Open letter to Tasmanian AG Elise Archer MP re TasPol & Meaghan Vass

The Hon Elise Archer MP
Attorney General of Tasmania
April 23, 2019
Dear Attorney General,

I am writing this as an open letter to you in the interests of transparency and the unprecedented public interest in this matter. I do not represent or speak for any of the parties involved. I am a journalist and author having investigated wrongful convictions since mid 2013, notably the case of Sue Neill-Fraser, and publish wrongfulconvictionsreport.org (where this letter is also published) and the book, Murder by the Prosecution (Wilkinson Publishing).

While I remain disturbed by most aspects of the way the Neill-Fraser case came before the court and by proceedings at trial and beyond, I await the upcoming new appeal. I am prompted to write to you now in the wake of what appears to be a failure by TasPol to adhere to the rule of law.

At a hearing in Hobart on Thursday, April 18, the prosecution told Deputy Chief Magistrate Daly that key murder witness in the Sue Neill-Fraser case, Meaghan Vass, had said ‘No comment’ to everything put to her by police when she was picked up for questioning on Thursday March 7. (Vass was in court facing 2 minor counts possession controlled plant/products charges.)

The prosecution summary of facts contradicts the earlier statement issued by police after the 60 Minutes interview in which Vass admitted to being on board Four Winds and witnessing the murder of Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009. Sue Neill-Fraser had not been involved. I reported the police statement on my blog, wrongfulconvictionsreport.org, on March 12: Assistant Commissioner Richard Cowling said police re-interviewed Ms Vass last week when the program’s promotional material suggested a new version of events.

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. (emphasis added) But the prosecution summary of facts contradicts that: she had only said “No comment”.

The facts presented to court last Thursday also correct the false impression created by the unsourced story in The Australian published on Monday, April 14, 2019, by Matthew Denholm, headlined Yacht murder witness changes her tune again, that Vass had recanted to police in the previous few days. I published Vass’ denial of that on Tuesday, April 16, in a story that corresponds with the facts stated in court by the prosecution on Thursday, April 18.

I asked TasPol to address the discrepancy and was told: “…as the matter is before the courts, we are unable to comment.” They were able to comment on March 11, when the matter was before the courts. Their comment now appears to be misleading.

Considering the contradiction between the police statement about Vass recanting and what was presented later in court – that Meaghan Vass under police questioning did NOT recant as police were claiming – it would seem imperative to investigate the discrepancy and its implications. Is it an attempt to influence public opinion – and the appeal? Will a clarifying statement be issued? By whom?

As the chief law officer, you are entitled – indeed, required – to ensure that the legal system in Tasmania maintains the highest professional, ethical and legal standards, to maintain public confidence in the justice system.

I look forward to learning your views and planned response to the matters I have raised.

Cordially yours,
Andrew L. Urban

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23 Responses to Open letter to Tasmanian AG Elise Archer MP re TasPol & Meaghan Vass

  1. MM says:

    All these comments about some perceived gold standard of “journalist practice” when the Australian media has proven itself to be complicit in smear conspiracies that reach as far as UK, Sweden, US and Iran.

    I refer specifically to the cases of Julian Assange and Negar Ghodskani, neither of whom have committed espionage, yet stand accused of it by the government and media for the sake of political diplomacy.

    Not-with-standing, 60 minutes Australia last night used an 80 year old man to further smear his son with unfounded gossip. They also forgot to mention the “leaks” were released AFTER both wars were over – not during or before as they insinuated.

    No media outlet seems very much concerned with correctly describing the US attribution of “money laundering” as the practise of simply buying a lollipop made in Iran, a non-crime that a baby boy must now grow up without a mother for.

    The morals of Australian journalism have gone to shit, right along side of the rest of the western world. We can no longer rely on anything they say as much more than “popular gossip” for entertainment value.

    And, as for our government, they no longer serve us. They serve the United States of Terrorism. FULLSTOP.

  2. LB says:

    Gruntle, I doubt that the Etter “matter” was as simple as “an aggrieved person” popping out of the blue. It is a distraction to accuse someone of making baseless allegations when perhaps all that was done was putting forward their client’s concerns. I have already said that nobody mentioned a conspiracy … so why repeat this ? Do you or others know more? I read where Ms Etter had acted at all times appropriately on behalf of her client(s), so maybe others had reasons not to like this? It would be wise to recognise that there are always two (or more) sides to a story. You are correct that solicitors are ‘supposed’ to have higher standards of conduct, as are barristers, judges and directors of public prosecutions. That even means in Tasmania, and applies equally I imagine to any professional board. Perhaps someone independent should review the handling of Ms Etter’s case? That may be illuminating.

    • Garry Stannus says:

      Further to your comment, LB, I recall that following the Coroner’s criticism of Barbara’s remarks, the matter had been looked into and (not sure if it was the LPB or the Law Society of Tasmania) it was decided that no action needed to be taken.

      However, after the subsequent complaint, the LPB intervened and its investigator (if I’m recalling correctly) asked for all the files relating to that case. I think Barbara would have handed over specific files relating to the complaint itself, but saw the request for 𝒂𝒍𝒍 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒂𝒔𝒆 𝒇𝒊𝒍𝒆𝒔 as being excessive and constituting some sort of ‘fishing expedition’.

      A not unreasonable view, as I see it. With regard to the legal establishment, too often it seems that it’s a matter of ‘𝑴𝒖𝒓𝒑𝒉𝒚’𝒔 𝑺𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒅 𝑳𝒂𝒘’: 𝑯𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒔 𝑰 𝒘𝒊𝒏, 𝒕𝒂𝒊𝒍𝒔 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒍𝒐𝒔𝒆.

  3. P J Dawson says:

    Reading the original findings..motive no.1-to aquire the boat without having to buy out a half share!.Then..beyond reasonable doubt the attempt to scuttle the boat..detail given.Could we get Judge Judy for comment?

  4. LB says:

    “Gruntle” your view about the Tasmanian Legal Practitioner’s Board appears one sided.
    Read what Ms Etter wrote about TLPB- “it appears there are too few checks and balances on the powers “(of the TLPB) ……. “ I urge Parliament to take steps now to ensure proper checks and balances are imposed by amendments to the Legal Profession Act. If that does not happen then other lawyers of integrity will be subject to the harrowing and stressful experience I have had.”

    Perhaps Gruntle you could better expend your efforts in researching this aspect of the TLPB and the suggested amendments to the Act. Ms Etter uncovered a mountain of information for the Neil – Fraser case, all pro bono work I believe. Single handedly she seems to have embarrassed TasPol, the DPP and the Tas courts. Tasmania needs more professionals like her who work hard, act with integrity and simply have justice as their driving force. Nobody believes in conspiracy in this instance. It is as plain as the nose on your face in my view that Ms Etter “had to go”, it didn’t really matter how……that this could happen in Australia beggars belief.

    • Gruntle Massey says:

      You can theorise as much as you like “Etter had to go” , but the bottom line is that if a solicitor makes baseless allegations then those can be taken as conduct unbecoming by the LPB. A solicitor has a higher standard of conduct here. All the professional boards have too much power – that is old news. They are associations with rules of their own, not laws. It is the same in all states. The civil courts are full of cases of people litigating against the clubs they were once members of.

      An aggrieved person made a formal complaint about Etter, and thus the LPB’s hand was forced. Her appeal against being struck off was unsuccessful. Presumably that Judge was in on the conspiracy too? Lol. If she had able to substantiate her claims, she would still be practising. I respect Etter, but it seems she made a mistake and paid for it.

      Govt accountability and regulation will always be at its worst in the cowboys states – WA, NT, SA, and Tas. If you want proper reform for the good of all Australians, you would need to start by abolishing state govts. Federal and municipal law is all any nation needs, but bureaucrats want to feather their existing nests. It wont happen in our lifetime.

      Realise this. If we had a decent Bill of Rights like America does, we wouldn’t all be sitting ducks for anyone who wants to do us harm. Then perhaps Bob Chappell could have armed himself with a Glock 26 as all law abiding citizens should be able to, and thus had an answer for the scum who did him in. Then he would still be here and none of this would have ever happened. That’s how we roll in Massey County, pardner.

  5. Garry Stannus says:

    Evan Whitton (in an early foray onto the Tasmanian Times and quoting erstwhile Fleet-Streeter, Sol Chandler): “The oldest rule of journalism, and the most forgotten, is to tell the customers what is really going on. You do that by disclosing a new fact or a new pattern, or both. The pattern emerges when you put a lot of old facts into a strict chronology…”

    A search of the print media gives the following assertions and dates:

    Within 24 hours of 60 Minutes screening promotional material [Mar 6] regarding its forthcoming ‘Witness to Murder’ program, Vass was picked up at a bus-stop by police, handbag searched, taken to Glenorchy Police Station, interviewed and charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana [Mar 7].

    The full 60 Minutes program was screened Mar 10 [In it, Vass said that: she knew who killed Bob Chappell and that it wasn’t Sue Neill-Fraser; that her companion had been sprung by Bob, an argument developed, Bob was struck quite a few times; that she saw a lot of blood; that she vomited.].

    Following that, Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Cowling, was reported in The Advocate [Mar 12] as saying that:

    “The version of events given by Ms Vass on 60 Minutes is […] contrary to last week’s police interview.”

    Yet, according to a Vass associate in Wrongful Convictions [Mar 13] Vass had made no comment when picked up, interviewed and arrested by police.

    Matthew Denholm [Mar 14] wrote in The Australian: that he ‘understood’ Vass in that (Mar 7) interview to have told police that her (60 Minutes) claims were untrue and made (according to Denholm) to ‘make the case go away’. According to Denholm, what was true according to Vass was what Vass had said in court (on 30Oct2017). Denholm is more than a little ‘short’ on attributing sources for this article. It would not seem unreasonable to suggest that the actual source of the article was (one or more members of) TasPol. In an apparent bypass of a common journalistic practice, his article does not contain a response from Meaghan Vass, nor from anyone representing her.

    In court [Apr 18] the prosecution told Deputy Chief Magistrate Daly that: key murder witness in the Sue Neill-Fraser case, Meaghan Vass, had said ‘No comment’ to everything put to her by police when she was picked up for questioning on Thursday March 7
    [Urban: Wrongful Convictions : Open Letter… (Apr 23)]

    CONCLUSION?
    Both Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Cowling’s and Journalist Matthew Denholm’s contributions are open to question. What I have so far found does not help me dispel the feeling that TasPol are at the least, engaging in some form of inept crisis management regarding the Neill-Fraser 2nd Appeal and the new evidence from Meaghan Vass.

    [would post some scratchy notes in chronological form, should anyone care to see them – gfs.]

    • andrew says:

      For completeness, it should be added that on April 16, The Mercury repeated Denholm’s story on page 12: “Neill-Fraser witness changes story again”: “The key witness in Susan Neill-Fraser’s appeal against her murder conviction has reportedly again changed her story”

      • Garry Stannus says:

        Thank you, Andrew: I will add your ‘Mercury’ quote to my notes. By the way, I incorrectly gave [Mar 14] as the date of Matthew Denholm’s article (see above). It should have been: [Apr 14] – my apologies.

  6. Thank you for this Andrew, as always, your work is right on point.

  7. LB says:

    Alleged predetermined outcomes have no place anywhere let alone in Courts and definitely not in any Court in Australia – is it like match fixing in sport? If this is correct then how is this to be assessed and addressed? Who will step up? Who will intervene?
    It is not a game of football – it is people’s lives that are being played out and one would hope that any Court would be bound by ethics, rule of law, unbiased judiciary and procedural fairness. If there is any truth to the claims of alleged predetermined outcomes (unbelievable but seemingly becoming obvious) then it is a serious indictment on the Tasmanian legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Again I ask, who will step up to investigate, other than a Royal Commission? – and will the Tasmanian government institute this? Tasmania seems to me to be a boiling pot with its lid about to blow….Although this is clearly a State issue it is my view that correspondence needs also to be directed to the Federal Attorney General and others in order that they may apply persuasion to Tasmania to “join the developed world”!

  8. Williambtm says:

    The State of Tasmania’s Justice system per its Supreme Court jurisdiction is allegedly prone to pre-determined judgments, outcomes being decided prior to going to trial, then there are other methods and means to enable a decision to be architected in favor of Tasmania’s State government business enterprises.
    A study of court transcripts and a forensic examination of the date chronology of the sequenced events as they have transpired.
    The difficulty is that a number of Tasmania’s lawyers (some 80% or more) are members of an alleged brotherhood that aids the predetermined outcomes related to Tasmania’s Supreme Court jurisdiction.
    I am able to name names, though this is would be fraught with personal peril.
    An interesting example was the Law Tribunal case against former SN-F defense lawyer Barbara Etter, it has been alleged that the objective of the tribunal was to engage on a mission to shop through the SN-F evidence files held by Ms. Etter, finally, to target Ms. Etter’s practicing certificate as a legal practitioner, this being later canceled by the State’s tribunal.
    There have been examples of non-brotherhood members being threatened to withdraw from representing certain clients, then the advice that there will be a sudden shut-down to the flow of clientele to that legal practitioner.
    This was the means was employed on case matters going back to at least 2005.
    There we are now this set of allegations is finally receiving the light of day.
    One must have located, found or had examined specific evidence before allegations of this kind can be vouchsafed as fact.

    • Roscoe says:

      You raise an interesting point regarding Ms. Etter’s practicing certificate.
      Maybe Ms. Etter should seek to have that Tribunal overturn her cancellation, to be “represented” by Tim Ellis, formerly of the Tasmanian DPP, charged over a fatal car crash and now, lo and behold, still able to practice at Law. (Apologies for the sick joke).
      Ms. Etter, a brave woman fighting the brotherhood, only later to be burned at the stake.
      Once again, what is going on here? A clear case to involve a Royal Commission; its make up of personnel to be outside of Tasmania.

    • Gruntle Massey says:

      This conspiracy theory style innuendo about Etter are getting a bit silly. The Legal Practitioners Board cancelled her licence when she failed to comply with their investigation into a complaint made about her conduct on an entirely separate matter. Nothing to do with SNF at all.
      https://www.examiner.com.au/story/5514549/court-upholds-lawyer-barbara-etters-suspension-from-practicing/

      • Garry Stannus says:

        Sure, the case through which Barbara Etter ultimately lost her right-to-practise, was not (ostensibly) connected with the Neill-Fraser case.

        However, even at first glance, a number of considerations jostle for attention:
        -the ‘we have our own way of doing things in Tas’ syndrome: mainlanders beware!
        -the legal club which decides who belongs, and who doesn’t.
        -Etter’s tussle with ICT of all things! Wins $2ook in bullying&undermining case v Commission.
        -Etter up before LPB over saying publicly there was no blood in the (Neill-Fraser) dinghy
        -LPB on ‘fishing expedition & vendetta’ when it asks for all case files to do with client

        The ‘Greer Case’ was ‘not connected’ to the Neill-Fraser case. 𝘠𝘦𝘵 𝘌𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘰𝘵𝘩. Given the history and nature of the legal establishment’s dealings with her, it is not in my view unreasonable to ask whether the action against Etter in the Greer case and the earlier action against Etter in the Neill-Fraser case is indicative of a malaise which – for fear of missing a larger truth – should not be compartmentalised.

        LPB: Legal Practitioner’s Board (of Tasmania)
        ICT: Integrity Commission of Tasmania
        http://netk.net.au/Tasmania/Etter8.pdf
        http://netk.net.au/Tasmania/Etter10.pdf
        https://www.cla.asn.au/News/a-law-unto-themselves-absent-model-principles/

  9. GlobeKrusha says:

    I too Andrew, sent this to taspol;
    I’m writing as a natural man, and I were wondering what kicks do you get out from keeping innocent and the FALSELY ACCUSED Sue Neill-FRASER incarcerated. While you are harbouring the real culprit, on what grounds you allow crimes of this nature to go unsolved? Due to the lackluster of your concerns for the victim, how on Earth do you guys operate, knowingly the evidence stacks up against your decision to prolong Ms FRASER’S incarceration? Is it that your investigators have interests for the culprit, which may conflict your legal standings? Or is it that the culprit has leverage against you? Or possibly you are colluding with the justice system, in order to keep crime rates maintained? It’s appalling that the integrity and professionalism anticipated from the Citizens of Tasmania, isn’t met or drawn to standards that they are to deserve. This is perjury and a perverse course of justice, by prefect and your shotty dealings to this case.ALL of your homicide should bear their heads in shame, for this blunderbuss outcome in poor choice. I contemplate intentions of Police officers, though restitution and retribution msut be paid to the ignorance of your department. Free Sue please, and reopen the case from Ms VASS’s admission. I also believe Meaghan shouldn’t take any falls, as she highlighted the opening of this case. only due to her dire circumstances. I believe there were insiders amongst your department, that fudged and obscured evidence, to conspire against Sue, and to ghost the real culprit. That’s why Ms VASS is scared. It’s a high probability, that members of your department had unfinished business, with the culprit (murderer/abductor) in association. STOP-THE-CORRUPTION-NOW-AND-ADMIT-YOUR-FAULT!

  10. Andrea says:

    Good on you…. Rattle their chain andrew

  11. nola scheele says:

    Very well done Andrew and I too would like to see if they respond.

  12. Diane Kemp says:

    Thank you Andrew – I look forward to reading a response to your letter. I am about to send off one of my own in relation to Sue but am not hopeful.

    • Diane Kemp says:

      Andrew – what has crossed my mind is that Tasmania may be delaying the appeal until Sue is eligible for parole and then will quietly release her and hope this all goes away?? Any thoughts??

      • andrew says:

        I can understand why you’d think along those lines, Diane, but no. It only seems like a conspiracy, with the toxic combination of incompetence and animosity that has characterised the legal establishment’s response to the questions raised about the safety of the conviction. The delay is in fact the function of a legal system that is slow at best, and the peculiarities of the appeal system – even after the new legislation that has allowed a further appeal.

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