“Tasmania, we’ve got you cowered”

Andrew L. Urban.

What’s with the taboo? Every Tasmanian I’ve spoken to agrees: people feel intimidated talking openly about the Sue Neill-Fraser case, the long-running miscarriage of justice that is a weeping sore on Tasmania’s legal system*. Perhaps that’s why there are no mass protests in the streets? Or maybe Tasmania’s media, also feeling intimidated, haven’t reported the malpractice, incompetence and lies that led to her conviction, as have some of their mainland peers?

The producers and crew of the 6-part tv doco series about the Sue Neill-Fraser case, Undercurrent, report having felt intimidated in the process. Perhaps that was triggered by police raiding their Sydney offices and seizing raw footage.

Eve Ash & Colin McLaren in Undercurrent production office

“Did our phones have to be tapped, our bank accounts seized and scrutinised, thousands of our phone calls transcribed, my documentary film footage seized, listening devices installed, our lives made into hell? Why, because we sought the truth? This intense campaign to shut us down has cost the Tasmanian public millions of dollars – and not one politician is questioning that. WHY NOT?” asked co-producer Eve Ash in a statement about the police raid.

Two Tasmanian opinion survey companies declined to accept a job from us here at wrongfulconvictionsreport earlier this year to sample public opinions about Sue Neill-Fraser’s guilt or innocence. Is the subject that taboo?

Most people don’t want to talk about the case – even in private. One life partner of a senior State Government official, for example, told a friend of his that he didn’t want to discuss the case at all. Friends are reluctant to raise the subject with each other and public displays of Sue’s image on a placard will sometimes even attract abuse, as if she were a vicious serial killer.

The Hobart Mercury has reported throughout the long history of the case, quite dramatically in recent times once the latest appeal was in train. Did it change minds?

Has intimidation subdued the public’s demand for integrity in the legal system? In public office?

What generated this intimidation among the public? My theory: the ruling orthodoxy in Tasmania insists that Sue Neill-Fraser is guilty. This is not a rational, evidence based understanding, but some groupthink deferring to the legal system; “the system convicted her, she must be guilty”.

The Mercury 3 August, 2019

But in some cases, it is perhaps just embarrassment, a defence mechanism to protect an underlying uncertainty and doubt about the police & legal system’s credibility. (And many reputations…) Imagine if Neill-Fraser’s murder conviction was based on malpractice, incompetence and lies. It cannot be confronted. That defensiveness might explain the antagonism with which the subject has been greeted by some. Having long invested in the conviction, it is confronting to be asked to question it. (Echoes of the Lindy Chamberlain experience…)

I submit my theory in the context that wherever the political establishment is aligned with the legal system in a protective embrace, the symbiosis develops an impenetrable shield, able to repel the rule of law and the requirements of justice. The legal system is self policing; the political system is self serving.

My view is based on observable facts: Robert Richter QC (with others) has twice (2013 and 2017) presented well documented arguments requesting the Tasmanian Government to establish an independent commission of inquiry into the case, headed by an interstate Judge and the use of seconded respected interstate homicide police investigators. Both requests were rejected.

On August 1, 2021, the first of several papers were sent to the Attorney-General, by Neill-Fraser’s former lawyer Barbara Etter APM and Canberra barrister Hugh Selby, revealing details of previously unseen information. The documents, examined by wrongfulconvictionsreport, show evidence withheld, misleading conduct by police and prosecutors, and evidence of witness testimony that contradicts what the jury heard. The Etter/Selby submission urges the Attorney-General seek leave to reopen the appeal. There has been no indication yet that Tasmania’s First Law Officer plans to do anything about it.

Those who feel intimidated by the ruling orthodoxy should resolve to let the evidence dictate their opinion on this case.

In recent days we have published some new and disturbing evidence (thanks to the Etter/Shelby papers) that not only reveals wrongdoing, but underscores the stark contrast between the case against Sue Neill-Fraser and the reasonable alternative hypothesis – which in such a circumstantial case requires a verdict of not guilty:

Sue Neill-Fraser

SUE NEILL-FRASER
No criminal record
No murder weapon/s found
No eye witnesses
No credible motive
No evidence placing accused at crime scene at relevant time
No forensic evidence linking accused to crime scene
… AND a reasonable alternative hypothesis consistent with the innocence of the accused

 

ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS
Young male known to police
Eye witness identified perpetrator
DNA of eye witness at crime scene
Credible motive

****

Standing out for speaking out are the determined members of the Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group, comprising some three dozen ‘core’ members with some 220 or so currently on the full email list. They do protest in the streets …. Their most notable achievement – other than providing visible emotional and psychological support to Sue Neill-Fraser – has been keeping the case in the public spotlight (rallies, vigils) with the basic proposition that “SUE IS INNOCENT”. (One of the founding members provided me with copious detailed notes taken during the trial, for example.) They attend all relevant court hearings, and they network. They meet regularly and keep records. They are the only ones to take to the streets.

They are especially proud of their direct work: “We arranged for Bob Moles, the Adelaide based legal academic and expert in miscarriages of justice, to visit Hobart and began lobbying the State Attorney-General, Dr Vanessa Goodwin, to bring in legislation that would allow for further appeals. We got nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition and about twenty supporters went to Parliament House to listen to the debates on the proposed bill. Eventually it was passed unanimously through both House of Parliament in 2015.”

* Her partner Bob Chappell was missing from their yacht, Four Winds, on the morning after Australia Day 2009. His body has never been found. She was charged and convicted of his murder. (Decision on her second appeal, heard March 1 – 3, 2021, is pending.)

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23 Responses to “Tasmania, we’ve got you cowered”

  1. Garry Stannus says:

    Well, here is your answer, Andrew.

    Yep, there are what might be called ‘taboos’, here in Tasmania … just as there are in all societies around the world.

    But let me, without elaborating, simply note that this afternoon, in the Legislative Council of Tasmania, Michael Gaffney, the Independent Member for Mersey, provided the Upper House with a sharp, black and white overview of the ‘Etter-Selby’ documents as submitted to our Tasmanian Attorney-General, Elise Archer.

    It will be available in time, via our Hansard. It was – in my view – the clearest explication of the overall failures of TasPol, the Tasmanian Government, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, etc.

    It’s raining now … on the last day of ‘Calendar Winter’. It is dark, some wind, the rain is hitting my window. In Risdon, it must be much the same weather, yet prisoners will have been eating their night-time meal, returning to cells/blocks, ready to ‘batten down the prison hatches’ for the night.

    Sue is there. She has spent so many years already in this prison … on the basis of a shallow and thus, wrongful, conviction. The rain is beating harder on my window.

    Thank you Michael Gaffney…

    Hon. Michael Gaffney MLC
    Member for Mersey
    Independent
    Website: https://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/LC/gaffney/Gaffney.html

  2. Keith says:

    Tasmanian police have been particularly diligent in pursuing anyone who has brought pressure to bear on the unsafe SNF conviction such as Ash, Thompson and McLaren.
    Is it not therefore surprising that, if they were not so inclined as to offer Meaghan Vass immunity for her evidence, they haven’t charged her with perjury?
    One can only speculate as to why.

  3. Geraldine Allan says:

    Andrew, referring to your August 13, 2021 article,
    https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2021/08/13/grey-dinghy-case-closed/
    in part you wrote, “…The Etter/Selby submission refers the Attorney-General to the appeal transcript:

    1. On 3 March 2021 the following transpired during the closing comments of the DPP (T 137-138):
    ESTCOURT, J: What do you say about Mr Conde’s evidence?
    MR COATES SC: Mr Conde’s evidence was that the – the yacht was grey–

    MR COATES SC: -the dinghy, sorry was grey. Well, the answer to that your Honour, is that – which was what was put at trial, was that the dinghy was white and from a distance over the – over the water it looks grey. And, that’s the answer to that. But, it would be pretty unlikely that a dinghy similar to the Four Winds was – but, a different dinghy was there at I think this time’s around between around about 4 o’clock, and that’s the timeframe that Ms Sue Neill-Fraser said she was there.

    MR COATES SC: She went there at 2 and she would have got there at – got back about 3. And, when the police put to her Mr Conde’s evidence, she said well it must have been – I must have left late. So, it’s true Mr Gun son (sic) was saying that the sightings of the dinghy was a different dinghy but, the jury can readily accepted (sic) that the same description, the only difference is one is saying white and one is grey and it’s on a – on the water. (emphasis added)

    But the document proves that “The DPP’s response to His Honour’s question is incorrect,” as the authors point out.

    Andrew you added, “….Case closed.”

    I understand you were not speaking literally. For me and numerous others, it is not “case closed” insofar as I call on DPP Coates to comply with his professional obligation to the court, to correct his misleading of the Appeal Court, in particular Estcourt J.

    Surely there’s no argument that the DPP is professionally obliged to correct his misleading statement to the CCA. If that means the appeal hearings must be reopened so be it. The now known misinformation, or was it disinformation i.e. false and/or inaccurate information, especially that which was deliberately intended to deceive requires corrective action, and fast.

    This unnerving state of public affairs cannot be left ignored and/or passed over.
    And still the media and Attorney-General are silent? Consistently ignoring the Rule of Law breaches over a number of years, the Tasmanian ‘establishment’ is now confirming to me what I’ve known for decades — there is much to hide.

    This is not an ok state of affairs; far from it.

    When a governance system responsible for law and order closes in on itself, the ‘voices of the people’ are justifiably agitated, and we feel nervous, very, very nervous.

    An appropriate inquiry is now overdue. I hear the drums beating louder …
    I shall also post this comment directly on the albeit now outdated 13/08/21 article.

    • andrew says:

      My remark ‘Case closed’ refers to the case for the defence being triumphant.

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      and … as also relevant in this discussion, I’m double dipping with repeating some earlier comments today.

      Excerpt from Geraldine Allan says:
      January 26, 2021 at 1:46 pm

      Although public criticisms of prosecution are not limited to “allowing prosecutor Tim Ellis SC to speculate how Neill-Fraser may have murdered Bob Chappell, without any supporting evidence….”, I now continue commenting (from 25/01/21) on your article Andrew, particular relating to community confidence in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
      As a refresher for readers, on 23 January 2015 then Premier Will Hodgman together with then Attorney-General, Vanessa Goodwin (now deceased) issued a statement. I note in particular, p3, reads,
      “…Ensuring that the community has confidence in the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions is essential to ensuring that Tasmanians can have confidence in our criminal justice system. If confidence is eroded in the Office of the DPP, confidence in criminal justice system will be undermined. That is why it was so important to act and protect the integrity of the Office. …”

      https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2021/01/24/sue-neill-fraser-appeal-to-start-soon-but-will-it-end-the-nightmare/

  4. John Rigarlsford says:

    This matter MUST be resolved, and the “BENT” people whoever they are made to suffer, just as Sue has had to , wrongly as it may be.
    Is there anything i can do to help. If so, please advise.
    Regards, John R.

  5. Merlene Abbott says:

    Hello Andrew
    Thank you for this latest report about Sue Neill-Fraser.
    It seems that we are cowered in Tasmania. People don’t want to talk about Sue, although Sue’s supporters are doing a wonderful job of trying to keep the case alive. Poor Sue! I would hate to be in that situation. I think that many people are confused by the case and are in denial that our so-called justice system is so unjust. They don’t want to admit that the institutions underpinning our legal, political and social structures are corrupt and inept. I have tried to talk to people about the SN-F case and people almost always shrug or turn away, as if they are mentally putting it in the too hard basket. Sometimes they don’t even offer an opinion. When this case came up I thought “here we go again, trial by media, just like the Lindy Chamberlain case – a woman is going to be hung out to dry for not being what she should be”, but there are differences to the attitudes of the masses. In the Chamberlain case there was such hatred and fervor whipped up by the media, people insisting that “she done it, mate”. What did those people say when it was proved that “she didn’t done it, mate”? was their didactic hatred diminished or just diverted? In the Sue Neill-Fraser case, I don’t know if there has been so much opinion, of such high-order hatred, but more a communal shrug. This case has been a travesty! Poor Sue! Those who are responsible for her situation would hate to be in that situation. I don’t believe that Sue is guilty of the crime she has been charged with – the killer is still at large! It is absolutely appalling that those in control of our legal system are such a tight group – how do these individuals sleep at night? To Andrew and the Wrongful Convictions Report team, plus Sue’s supporters – Keep up the good work, folks.
    Merlene Abbott

    • owen allen says:

      Thanks Merlene for the guts to voice your opinion in support of Sue and the desperate situation Tasmania faces.

    • Helen Adkins-Sherston says:

      Since coming back from Qld I am so fed up with this State of Tasmania – parochial and still penal justice system – 50 years behind the times.
      My late uncle an Attorney-General and Minister for Police would be rolling in his grave at the injustice caused to Sue by these so called corrupt uniform hierarchy and the uneducated locals who think “She dun it” Like poor Lindy whom I always supported as certain “Blacktrackers” weren’t asked to the witness box to verify their claims of drag marks by a dingo. Read The Obstacles to Tasmania and then one will see why Tassie has never come out of its dark penal days.

  6. David Smith says:

    The Media in Tasmania only print what they are told to print by the people in Power. Tasmania is controlled by a few and has been and always will be until someone gets into Government and legislates laws to ensure the Truth is printed and only the Truth.

  7. owen allen says:

    Fear. Andrew, nobody knows where it is going to come from. Nobody is safe in Tasmania.
    Everybody is connected to somebody in huddles, and gossip runs extreme. The bad rule the burbs, and the the ultra bad rule the state. And the bad cops rule the roost. There is no hope. Look the other way and shut your mouth, unless you are connected to a larger or more powerful group.
    The cops have the guff on everyone , politicians and all. Private enterprise has the money, politicians have the graft.
    Why else did the Leader of Opposition say to me Tasmania Police was too corrupt to do anything about. I lived there 14 years, and to attempt to protect Australian Law and Values and stand up to criminal corrupt bullies I was destroyed from Commercial Pilot, business, taxi driver to busking and then sent to maximum prison for playing guitar in a public place.
    Then they hunted me for attending a seminar on Prison Reform chaired by Greg Barnes a criminal lawyer in Tasmania.
    I cannot wait until I can tell my full story to a forensic group of sociologists, legal experts and psychologists. And the Federal Royal Commission Tasmania.

    • Tom Cairns says:

      Unbelievable, but I believe it!

      • owen allen says:

        Thanks Tom. They sent me mad, and then it got worse.
        I couldn’t give it up. But I am healing, and still involved obviously.
        Tasmania needs help from outside, but it needs to help itself from inside also. Heart and Soul.

  8. Maris says:

    Congratulations to those who are able to support Sue Neil-Fraser and those who are able to attend rallies and vigils. Please keep it up. Nothing legal, political or otherwise unjust or wrong gets fixed without a great deal of public attention being shone on the problem, and if still nothing gets fixed in spite of your best efforts, at least you know you tried and did not abandon someone in need.

  9. Robin Bowles says:

    Great headline, by the way!

  10. Robin Bowles. says:

    Keep at it Andrew. Your voice of reason is important. Never was the saying more true…’You can take a horse to water…’

  11. Fiona Peate says:

    Arrogance of the judiciary -“we got it right”, free thinking legal beings scared of being cast out, politicians concerned about financial imperatives when Sue is exonerated, apathy of wider public – “ it’s wrong but what can we do about it”, conceit of police -“backs against the wall, we stand together, we got her conviction over the line”, media – “if we argue her innocence we’ll be cast out & won’t get the big scoops”.
    Need I go on. So many vested interests. They forget that if it happened to Sue it could happen to them.

  12. Christine Edmondson says:

    Thank you Andrew for your articles, they are both interesting and easy to read.
    I am sure it wont be long before the persistent and continued work of Sue’s supporters to have it’s desired effect. Our cause is gaining momentum and Australians will get onboard to demand Sue’s acquittal. It must be obvious to those in the legal and government systems that Sue’s supporters will not be subdued, and more evidence to support Sue will be found and presented. May our leaders both political and legal no longer cower, but like the rest of us stand up for justice.

  13. Rodger Warren says:

    Absolutely, Keeping the Sue Neil-Fraser case alive in the media seems to be the only option her supporters have left.
    I believe in never giving up when the truth is so obvious.
    Take care
    Rodger Warren

  14. Emily says:

    Please keep speaking out – it’s so important to get the message out there. The people who can think for themselves will understand.

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