Andrew L. Urban
An observer at the 2010 murder trial of Sue Neill-Fraser has confirmed that early in the trial, the prosecutor, then DPP Tim Ellis SC, held up a large knife – flourishing it inside a plastic bag as if it were evidence – eliciting a gasp from the court. But he never tendered it in evidence, leaving it lying (pun intended) on the bar table in front of him throughout the trial.
Although that is prejudicial behaviour and strictly impermissible under the code of prosecutorial conduct, it was unremarked by defence barrister (the late) David Gunson QC and ignored by trial judge Alan Blow. (As one legal observer quipped later, Sue Neill-Fraser had three prosecutors…)
The subject has emerged as a result of recent reader comments in which a suggestion was made that it was a wrench so displayed by the prosecutor. It was indeed a hypothetical wrench that was one of the imagined murder implements used to kill Neill-Fraser’s long time partner Bob Chappell on board their new yacht, Four Winds, on Australia Day 2009. A wrench, a screwdriver – and a knife, were all mentioned by Ellis in his unsupported speculation about the killing of Chappell – whose body has never been found. The knife Ellis held aloft like a murder weapon in a fake evidence bag, was in fact the knife found on Four Winds which Neill-Fraser had used – to cut her fruitcake.
The hypothetical wrench was often mentioned in the judge’s sentencing – reflecting perhaps his acceptance of the prosecution’s unproven hypothesis? But for the jury, the threatening presence of the knife throughout the trial was arguably subtle but persistent poison. The act itself is symbolic of the many other incidents of rule breaking by the prosecutor – including the inadmissibility of some forensic testimony and the many prejudicial and demeaning accusations aimed at Neill-Fraser as a liar.
Prosecutors are officers of the court and charged with seeking the truth. Not convictions that disregard the truth.