Sue Neill-Fraser’s bitter sweet Australia Day

Andrew L. Urban.

January 26, 2009 was the last Australia Day that Sue Neill-Fraser enjoyed in the true spirit of Australia, with a blustery, crowded and celebratory Hobart full of young and old, her partner Bob Chappell tinkering aboard their marvellous new yacht, Four Winds, anchored in the Derwent River at Sandy Bay. She never saw him again. That August, she was charged and a year later convicted of his murder. She is still in prison, victim many believe, of a decidedly un-Australian spirit in the process that fused a deficient police investigation with a flawed prosecution and miserably unjust trial. Celebrate not, Australia, in her name. 

I write this overlooking another notable Australian harbour as the sun rises on Australia Day 2020; this one is decorated by Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House. These symbols are not of Sydney alone: they glorify Australia’s spirit: the historic bridge of a young city and the soaring sails of a modern metropolis – both recognised world wide, symbols of a country known for its devotion to what is so economically expressed as a fair go. The phrase sticks in the throat of all those who have been appalled at the way our legal system has treated Neill-Fraser, frustrating her every attempt at appealing her conviction.

Sue Neill-Fraser, Australia Day2009

Hobart’s legal establishment (aka The Club) likes to dismiss the determined group of Tasmanians who have gathered over the years in support of her, the Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group. What they don’t like to be reminded of is the list of legal luminaries who also question her conviction, from Chester Porter QC, to Robert Richter QC, from Flinders University legal academic Dr Bob Moles to former ace detective Colin McLaren, from filmmaker and investigative documentarian Eve Ash, to the lawyer who took on the case after the first (unsuccessful) appeal and fought to have it reviewed – Barbara Etter. She has chosen to change her career in the face of legal harassment because she was rocking Hobart’s leaky legal boat.

Neill-Fraser’s current legal team – Tom Percy QC in Perth and Paul Galbally’s famed Melbourne firm – is working pro bono, such is their belief in her innocence.

They, at least, are showing Hobart’s miserable self-protective bunch how the Australian spirit should be manifest.

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21 Responses to Sue Neill-Fraser’s bitter sweet Australia Day

  1. Don Miller says:

    What made me sick, on Australia Day on the news were thousands of outraged Tasmanians marching with banners etc about incidents that happened about 200 years ago (INVASION DAY) but find a wrongly convicted elderly woman who is sitting in gaol NOW with her and her family’s lives slipping away, of no importance!

    We continue our ban on visiting Tasmania, now 2 trips a year to New Zealand instead, until Sue walks FREE.

    • jackie oaff says:

      Yes I can see the injustice in this case, even with all the evidence that has been presented there is still no just outcome. Who can you rely on in the justice system these days, apparently no one.

  2. LB says:

    Beautifully written Andrew, a succinct reminder of all that is wrong in Tasmania with this case, and a sad reflection on all those lost years for Sue, her family and friends. Yes Andrew, the “Hobart legal leaky boat” has been rocked, but when is it going to be well and truly sunk? or better still, hauled up onto dry dock for complete overhaul for the world to see!

  3. Diane Kemp says:

    Sue has never received a ‘fair go’ something we Aussies are proud of. Sue was stitched up by a detective who was not interested in evidence but who wanted to solve a crime and who states today he still believes she did it – what a crock. This was followed up by a story told by the prosecutor and reinforced by a judge in his summary. Australia Day is another anniversary for Sue to go through as the day she lost Bob and to grieve again for this. So many people need to be accountable for their actions in continuing this injustice and find themselves behind bars for the cover up that has occurred and taken so many years from Sue and her family. Bring on May and follow this with a massive claim against the Tasmanian Government and let Sue be free to live again.

  4. robert gibson says:

    I hope the Tasmanian government is putting plenty of money aside for when they will have to pay her compensation for all the years she has been unlawfully imprisoned,it’s a disgrace how she has been treated ,and the inept investigation from the police ,we all look forward to the day she is found innocent of all the charges she is currently facing

  5. Brian Johnston says:

    It was not a flawed investigation and it is ridiculous to suggest it was.
    Sue was deliberately gaoled.
    The police nominated Sue as the guilty person and built the case around her.

    • Jenny B says:

      You saying that Sue didn’t lead the cops to suspect her? She bricked herself in, man. What was with all the lies she told them, bro?

      • andrew says:

        Glad you brought that up, Jenny bro. Now, I suppose you’re talking about her ‘Bunnings browse’ in the afternoon, of which no CCTV footage was found. The police and the prosecution made such a fuss about this … they claim it was a big lie. She claims it must have been confusion. But then at trial, the prosecution proposed testimony from a witness who saw a person in a dinghy near midnight, most likely a female, heading in the direction of Four Winds. (Hardly compelling evidence, anyway, of her actually getting on board, is it?) It turned out to have been a slender young man with long hair. The prosecution’s timeline would have her kill Bob Chappell around 11.50pm, and there was a half-hearted suggestion that her car was caught on a security camera on Sandy Bay road heading home at 12.25am. She didn’t claim to be at Bunnings at midnight… The main thing to remember is that no evidence was produced to support any of the propositions made by the prosecution. So they had to try and make her out to be a liar, in the absence of having a case against her. The strongest evidence found actually points AWAY from her: the DNA of Meaghan Vass on the deck of Four Winds, who has admitted to witnessing the on-board clash between Chappell and intruders that led to Chappell’s death. I am sure you know that under Australian law Neill-Fraser doesn’t have to prove her innocence; the prosecution has to prove her guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

        • Jenny says:

          Andrew, is your name Brian Johnston?

        • Jenny says:

          Hey bro Andrew, can the facts of the case from the actual trial transcript be brought into my response to one of your points?

          This is in the prosecution’s opening statement on page 66:

          “He heard an outboard motor and he saw an inflatable dinghy with a single person in it. His impression was that that person was female, the dinghy was heading at a slow speed towards the yachts moored out from the boat sheds where, ladies and gentlemen, the Four Winds was moored.”

          The slender young man with long hair that you mention didn’t have a rubber dinghy nor did he have a motor on his wooden dingy at that time. How about that, bro?

          • andrew says:

            Let’s not go down any rabbit holes. No evidence means no evidence; what the witness saw is so irrelevant – just showing the desperate attempt by the prosecution to float theories….guilt has to be proven by evidence.

          • Beverley Archer says:

            Jenny, It now appears that Sue’s defence team is reconsidering whether to go ahead with the appeal ground related to the dinghy that was spotted late at night motoring past the rowing shed towards the direction of Four Winds. Perhaps they finally realised that Mr Maddock did not have a motor on his wooden dinghy whilst the prosecution witness at the trial, Mr Hughes, heard an overboard motor.

          • Jenny B.
            If I remember remember correctly, and you can correct me if I am not correct. The forensic evidence found on the deck was dismissed by the prosecution as coming from the boot of one of the officers or, first attenders.
            For that to happen Jenny B, the person responsible for the transfer of the DNA sample he or she, the person would have to have been with Megan V and standing in her DNA with one boot just before they, the first responders went to the sinking Four Winds. Then he would have to have hopped on one leg out along the jetty to the police launch or the first responders launch and hopped abbord, in full view of his or her teem members. Stood on one leg until the police launch containing police officers or first responders came alongside the Four Winds and was tied up. Then the person with the DNA of Megan V on his boot or shoe would need to hop on one leg up onto the deck of the Four Winds. This in full view of police officers or first responders. He or she would then have had to hop along the deck to the area where the DNA sample was found. Having firmly planted the boot withe sample onto the deck he or she would have had to hop away from that point and clean the remainder of the DNA from his or her boot.
            Now I don’t want to make light of a very serious miscarriage of justice but we are supposed to be innocent until proved guilty. Evidence can only have weight if it can be proved to be reliable. In this case there is so much more that was never looked at by the police. The point you make about the dingy is subjective as the witness did not actually see Sue in the dingy. Only that “he thought he saw”. There is so much more incorrect when you look at the first visit by Sue and the police to the Four Winds. You should read it mate.

        • Jenny says:

          Hey bro, I am not sure whether you are Andrew Urban but hey bro, whoever you are, my point is that if the prosecution case was as flimsy as your understanding of the prosecution case then yes sure Sue was wrongly convicted. Also, the prosecution case wasn’t that Sue did everything after midnight. You also forgot to consider that the prosecution case was that Sue was out until 3am. It also appears that the alleged witness to the crime lied about being on the sailing boat. The Appeal is based on very flimsy evidence.

  6. Tom Cairns says:

    Heartening indeed to see the rallying of so many intelligent and indignant citizens. Andrew touches on a nerve when he alludes to the “Australian Spirit” because of the variant to be found in our island of Tasmania. An old Irish folk song called “The Cobbler” resonates that variant:
    Me father was hung for sheep-stealin’
    Me mother was burned for a witch
    Me sister’s a dandy housekeeper
    And I’m a mechanical switch.

  7. Robert Alexander says:

    We are following – and hoping justice will be done soon ! Let’s hope those responsible for this horrendous injustice will ultimately get their cummupence! Can someone approach the ABC ( maybe 4 corners could do a documentary) .

  8. Keith says:

    Tragically, by the time Sue is freed following her inevitably successful appeal, she will have served almost all of her sentence which is an absolute travesty. The Tasmanian legal system and police have a lot to answer for and it is my great wish that those who are assisting Sue in clearing her name, provide as much support again in seeking appropriate compensation and, more importantly, bring those police and politicians complicit in this miscarriage of justice to acco u nt.

    • andrew says:

      Luckily, not almost all of her 23 year sentence, but nearly all of her non parole period of 13 years.

      • Ross says:

        True Andrew.
        Plead guilty and she would have enjoyed this new years at home perhaps.
        How brave is Sue, and her supporters.
        Happy New Year to her opponents too, ushering in another year filled with guilt. I wonder what their new years resolutions are?

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