Andrew L. Urban
Former DPP Tim Ellis SC claimed Meaghan Vass was bullied, treated ferociously at trial; ironically enough, eleven years later it was Ellis’ successor Daryl Coates SC who, allegedly, did the bullying.
The following extracts are from the closing address on behalf the Crown to the jury by then Tasmanian DPP Tim Ellis SC, in the 2010 trial of Sue Neill-Fraser, who was convicted of murdering her partner Bob Chappell on board their newly acquired yacht, Four Winds, on Australia Day 2009.
(start of transcript extract)
The two – two big red herrings that were raised in this trial were firstly the so-called other dinghy that was at Four Winds in the afternoon and the young girl, Meaghan Vass and in both cases when they were raised and pursued very, very energetically by her counsel, Mr Gunson, Ms Neill-Fraser apparently knew things that would undermine that very energetic geeing up of an issue, that energetic, ‘Look over there at Meaghan Vass’. Because, it seems, it was never suggested it was said to police, it seems that she now says anyway that the boat when it was at Goodwood was entered and some things were taken, wrenches. Now I’ve suggested that wrenches have been on her mind as a sort of implement that she used to kill Mr Chappell. It was never suggested that when police came she informed them of this and we’ve had Meaghan Vass, a sixteen year old homeless girl, bullied and chased around by Mr Gunson (defence counsel) 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 at any place and then maybe got in the car, driven down and got out and onto the boat and transferred it. All those things are logically possible, all things go to explain this finding, which of course has been disclosed to Ms Neill-Fraser, it’s been thoroughly investigated, which was always on the DNA chart as an unknown person until she got into some sort of trouble with the law and her DNA became on the database and it was matched. But where does that leave us? Where did that red herring take us? Why was that girl pursued? Why was she bullied and argued with so fiercely? Was it because it was wanted for you to seriously entertain a reasonable doubt that she’s responsible for this killing? That she, a complete stranger to it all, a sixteen year old homeless girl, has gone down to Marieville Esplanade untied, as it happens, the very dinghy, the very dinghy, which belongs to Four Winds, even though it isn’t marked as such, there’s no Four Winds dinghy, taken that very dinghy to Four Winds by coincidence, committed an atrocious crime for no reason, taken the body out somewhere in order to cover up that crime and come back. Well that’s a long bow but when you’re desperate, when you’re desperate, anything will do when you’re conducting your case on the basis that, well we’ll raise anything that comes along and the jury are going to have to have a reasonable doubt about that because, you know, there’s her DNA after all, what – CSI, DNA, she’s all the same, whatever the theory was, but it was a theory, I suggest, a theory of how to pursue this case which was one and the same with how Ms Neill-Fraser had conducted herself with the police. To suggest false trails of investigation to point away from her anytime you can. Meaghan Vass, a red herring, a red herring, should not have been, I suggest, pursued in this case but when you’re addressed next you’ll probably hear more of.
(end of transcript extract – emphasis added)
Readers familiar with the case against Neill-Fraser will not need to be alerted to the irony of the emphasised text above;
first, where Mr Ellis refers to Vass being ‘bullied’ and ‘treated ferociously’ – that time by defence counsel. Almost 11 years later, it might be alleged that Vass was again ‘bullied’ and ‘treated ferociously’ by Mr Ellis’ successor at the appeal in March 2021;
second, the prosecutor’s words ‘long bow’ and ‘theory of how to pursue this case’ which allegedly also describe the Crown’s own speculations about the murder and murder weapon.
As for the prosecution’s remarks on the DNA evidence, Vass at Goodwood, etc, we’ll leave it to you, dear well informed reader, to draw your own conclusions.
the laughable dinghy
(start of continuing transcript extract)
Now the other – the other dinghy, so called, not an issue, not an issue until Mr Conde from the tax office comes, oh, yeah, he had a good sight of this dinghy, it was small, nine to ten feet I think he said or maybe eight to ten feet. I showed him the pictures of the dinghy which is the Four Winds dinghy.
It’s not that, it was much larger. It was something between ten and twelve feet.
Said Mr Conde. And immediately, look out, drop everything, why haven’t the police gone looking for this dinghy? How negligent. It was not Ms Neill-Fraser there at all. They’ve misled her. It was someone else. She should have never agreed to have been there – must have been there at the time that a witness had seen that dinghy there. Well, he was wrong. He was right on some parts that it wasn’t brand new, because we know that it came with the boat, the sale, that’s another story. It came with the boat. It had grey, it had blue, it was scuffed. No doubt, I’d suggest, that the photograph, the washed-out photograph you have there is in several respects misleading us to the colour, but the colour seemed grey to Mr Balding. Mr Balding, the man from the – the rowing coach from the Sandy Bay Rowing Club, who saw it there that very morning in plain, open sunlight and sent out to his members an e-mail that very day, that very day – I’m sorry – but anyway you’ll have it in evidence has anyone seen a grey dinghy? But because Mr Conde has said it, off we go. Police are flogged, all things happen because they didn’t check out this large dinghy which turns out to be the same size dinghy, as Ms Neill-Fraser well knew.
That whole excitement, that whole red herring of which such a large issue was made, she sat there as her lawyer was making this issue knowing full well that Conde, when he had said “The dinghy I saw was much larger than that one in the photograph. ”knowing that it was all a mistake on his part, confidently expressed makes it no less a mistake. How desperate. As I say, how desperate do you have to get to raise these things to lambaste the police, for not chasing this? It was almost a common theme that the dinghy would be seen by – by others as a different colour, it’s got different colours in it. And on the evidence of one witness alone, apparently, everything changed.
(a little later)
Honest witnesses can differ, honest witnesses can be mistaken. There was no justification for selecting the evidence, which turned out to be wrong in a very material respect, of Mr Conde upon which to base a complete attack on the investigation. Mr Conde – I shouldn’t spend too long with him I suppose, but Mr Conde also said a point of difference was that the – I think he said the dinghy he saw was pointier – pointier nose. Well in terms of colour these pictures, first set, perhaps aren’t all that good, but I don’t know about you, but I look at that and I think that’s got a pointy nose, you follow the blue around and it looks it, it can seem that way, other pictures front on it hasn’t. Mr Gunson can laugh, that’s what it can seem.
(end of transcript extract)
The late Mr Gunson laughed … and well he might have. He laughed AT not WITH the prosecutor’s words.
(extract from transcript)
Someone who sought with a pair of latex gloves which she had forgotten that she’d left on the stove top to clear up as best she could and perhaps abandon that idea.
(end of transcript extract)
The DNA inside the latex gloves was found to match Tim Chappell, Bob’s son, not Neill-Fraser.
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