Keep Vass off the boat!

Andrew L. Urban.

The legal establishment in Tasmania wants to keep Meaghan Vass ‘off the boat’, metaphorically speaking, because her eye witness testimony of Bob Chappell’s murder on Four Winds contradicts the prosecution’s case against Sue Neill-Fraser. But then how to explain why a terrified young woman would willingly put herself through emotional hell for years and put herself potentially in harm’s way? 

From Sue Neill-Fraser’s murder trial in 2010 right up till to now, after the appeal judges retired (on March 3, 2021) to consider their verdicts, both the former and current DPPs, plus TasPol, as well as a handful of zealous ‘convictioners’, have done all in their power to keep Meaghan Vass off the Four Winds – metaphorically speaking, of course.

But no-one has put forward an alternative narrative to the one they want desperately to dismiss that is consistent with the Vass admissions# and the facts. If she wasn’t on board when the crime was committed, what narrative could explain her actions and the facts?

– it has to fit the timeline of events;
– it has to include her DNA being found on the deck;
– it has to explain her convincing confession on 60 Minutes;
– it has to explain her matching testimony on day 1 of the appeal and her sworn statement to the same effect;
– it has to be set in the context of a strong & credible motive, supported by evidence.

As long as Vass could be ‘kept off the boat’, so to speak, the Crown’s purely circumstantial case might be upheld (or justified), even though it lacks any primary evidence and is pure speculation. Just read the many newspaper articles, the three books, several TV programs, a documentary film and a 6-part documentary TV series which all examine the case – and find it a miscarriage of justice. Or check the barristers, lawyers and legal academics who frown, with respect of course, at the conviction.

Even without Meaghan Vass, the prosecution doesn’t have a credible case against Sue Neill-Fraser. As the acclaimed Chester Porter QC put it  – on camera – in November 2013: “it would not be at all surprising if the jury had acquitted this lady because the evidence was so weak against her…” But evidently the jury did not entertain a reasonable doubt …

The prosecution speculated – without any supporting evidence to show the jury:
* how Sue Neill-Fraser got back to the Four Winds after lunching with Bob Chappell’s sister at the Sandy Bay Yacht Club;
* how she attacked him from behind below deck with a wrench or screwdriver (no murder weapon ever found) – because had she been a stranger he would have turned round;
* how she winched him up to the deck;
* how she dumped his body, bound to a heavy fire extinguisher, in the dinghy;
* how she then climbed into the dinghy and took it out somewhere to dispose of the body into the water (physically impossible) – all undetected/unseen;

But no, Tasmania’s vertically integrated legal establishment has stubbornly refused to deal with the factors that led to this wrongful conviction (is it incompetence or malice?). Stubbornly, because since Meaghan Vass gave her extensive, rather heartwrenching interview to Liam Bartlett on 60 Minutes that aired on March 10, 2019, effectively the whole world could now see that Sue Neill-Fraser should not still be in prison for the murder she did not commit; an eye witness had destroyed the Crown’s false narrative.

 

In this case, the Crown could never have been accused of behaving like the model litigant it is supposed to, but when the pressure intensified with the 60 Minutes interview (even though it wasn’t broadcast live on Ch 9 in Tasmania, it was quickly found online), the mantra to ‘keep Vass off the boat’ also intensified.

Meaghan Vass on 60 Minutes, March 10, 2019

Meaghan Vass became a real threat to the conviction as she wept and squirmed and agonised while telling Bartlett what she saw, as best she could remember as the then homeless 16 year old, and how she now, a decade after the event, wanted to do the right thing:

 

 

LIAM BARTLETT: Why didn’t you tell the truth?
MEAGHAN VASS: Because, I was sixteen, I was homeless, I was scared, I, you know, it’s been daunting
LIAM BARTLETT: What were you scared of?
MEAGHAN VASS: I was scared of everything, I…
LIAM BARTLETT: Tell me, explain that to me.
MEAGHAN VASS: Well, what if, you know, his reaction maybe…
LIAM BARTLETT: Who? The man who killed Bob?
MEAGHAN VASS: Yeah
LIAM BARTLETT: Did he tell you to shut up?
MEAGHAN VASS: Yes, now can I stop please?

LIAM BARTLETT: Why have you let her sit in a jail cell for all these years?
MEAGHAN VASS: I haven’t been able, I haven’t been able to recall all of this
LIAM BARTLETT: Haven’t been able to or haven’t wanted to?
MEAGHAN VASS: Probably haven’t wanted to
LIAM BARTLETT: So why do you want to set the record straight now?
MEAGHAN VASS: Because it’s the right thing to do, I s’pose.

LIAM BARTLETT: What would you like to see happen to Sue Neill-Fraser?
MEAGHAN VASS: I’d like her to be able to go home to her family. I don’t have one, you know… so sorry …

The DNA sample from Four Winds, collected January 30, 2009 was matched to Vass in March 2010, approx. six months before the trial. Then 16, Vass refused to be interviewed by police about the matter, because “this just intimidates me, I’ve never had to do or go through anything like this before and that was the only reason.”

? Was there anything further the police could/should have done?

? Should the trial of Sue Neill-Fraser have gone ahead despite evidence of another person being present at the crime scene?

How they tried to ‘keep Vass off the boat’ – examples:
✚ At trial, dismiss her DNA on the deck of Four Winds as a ‘red herring’, a secondary transfer, probably on someone’s shoe (also  accepted at the first appeal in 2011 and also at seeking leave to appeal to the High Court 2012)

✚  Police issue a statement after the 60 Minutes program in March 2019 that police had interviewed her and she had changed her story from the one she had just told on 60 Minutes, implying she was not on board; not true, but Integrity Commission dismisses complaint;

The take-your-pick submissions at the March 2021 appeal were that:-

✚ 1) Meaghan Vass was not on board; her DNA was a secondary transfer (post trial expert witness disagrees)

✚ 2) her DNA was detected in a swab recorded on January 30 when Four Winds was at the Goodwood facility; so Vass was not on board on January 27 – because her DNA would not have lasted in usable form more than 2 days on the deck, if she deposited it on January 27 (unsupported forensic conclusion, yet in this scenario, the deposit is accepted as primary)

✚ 3) perhaps she sneaked on board, maybe on January 28 after the boat was placed at the Cleanlift facility (no evidence, no CCTV footage) – in this scenario, too, the deposit is accepted as primary

# On March 2, 2021 at the appeal, Vass contradicted the evidence she gave on March 1, when she had confirmed she witnessed the on-board altercation between Bob Chappell and the males she had accompanied. She was reacting to broken promise, as outlined in our story Witness (un)protection. As a result, the ground of appeal relying on her evidence has been abandoned by Sue Neill-Fraser’s legal team. These developments do not alter the premise of this article.

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40 Responses to Keep Vass off the boat!

  1. Eddie Lokard says:

    If Meaghan says she vomited on deck and that is how her DNA ended up on the Four Winds, then isn’t that inconsistent with the scientific evidence? Vomit is highly acidic, and acid destroys DNA. Sure, if she said “I spat on the deck”, then lots of good quality DNA might be expected from her saliva. But vomit? Any forensic scientists out there with an informed opinion?? Would you expect to get lots of undegraded DNA from an outdoor area with traces of dried vomit? Does not sound likely.

    • andrew says:

      We might think that the DNA expert witnesses had some other material to examine? Her vomit puts her at the crime scene, but perhaps her DNA was in some other substance …but that information is buried in the forensic evidence filed away…good potential for investigation.

    • Peter Gill says:

      I privately asked two of the world’s top DNA forensics scientists about this, both from overseas. I didn’t get permission to publish their names here. They indicated that any suggestion that vomit would not provide a perfectly good DNA sample three days later is just wild uncorroborated speculation – the sort of guesswork which courts and the law hates. One of them suggested that people with access to DNA testing do some simple tests to find out. Such testing would obviously take into account the weather on January 27, 28 and 29, and any other relevant factors.

      In the absence of any such testing, you can speculate as much as you like. Any judge who thinks that such speculation has any value in court in my opinion should get a new job, perhaps in the gambling industry.

      Did Coates ask Meaghan in court if she was on the boat on 27 or 28 or 29 January? If not, then any suggestion that she was there on those days is wild speculation, not based on any evidence.

      Sure, she said in court that she both was on the boat and not on the boat on 26 January. A question I would consider is whether browbeaten evidence given under pressure when one’s life may be in danger due to the failings of the legal system has greater value than evidence given in court when not under pressure. It’s a bit like wondering: “Does torture produce real evidence?”

  2. SH says:

    I do not think that Aldo or Emma actually have read everything (or possibly anything??) objectively…
    If it ever happens to them (ie what had happened to SNF & many others over the years), I think they would be very glad that someone might go against the flow of public opinion and stand up for them – I wonder how they would go incarcerated for something they hadn’t done…
    It’s amazing to me and quite mystifying that any sane and rational person could read even some of the transcripts and not see that there has totally been a miscarriage of justice and truth…
    I had no idea either way of SnF’s innocence or guilt – I just sifted through all the information…

  3. Keith says:

    The calling of an election today presents every Tasmanian with the opportunity to contact their local member and get their position on petitioning the the Governor to free Sue Neill Fraser. Let’s hope they are swamped.

  4. aldo milin says:

    Censorship is alive and well on your site. Speaks volumes about your cantankerous nature and dictatorial style.

    • andrew says:

      I like to think of it as editorial discretion…and in future you should address me as ‘Your Cranky Dictatorialship’ Or else!!

      • aldo milin says:

        Well we are all entitled to express an opinion in a measured and respectful manner regardless as to which side of the fence one sits. I reacted to your “editorial discretion” when you decided to shut down the particular thread in which i responded to Emma Yukov’s comments and you decided to shut it down because our opinions do not gel with your own hence my comment re your dictatorial style.

        It is bleedin’ obvious that you are very passionate and strongly believe that SNF is innocent. Problem is that the jury and subsequent judges formed a different view. I did not have the opportunity to be at the most recent appeal to observe proceedings so therefore it’s not possible for me to comment on that with total clarity. Sure there were snippets in the media as to what transpired and the star witness Vass didn’t do any favours to SNF which was unfortunate.

        For what it’s worth there were a number of factors brought up in the 2012 appeal which i found convincing, contrary to your view. Anyway we will know soon enough however i suspect it’s not going to be favourable for SNF…

        • andrew says:

          No Aldo, I didn’t shut down debate because our ‘opinions’ differ. As I explained, the reason is that the issues claiming to prove Sue’s guilt have been exhausted over the past eight years. It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s about evidence. And relying on decisions by courts and courts of appeal is doomed by experience. Legal history is littered with mistakes in courts that have been overturned (Chamberlain case ring a bell? There are many more. Many appeal courts have made as many mistakes as trial courts.) I’m sorry to say I have grown suspicious of those who try to show why Sue must be guilty, starting with the Tasmanian legal system, who have reputations at stake.

          • aldo milin says:

            I have disagreed with a number of previous Court of Appeals decisions particularly in the Gordon Wood, Jeffrey Gilham and Lloyd Rainey cases so i agree that they get it wrong, in my opinion, which has zero bearing on the outcome. Once again it is my judgement that, in the SNF murder conviction, the courts got it right. The evidence they detailed in the Court of Appeal judgement was compelling when one puts all the strands together but alas you and most here disagree. If the appeal is upheld no doubt you will be relieved and consider justice has been done, finally.

          • andrew says:

            The Court of Appeal judgement to which you refer with such confidence as ‘compelling’ is riddled with errors. We detailed them here:
            https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2019/04/07/sue-neill-frasers-first-appeal-what-went-wrong/

          • Peter Gill says:

            Aldo – I thought the Wood, Gilham and Rayney appeal decisions were all extremely compelling. I read the first two in full. Have you read the Wood one in full? It’s at http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/nsw/NSWCCA/2012/21.html. For many (8?) months, it took pride of place on the cover page of the NSW Supreme Court website as the exemplar of good jurisprudence.

        • Andy says:

          Maybe if they had all the evidence to make a truthful honest decision then what you said aldo or waldo or whoever you are. BUT evidence goes missing with no reason why or where it is, the dna transferrable the first excuse now its the wrong day then meaghan being made look like a fool when she isnt.
          If there was nothing to hide and no wrongdoing then how come no one will listen to common sense or to simple answers of explanation?
          Why should the public believe that bob was killed with a wrench by his wife when theres no body and no weapon and no proof?
          Yet we have someone saying they were there and who was with them yet lets just ignore her…
          One question … if meg wasnt there, why would she want to get in the middle of all this….. just for laughs or she wants to wreck her life? Think about it geez louise

          • andrew says:

            Yes, as we point out in the article above – as you say, Andy,

            “if meg wasnt there, why would she want to get in the middle of all this….. just for laughs or she wants to wreck her life?”

  5. Christine Perrott says:

    I am constantly amazed at the focus on Meghan Vass’s testimony and on the DNA found on the boat while ignoring the impossibility of Sue doing what’s claimed; bashing Bob’s head with a heavy implement, lifting his body up a series of levels, tying him to a heavy fire extinguisher, lifting him over the side and into a dinghy, getting into the dinghy and later throwing body with attached fire extinguisher over the side. Have they not seen this petite woman? Have they forgotten her physical limitations including a weak wrist and bad back?
    Come on, people! Get real!

    • andrew says:

      You are absolutely right and we have argued the same point many times. The people who should have ‘got real’ are the police and prosecutors who perpetrated this outrage in 2010. They are either absurdly incompetent or heartlessly malicious. What karma they have unleashed …..

    • Emma Yukov says:

      Christine, the issue of how easily Sue could have done it was discussed a number of times before. That was never a ground of the appeal. Not in the first appeal nor in the current appeal. The crime took place onboard a vessel that had winches. One of the winches was rigged with a handle and rope.

      • andrew says:

        But of course it is not up to the defence in court (or us here) to prove the impossibility of the prosecution’s speculation. It’s up to the prosecution to show evidence to back up the Crown’s submission.

        • Emma Yukov says:

          Andrew, I understand that you have been commenting on this case since 2013/2014. You should therefore be aware that, at the trial, the Crown aimed to prove only two things beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury – that Bob is dead, and that Sue killed him. For the Crown to prove these two points beyond a reasonable doubt it wasn’t required for them to also prove beyond a reasonable doubt the issue of what happened after the murder (how the body was removed; how the boat was sabotaged, etc). It was up to the defence to raise reasonable doubt about any issues.

          • andrew says:

            The Crown did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Sue killed Bob. It speculated that Sue killed Bob. It could not even prove that Bob was dead without Bob’s body…that was an assumption, even if reasonable under the circumstances. The only people clinging to the conviction or trying to protect it are those who helped deliver it – and those who mistakenly believe that weak, irrelevant circumstantial evidence is enough to overcome reasonable doubt in a murder trial. And as I have pointed out several times over the years, not a single lawyer has refuted arguments published here (or discussed elsewhere) that call the conviction into question. Not one. The two DPPs who have handled this case are on their own ….

          • andrew says:

            And of course, juries can get it wrong – if they are given ‘wrong’ information. You may be interested in this article:
            https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2019/12/09/can-juries-get-it-wrong/

  6. Robert Greenshields says:

    From my perspective, after reading many contributions/articles on this site and in other presentations, I have grown to respect the values of some of Sues so called supporters, including some who have contributed to this link. The old principle of “from each according to his ability, to each (SNF), according to her needs”, reigns supreme, seemingly, among the thoughts of many contributors I feel sure. If nothing, this chain of comments and support confirms a couple of relevant points. One being how far out of touch with the basic earthly principles of honesty and morality, the Judicial System and Investigative Policing Forces of the failed Tasmanian Institutions actually are, and secondly what an enormous effort is being activated by sections probably within the same institutions, to maintain what has been described previously as the “static” forces, ie the status quo, against a confrontation of “dynamic” forces seeking honesty, truth, transparency, and the end of unadulterated injustice. I have written previously that I strongly believe that it takes a certain type of individual to be able to justify, for financial return over extended periods of time, such abhorrent so called professional practices, and fundamental amorality, and those beliefs are again solidly cemented. As time marches on I can only marvel at the inner strengths of Sue Neil Fraser to remain as stoic as she appears to be. The setting is mirrored by absolutely colonial and brutally British Empire cultured extortion and exploitation, but irrespective, humanity will, I concur, eventually prevail.

    • owen allen says:

      Agreed Robert, thanks for contributing and putting words on paper or cyber space. I could not explain it as you have brilliantly and honestly done.
      Your words will be remembered forever.
      I am nearly completely over depression in the morning, because I am thrilled, as Andrew pointed out to me, THERE ARE PEOPLE THAT CARE.
      I am nearly willing to clean up my hovel and improve my life style and start contributing more towards the big picture.
      I have been living like the diggers in the trench, because my focus has been on survive everyday and not give up the fight. And I am still healing.
      Living pretty hasn’t been my vocabulary.
      A Federal Royal Commission Tasmania is Essential, nothing less.
      Thanks Eve, Everyone, Andrew, Colin, Meaghan and Andy and every supporter for Sue and her family. Stay strong everyone.
      United We Stand, Divided We Beg.

  7. Liz says:

    I find the unsubstantiated wrench/ screwdriver purported murder weapon most disturbing. The similarity with the late Andrew Mallard Set up is chilling. Lest we forget the DPP prosecutor in WA who submitted to the jury that Pamela Lawrence was killed with a wrench afterc concealing an expert report from the defence confirming that was not possible

  8. Diane Kemp says:

    Do they not see how stupid they look as they try to have a bet each way???? Changing from secondary to primary but denying at the same time that Meaghan was on the boat!!! They must believe that we are all stupid and simply believe what we are told and read in the media ( albeit there are those who do). The whole story of what Sue is supposed to have done is simply not plausible yet they continue to hold that line. Will those who perpetrated this injustice to Sue ever be held accountable for their despicable actions???

    Stay strong Sue as everyone continues this fight for justice – a term not recognised in Tasmania!!!!

  9. LB says:

    What place does seemingly outrageous speculation have in any court room, let alone one in Australia? It is a travesty that the Defence team and the presiding judge in the original trial did not challenge the various conduct and issues deemed / alleged not to be appropriate or factual. Why was supporting evidence for each and every claim that was made not called for? In a small jurisdiction is it not beyond reasonable doubt to speculate why that may have been so? I believe that the longer this search for the truth goes on, the worse it will be….for everyone, particularly when so many “important people” have been given opportunities over time to intervene in what appears to be an unsafe conviction according to many senior counsel. Not Joe Blow in the street, these are eminent lawyers! Sue and her family have suffered irreparably; one can only hope that karma eventually prevails on anyone who has failed to act in this very sad case. Ms Vass is very brave in coming forward and she should be supported, not traumatised further, in the search for the truth. Someone mentioned humanity, I just wonder if there is a shred of humanity in certain quarters in Tasmania.

    • owen allen says:

      Thank you LB. After Sue Neill-Fraser is exonerated, a Federal Royal Commission Tasmania has to take place.
      Sue should be released tomorrow, on home bail at least.
      I for one person; will never ever let this go.

  10. owen allen says:

    Like a lot of people Andrew, I am so over it. (modern language).
    Humans all have emotions, and the power of choice if they desire.
    Regardless of what some say, Meaghan has been terrific coming out and maturing as an adult. I salute Meaghan and her supporters.
    None of us know what the future holds, except Justice Will Prevail in time.
    That is absolute.
    Whilst we wait, we never give up hope, planning and moving forward.
    I wish I could do more, faster.
    I want to thank you Andrew and every supporter, because as you try and help Sue, you are also helping me recover my mind.
    They nearly sent me mad, there was part of my mind they could not destroy;

  11. Emma Yukov says:

    “so Vass was not on board on January 27 – because her DNA would not have lasted in usable form more than 2 days on the deck, if she deposited it on January 27 (unsupported forensic conclusion, yet in this scenario, the deposit is accepted as primary)”

    is not correct. The DNA could still have been of useful form but some of the markers would have dropped off, meaning that the match to Meaghan would have been lower.

    • andrew says:

      I think you misunderstood: it was not me stating that about the DNA, it was Mr Coates; I was showing how efforts were made to ‘keep her off the boat’. Yes of course, the DNA expert was verballed by Mr Coates…

      • Emma Yukov says:

        I had no idea who said it when I offered my opinion.

        Nevertheless, science doesn’t support the defence claim that the DNA would be of such a high quality as item 20 after 3 days of exposure to UV.

        I found out recently (via Twitter) that the Victorian forensic scientist (Maxwell Jones) reported in 2014 that NONE of the markers dropped out. That in itself is more than sufficient forensic evidence that the deposit wasn’t made 3 days prior to the sampling.

        This is what Mr Jones said in his report:

        ———–

        “There was no indication that any component (allele) within the profile had dropped out;

        There was no indication of stochastic variation;

        The allele peak heights had well in excess of 1,000 relative fluorescence units (rfu) for lower molecular weight loci and in excess of 300 rfu for higher molecular weight loci”

        ————-

        Published experimental results can be used to deduce that several markers of higher molecular weights would have decayed below 300 rfu after about 10 hours of exposure to solar UV.

        Coates is thus in a better scientific position than his opponent who is relying on the quality of DNA from an indoor scene that wasn’t exposed to UV,

        • andrew says:

          I suggest you take up the scientific discussion with the experts. I say Sue Neill-Fraser’s conviction is a miscarriage of justice, and I have put my arguments as to why.

        • SH says:

          I think there’s something of a problem with your argument Ms Yukov – am unsure whether it’s to do with the plain (but sometimes scientific language used (or whatever), however, coming to Tasmania, as a complete ‘virgin’ to the case, then having read ALL the transcripts – ie the COMPLETE court case , and just about anything else to do with the case – as a Registered Nurse (and a person with some intelligence and objectivity), and of an age where I’ve seen a lot of human behaviour (in many states of Australia), travelled overseas, met 1,000’s of people, debated with excellent minds over many issues and also listened (and apologised) when I’ve been incorrect in my assessment and assumptions, read wide, been interested in criminal cases and books – I really believe that you may have misread what has been written – otherwise your responses do not make sense… hopefully it’s not because you’re just practicing your opposing arguments ‘for fun’ – because this is definitely not the arena for that.

        • aldo milin says:

          Emma no amount of dispassionate, rational and unbiased perspective is going to convince Mr Urban that SNF is anything other than innocent so it’s pointless highlighting the previous court decisions :)

          • andrew says:

            Hilarious- but not in a good way! Previous court decisions?! Oh right, those decisions based on speculation and prejudicial behaviour by prosecutor and judge? THOSE decisions? Court decisions that ignored the basic rules? The decisions arrived at with no primary evidence against the accused?
            Emma, please take Aldo’s advice.

          • Emma Yukov says:

            Thanks Aldo.

            No amount of “dispassionate, rational and unbiased perspective is going to convince” any of SN-F supporters that even though there isn’t a single direct evidence against her there is substantial indirect evidence that proves her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

          • andrew says:

            I will publish this comment – but only so I can say that life is too short to keep rehashing the same old speculations and ridiculous propositions about the meaningless circumstantial evidence in the trial. It’s been going for years… I will not be drawn into these rabbit holes. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and if you wish to pursue discussions about how any of the circumstantial evidence ‘proves her guilt beyond reasonable doubt’ please do so somewhere else.

  12. owen allen says:

    Great work Andrew.

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