Andrew L. Urban.
On Tuesday, DPP Daryl Coates SC, from whom the soured milk of human unkindness oozed like puss, was relentless in exploiting the vulnerability of Meaghan Vass and her distressing emotional unraveling to achieve his objective: damage or destroy the credibility of her testimony in the appeal court.
Not once did he acknowledge, let alone sympathise with, her anguish, her tears, her stress. Not once did he approach her with the faintest kindness of one human to another. Not once did he treat her as a vulnerable and visibly distressed young woman. She was just an obstacle to be bulldozed out of his way to a court room battle victory. But the war was not over.
For all the distasteful way the DPP brought her to such distress she’d have agreed to being held at gun pont to sign her statements, the fact remains a fact. If her DNA was on the yacht – the fact – her gyrating testimony can be pinned to that fact.
For example, the DPP put it to her that she could not remember ever having been on the yacht. She agreed, accepting eveything he put to her rather robotically by then. But the fact was and is still there. Her DNA remembers very well. In other words, whatever her spoken testimony then, later and now, her DNA is unshakeable testimony.
THE DNA BATTTLE
That was the ground on which the last battle was fought in the appeal court, ending soon after lunch today (Wednesday, March 3, 2021).
Shortly before 10 am, Sue Neill-Fraser was delivered by wheelchair into court 1 of the Supreme Court in Hobart’s Salamanca, to be greeted by the gathered supporters singing Happy Birthday … quietly. It brought a smile to her face and to everyone else’s in court. It’s not the preferred way to spend your 67th birthday, but she had no choice.
Then it started, the final battle over the DNA evidence that is the key to this appeal. The earlier evidence given by Meaghan Vass was described as not relevant to this court, when Chris Carr SC began his submission to the three justices sitting on the bench, on behalf of ‘the applicant’.
Carr argued that the prosecution’s treatment of the DNA evidence, which had been matched to Meaghan Vass, was “untenable”, referring to the then DPP’s closing address to the jury in which this evidence was referred to as a “red herring”.
Rather than being a secondary transfer ‘on someone’s shoe’ as the Crown maintained, according expert evidence of Maxwell Jones of the Victorian police forensic service tendered in the seeking leave appeal on October 2017, it was a primary deposit. DPP Daryl Coates SC later argued that Jones could not entirely rule out that it was by secondary deposit, in some exceptional circumstance.
Carr submitted that the evidence from Jones constituted the ‘Fresh’ requirment for this appeal. It also satisfied the ‘Substantial’ requirement. (As in substantial miscarriage of justice.)
The Crown continued for some time to submit to the judges a variety of elements from the trial, as if this hearing was re-litigating the matter. The helte-skelter nature of his submission prompted Justice Wood at one stage to ask for clarification: “Is it the Crown hypothesis that Vass didn’t go on the boat.” Coates affirmed it is. The jury, he submitted, didn’t have to accept that she did, at the relevant time. Nevertheless, he insisted on submitting to the court that the DNA was a secondary transfer, from somewhere else, not directly left by Vass.
He was also at pains to suggest that maybe, possibly, Vass had got on board and left her DNA while the yacht was at the Cleanlift facility in Goodwood. There had been break in there, tools missing…
In summary, Coates had floated the possiblities that the DNA was transferred to the deck of the Four Winds on a shoe from somewhere else in Hobart; it was also possible that Vass deposited it on the deck some 4 days after the discovery of Bob Chappell’s disappearance and presumed death on January 26/27, 2009 – but he did not elaborate whether it was a primary or secondary transfer in that scenario.
We won’t know what the three judges will make of the Crown submissions, nor if they are as impressed with Carr’s submission as was the public gallery.
The judges have reserved their decision.