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.
Andrew L. Urban