntle Massey says:

    Just look at al the ‘actors’ in this soap opera. Triffit (criminal), Gleeson(criminal & perverter of justice ), Keefe (criminal), Vass (perjuror & drug addict), Wroe (criminal), Devine (Criminal). How are we to get any consistency from this sideshow of freaks?

    The perversion of justice charges against Keefe & Thompson has yet to play out, but that is going to be very telling. What if it turns out to be true that Vass just got tired of being homeless and decided to cash in on the reward ($40K) by making up a story and do some jail time? Wouldnt life in jail be better than the life she is currently living if it is, as she said on 60 mins ” I havent been able to fend for myself.” Maybe doing a few years in jail and having a pile of money to use afterwards is a good deal to her?

    The Four Winds was held in a secure area at Goodwood 4 days after Chappell’s disappearance. But prior to be being moved there it was tied up at a wharf somewhere (Constitution Dock I think). Maybe Vass just vomited on it from the wharf?

    I read somewhere that SNF’s counsel Gunson did not call one person to give supporting evidence for her at her trial. What an incredibly poor effort if that is true!

    The problem with this case there are so many red herrings it ends up sounding so bizarre and confused you cant determine what the truth is. Lots of people contradicting each other. The Undercurrent Series was not 100% unbiased either, it seems to have been deliberately misleading on some points.

    • Mieneke Haynes says:

      The people who stood up for justice in Sue’s case are not freaks. They are extraordinarily brave people who had the guts to oppose a corrupt system as long as they could. They are the hero’s in this case. And make no mistake, they bear the consequences. Most “respectable” people in Tasmania just watch and do not even dare to speak up. They keep their heads down, too scared to lose their jobs.

  11. LB says:

    What lengths will some people go to to try to muddy the waters? I found this article in The Australian rather misleading considering the time frames….all it does in my view is shine an unsavoury light on some of our media…perhaps Media Watch might review this?

  12. tony says:

    the two persons named by Meagan Vass are they being investigated or are they being protected by this certain detective whose name seems to crop up every time, perhaps he is the one who has been leaning on Meaghan and all the other witnesses – what a bunch of grubs; if it is more than one detective involved trying to pervert the course of justice don’t they realize every one in Australia is watching them and the truth will catch up with them

  13. Lola Moth says:

    The original trial of SN-F was dodgy enough, but the happenings since the guilty verdict was handed down are much worse. Brazen and very scary stuff.

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