Sue Neill-Fraser appeal check list

Andrew L. Urban.

For the benefit of members of the public following the Sue Neill-Fraser appeal (against her 2010 conviction for the murder of her partner Bob Chappell) in Hobart’s Supreme Court commencing Monday, March 1, 2021, we have compiled a brief check list to help follow the proceedings – in person or via the media.

This is not a comprehensive summary of the case but a snapshot of the key elements.

On what evidence was Sue Neill-Fraser (SNF) convicted?
There was no primary or direct evidence, such as a weapon or an eye witness to the crime; the body of Bob Chappell has never been found; the prosecution presented the jury with only circumstantial evidence. The prosecutor speculated that SNF murdered Chappell below deck with some weapon like a wrench or a screwdriver, winched him up on deck and into the dinghy and then disposed of the body in the Derwent River, tied to a fire extinguisher.

What new evidence has triggered leave to appeal?
A large volume DNA sample in an area 26 cm x 21 cm (approx. size of an A4 page) on the yacht was matched to then homeless 16 year old Meaghan Vass, who denied at trial (and subsequently) that she had ever been aboard. She has since admitted that she had been there and witnessed an on-board fight between Chappell and two males who boarded the yacht with her, and that SNF was not there. Vass confessed on 60 Minutes (Channel 9, March 10, 2019, not shown in Tasmania) and in a sworn statement to the court. She saw a lot of blood … and claimed the material deposit with her DNA was her vomit. She finally came forward so “the lady could go home to her family”.


Did the prosecution prove that Sue Neill-Fraser was on board the couple’s recently purchased yacht, Four Winds, when Bob Chappell was allegedly murdered?
No. The time of death was also unclear.

Was the body of Bob Chappell found and examined?

Did the prosecution produce evidence of an actual murder weapon?

In his summing up to the jury, what did the prosecutor Tim Ellis SC say about the DNA evidence found on the deck, (in a deposit area 21 x 26 cms) that was matched to then homeless girl, Meaghan Vass?
” … we’ve had Meaghan Vass, a sixteen year old homeless girl, bullied and chased around by Mr Gunson all because some of her DNA was found in the one spot on Four Winds, one spot, one spot only, on the top of the deck – a sixteen year old girl. And the idea was to making you think that she could or was – to make a reasonable doubt in your minds that she was connected to this killing – but that gained her what? “Where were you living on the night of the 26th?”

“Don’t know” – two different stories, oh, homeless girl, two different stories. Treated ferociously, treated ferociously, while all the time it seems that she may have been in the Goodwood area, maybe she had something to do with an entry there, maybe not – probably not, I suggest, but the whole thing is such a red herring because when you realize that the DNA could have been transferred from someone onto Four Winds, and the number of people who were there and where they came from, it’s – it was a refinement of that red herring to say, “Were you down at Constitution Dock then?” as if she had necessarily stepped onboard, or even if someone had necessarily acquired some trace of her DNA, some strong sign of her DNA on their footwear before getting on the yacht. They could have got in – they could have acquired that anyway in Hobart, I suggest, anywhere she might have been, and we don’t know where she’s been, nor can she be expected to remember where she was on the 26th of January.

But it could have been put there at any time before the DNA swab was taken by anyone who had acquired some trace on their footwear.”

In his summing up to the jury, what did the judge say about the DNA?
“Now if Meaghan Vass was homeless in the northern suburbs one of the possibilities that I’d suggest you ought to be considering is whether she’d spat – it’s not a delicate subject, but had urinated or something like that somewhere where a policeman had trodden and then that officer had walked onto the deck or got into the car and driven to the boat and walked onto the deck, is it possible that that’s the mechanism by which her DNA got there and that she wasn’t there. Another possibility is that although she said she wasn’t there really on the night of the 26 January or sometime thereafter – sorry, on the night of the 26 January or sometimes thereafter she was on that boat, and given – if you accept that she didn’t get on at Constitution Dock then you’d need to consider whether it’s plausible that she got aboard while it was at its mooring or is it plausible that she got aboard while it was at Goodwood.

“Well Mr Grosser was cross-examined about the possibilities of transference and about the relative chances of the DNA coming directly from the girl or the DNA coming indirectly from her and being transferred there, perhaps on someone’s shoe. All that he really said was in substance that he couldn’t evaluate the possibilities, he couldn’t say whether one possibility was more likely than the other. He certainly didn’t say that transference – without the girl having got on the boat that transference was not plausible.”

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20 Responses to Sue Neill-Fraser appeal check list

  1. Stephen Hull says:

    A total miscarriage of justice. Three male witnesses allegedly at the crime scene not interviewed by Detectives a total disgraceful police investigation they should be charged and sacked.

  2. Lola Moth says:

    I am fearful that the legal services community in Tasmania will decide to protect itself rather than give SNF the justice she deserves. They are like an incestuous family in many ways and I find it difficult to believe they have bred the evil out yet.

    Meaghan Vass can be proud that she is doing the right thing by telling the truth after so many years of living in fear of it. She should be congratulated on her bravery.

    Susan Neill-Fraser deserves no less than justice. Her years in prison can never be repaid to her and her health, which deteriorated greatly during her many years in prison, cannot be restored. It should at the very least be publicly acknowledged that her life was stolen from her by the Tasmanian justice system just as Bob’s life was stolen from him by complete strangers on that fateful Australia Day.

  3. Marnie says:

    The whole sad years of the the incarceration of an innocent woman must be proved on March 1st
    “The judges will most likely reserve their decision until some later date”
    They must deliver their judgement on March 1st and set Sue Neill Fraser free on March 1st.
    Tasmanian law must reform from March 1st 2021.
    It beggars belief that Tasmanian law has operated as they have throughout this case.
    Robert Richter QC – make sure this happens.

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      I’m not expecting a CCA decision at the end of this March hearing.

      To me, it would be an impossibility because the three CCA judges must write their reasons for upholding or dismissing the appeal. and then that is published.

      Being mindful, that any errors in their decision may then be appealed to HCA, my thinking is it would be imprudent to arrive at a hasty decision. None of us want to see a further appeal.

      • Keith says:

        We don’t Geraldine, but it would be nice if the appeals court could expedite it’s written decision and not put it at the bottom of the pile like the appeal obviously was. The cynic in me thinks they will delay it until Sue is eligible for parole! It’s sad that the system to date leads one to think that way.

  4. Keith says:

    This appeal is going to be fascinating. Either SNF wins and the three judges throw their boss under the bus, or it is denied, further exposing the corruption in the Tasmanian legal system. I hope she wins and there is no re-trial. That said, if there is a re-trial, can you imagine the extra evidence available now that will humiliate the police and the judiciary.

  5. owen allen says:


    63 Molesworth St
    NSW 2480

    Federal Member for Page Mr Kevin Hogan,

    Dear Sir,

    I write to request you table this letter in Parliament;
    Australia, as a Nation to operate with Worlds Best Practice, needs, and I ask for;
    a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (With Power),
    Federal Whistle Blower Protection,
    and a Federal Criminal Cases Review Commission.
    I also strongly urge the Federal Government to establish a Federal Royal Commission into Tasmania.
    The Tasmanian Justice System has failed Australians with the Sue Neill-Fraser case, who has been wrongly incarcerated for 12 years and should be released immediately.
    not next week after the Appeal.
    I also strongly urge a Federal Royal Commission into The Tasmanian Police Force;

    Many thanks,
    Yours Sincerely Owen Allen

  6. John Biggs says:

    (edited) Sue N-F was convicted as we know on DPP Ellis’s speculation, when it was physically impossible for her to do what was claimed by Ellis — AND Judge Blow (see his summing up). Her appeal is based on confessions, evidence so that we actually know who did it (see McLaren’s Southern Justice). If her appeal fails the Tasmanian Justice System will have lost all credibility. We would be living in a lawless and corrupt state.

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      John, referring to your final sentence “We would be living in a lawless and corrupt state”, I write it differently — since we are already living in a lawless and corrupt state, it would be a continuation; more of the same.

  7. Jillian Jones says:

    I feel sick for Susan. How in the he’ll can anybody be convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence.
    The powers to be including the police ARE rotten to the very core.
    They are the most evil sub humans.
    This State is a good place to come and die and that’s about all.
    Sooooo, much CORRUPTION.
    IF there is any JUSTICE in this world, Susan will be freed.
    Remember, this could be anyone of us.
    My thoughts are with Susan and her family.

  8. Katrina Phillips says:

    Appalling miscarraige of justice, I hope she gets ample compensation when the judical system finally comes to its senses and lets this poor woman go home and rejoin her family. It is a real tragedy that she has lost so much of her life while unjustly held in prison

  9. Garry Stannus says:

    Yes, Editor:

    what you’ve posted is correct, as far as I recall the trial and A2A hearings evidence. However, as we both know, what Mr Ellis said, in summing up at trial, was not evidence.

    Mr Ellis, achieved a Pyrrhic victory when he succeeded in gaining a conviction against Susan Neill-Fraser. Yes, she has been imprisoned for 12 years – and might even remain there for another 11 years.

    But Mr Ellis will be the prisoner of his own actions. He is, in my suggestion, the Lady Macbeth of this tragedy. He will always live with the consequences of what he has done to Susan Neill-Fraser. He will, I suggest, live in a world of ‘alternative truths’. I believe that Tim Ellis contributed to a miscarriage of justice. He did this at the cost of Susan Neill-Fraser’s life, such as it was, after Bob Chappell had gone missing.

    Justice Blow? What can I say? He could not see any point in bringing Meaghan Vass back to the witness box, after it was discovered that the address where she’d said she was going to (according to Dtv. Sinnitt) didn’t exist. Sinnitt told the court:

    “The address that I was given, the information I had. The address didn’t exist. “

    Editor, I have visited that address … and in my opinion … it does exist. I don’t understand why Dtv. Sinnitt didn’t find it (the street location was a little complicated) but I found it both online and later in person. I can take you or anybody else who would like a ride in my old ute … to the address in Mt Nelson.

    In my view, Justice Blow should hang his head in shame, along with Tim Ellis. ‘Such is life’? And is there any difference in the attitude of the present DPP and his ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ junior? Will they, like fully-paid-up denialists, continue to pursue Susan Neill-Fraser as long as she, or they, shall live?

    Andrew, we are about to see what the Tasmanian legal system can produce. Will it limp to the finish line, and then, in quashing Sue’s conviction, pronounce it as a confirmation of the justice system? Or will it find a way to affirm the original verdict?

    My guess, in these exceptional circumstances, is that Meaghan Vass will give evidence to the effect that she was on the yacht, on the night of 26Jan2009, that she was in the company of Sxx Dxxxxx and Pxxx Wxxx, and that one of those two beat Bob Chappell to death. She, I guess, will name them in court and then, Robert Richter will move to have the appeal granted, to have the conviction quashed and to have Sue immediately released.

    But trying to predict the future is a wobbly enterprise. We will have to attend, to wait and to see.

    • Diane Kemp says:

      Thank you Garry. (edited for legal reasons)
      My hope is that the sitting 3 judges will not be swayed by the pressure from behind the scenes and will openly and honestly see the evidence that is about to be before them. They will have no option but to grant the appeal, exonerate Sue and release her immediately.
      But then again – this is Tasmania!!!!!

  10. James Plevick` says:

    Blind Freddie can see this is another legal abomination. This sort of stuff will continue ad nauseaum until the adversarial system is ditched in favour of the inquisitorial.
    When truth is incidental to justice, then the law is a farce.
    The legal system – designed to benefit its practitioners – is a danger to us all.

  11. Robert Alexander says:

    No brainer not guilty

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