Why Tasmanian police are smarting – not acting smart

Andrew L. Urban

The Tasmanian police community is smarting – not to be confused with acting smart – from the latest revelations of incompetence (and worse) that ruined the investigation into the disappearance of Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009. After papers tabled in the Legislative Council by Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney (August 31, 2021) that detailed new evidence of incompetence and malpractice both the Police Commissioner and the Police Association have made defensive and disparaging public statements. 

Why this was not a smart act by either is that they precede the court’s decision in the Sue Neill-Fraser appeal against her conviction of murdering Bob Chappell, her partner. If it is upheld, the reputation and credibility of these spokesmen will be destroyed, along with public confidence in the legal system. If the appeal is dismissed, it will raise uneasy questions as to what was known by whom in advance of the announcement.

Their unwise remarks also served to amplify the existence of fundamental flaws – and they both incorrectly included the Coroner’s report as part of their defence of the conviction. The Coroner is obliged by law to agree with the court results. Ignorance or mischief to suggest otherwise? Smarting because they are under greater scrutiny than they are used to? Smarting because if the conviction is overturned, so are many reputations?

Referring to “public discussion of unsubstantiated material” as “reckless and attention seeking”, Colin Riley of the Police Association repeated as proof of the conviction’s reliability the sad legal history of the case over the past 12 years, namely the trial, the first appeal and (incorrectly) the High Court appeal – which never took place because the High Court refused leave to appeal.

Riley also issued what looks like a threat, saying “We are not …prepared to remain silent as individuals make unfounded allegations against our members without reprisal.”

Police spokesmen and the public are able to read those ‘unfounded allegations’ as they appear on the Parliamentary website by entering ‘Susan’ into the search box. These papers attract absolute privilege.

The conviction is currently under appeal again, but none of the new evidence that has come to light (as outlined in the papers tabled by Gaffney) has been presented in court before. To call that material ‘unsubstantiated’ is a gross misuse of the word, used in ignorance of the content.

The very reason there is an appellate process is to correct miscarriages of justice; they happen, as history shows no more dramatically than with the case of Lindy Chamberlain almost 40 years ago. The history of that trial and guilty verdict, the appeals and a Royal Commission stand as proof that The System is prone to errors. There are more examples, of course, of convictions overturned.

Tunnel vision, flawed forensic evidence and other obstacles to justice need to be addressed and claiming that the jury verdict must be allowed to stand in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is neither smart nor acceptable.

To top it off, for reasons yet to be articulated, Risdon prison authorities have moved Neill-Fraser from the minimum section into solitary for five days, planning to move her into the prison’s maximum section, depriving her of all contact for 21 days … adding brutality to the history of incompetence and malpractice that put her in jail – and The System above the law.

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10 Responses to Why Tasmanian police are smarting – not acting smart

  1. owen allen says:

    Why has not Sue Neill_Frasers plight in Tasmania made National Front Page News or main stream tv shows.
    woof woof.

  2. Robin Bowles says:

    Hope my comment is not too long. So much to say about this and like the Magic Pudding, it just keeps giving!
    Firstly, all mail in and out of Risdon is read and authorised—in BOTH diections. Re Sue’s letter to Andrew, I’ve had many in a similar vein myself. I’m always impressed at how interesting and upbeat her letters are when prison goes on and on, same day after same day. Those letters haven’t caused her being put in solitary. If the excuse is correct, the prison officer who approved the outgoing mail is the one who should have been punished, not Sue. So do we believe it? Do they think we are dopes? This is punishing Sue so her supporters will shut up AND IMPORTANTLY depriving her of the ability to make calls to brief her legal team at this very critical time—no calls!
    Secondly, the Police Association press release. Another joke! Whoever is the PR advising the police needs their hand slapped. Colin Riley writes about ‘unfounded allegations’ against members being likely to attract REPRISALS! What are they planning? Building a whole block of solitary confinement cells to house dissenters? Is this Russia? Or China? Oh my! The Tasmanian police know all about reprisals. Ask Karen Keefe, Jeff Thompson, Meaghan Vass, Eve Ash, Barbara Etter, to mention a few. And Mr Riley says the police are upset about ‘unfounded allegations’ against their members. What about defamatory and in contempt of court statements being published on their official TasPol fb site? Being read by least a few hundred ‘friends’ who think if it’s on there it must be official, saying Barbara Etter was disbarred from practicing law, made by someone (is he a cop?) called Andrew Bennett. I told him he was wrong. The post is still there. That’s worse than an ‘allegation’. Barbara Etter has NOT been disbarred and they know it—or should if they follow the court lists.
    Lastly, just when you catch your breath after reading about ‘reprisals’, we read Mr Riley’s spurious comments at the end of his article about how ‘people’ (Sue Supporters?) should have a look at themselves in the mirror. I had a good look at myself in the mirror this morning when I read that suggestion. I saw a sad and angry woman who doesn’t give two hoots for what the Tasmanian Police think about her! Some of them should look at themselves some time.
    The police are full of defensive puff and wind and haven’t actually addressed one of the new allegations about their ‘professionalism and thoroughness’ raised in the Etter/Selby papers. The reaction to criticism by Commissioner Hine and the Police Association are textbook. Close ranks, turn accusations back on the accusers, ignore or skip across substantive issues, attack or malign the integrity of the messenger/s, and use the ‘broken record technique’ to drown out opposition and pad out and prop up their position. The End! (for now!)

  3. owen allen says:

    Recent public discussion of unsubstantiated material in the Sue Neill-Fraser case is reckless, unwarranted and attention-seeking, says COLIN RILEY.

    Of course Colin Riley has to public comment.
    He is the President of the Tasmania Police Association.
    And of course he has to support what has taken place, because he is one of them.
    WIthout dribbling on about my personal history and experience in Tasmania from December 1990 to 31 August 2004.
    I put it to Colin Riley and the Tasmanian State Government, and Federal Government, Media and Interested Parties.
    Why would a very Senior Tasmanian Politician say to me the Tasmanian Police Force was too corrupt to do anything about.
    This was in 1997. A corrupt culture does not just change, I put it up that the Prison System and Police Force work together, even as different entities. Case in point.
    When I was in Risdon the Prison Boss was an ex detective and had a brother ex detective busted back to uniform for assault, and he was personally involved with me.
    I was calling for a Royal Commission Tasmania Police from my Risdon Prison cell with a sign displayed.
    My Prison Poem written my first night in Risdon on paper given me with prison instructions etc, and I found a dead match which I moistened the charred end to scratch a few words, undistinguishable photocopied.
    And then I repeated my word thoughts so I wouldn’t forget the rest.

    The time has come when it must be done,
    there is no turning back from here.
    A Royal Commission is my Mission,
    Let Everybody hear.
    I have been victimised, ostracised, terrorised and traumatised,
    and now My Time is Near.
    Bring it on, bring it on, The Royal Commission to Come.
    Why, they say, why us? We’re ok.
    BUT, Everybody knows Tasmania Police are Rotten to The Core.
    Instead of Protecting and Serving, and Upholding the Law,
    they Victimise, Ostracise, Terrorise and Traumatise.
    Slander, they say, defamation, you can’t say that about us.
    Well, Bring it On, Let’s Go, to The Royal Commission To Come.
    Owen Allen.
    Bring on a Federal Royal Commission Tasmania.
    Establish a Criminal Case Review Commission,
    and Whistleblower protection.

  4. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Andrew, you’ve said it all, “Their unwise remarks…..” is sadly, so incredibly insightful. Once again in Tasmania, the decision, not the publicly known yet decision, has been provided for the (authorities), ‘the club’ in the justice system to prepare for public opinion but, unfortunately the Police Commissioner and the Police Association have blown this not yet released verdict of Sue’s appeal. As you said, “Their unwise remarks”. Even with the Etter/Shelby papers having been tabled in Parliament and the now public scrutiny that that will bring, even if it’s years later, a miscarriage of justice, yet the police couldn’t contain their fore warning from ‘the club’. This incestuous mix of people who unfortunately thrive on arrogance over the everyday person, including senior citizens. God help all of Tasmania.

  5. Geoff Hardy says:

    Why have they taken over 12 years to return Sue Neill-Fraser to maximum security?
    This radicalized 67 year old grandmother with the splendid mobility of an antique wheel chair is a clear and present danger to the whole justice system. Her “Day in the life of” the women’s prison, despite its eloquent prose is so deeply subversive and possibly the catalyst for her punishment. Insurrection is evident in the mention of grey fish of dubious origins, the deep insights into the language, motivation and awareness of some inmates and of course in the revelation of the stolen cans issue! Strangely her rant failed to criticize, in any serious way, the shortcomings of prison life. She made no mention of treatment, good or bad, by prison staff. As well there were no expressions of self pity, references to her personal plight or her positive role among the inmates. Whoever checked her missive before allowing it to escape might just be a bit culpable if Sue’s comments are so inflammatory. They could have stopped it or was it the excuse they were hanging out for in order to pounce?

    So I can only applaud the wisdom of a system that suppresses such behavior with condemnation to maximum security, withholding of phone, visitor and mail contacts and above all, isolation. Why not wash their hands altogether and send Sue to Myanmar or reeducation with the Weigas or even the tender clutches of the Taliban? The risk however is that any one of them may treat Sue more kindly.

    Well, I can only flog irony for so long! In reality I am appalled beyond effective expression at the multiple flaws and cumulative injustice so blatant in Tasmania’s police, judiciary, our legal system and our political leaders in relation to the whole saga. Paradise lost indeed! All I can do is grieve so deeply that my kind, gentle, open-hearted, strong, intelligent friend of almost 40 years is so greatly abused.

  6. Norline Durovic says:

    Andrew, Eloquently stated so well advised! Smart is a word lacking from those Tas Police whom set up the false charging of an innocent woman abysmally and let murderes run free? Not Smart?

  7. Geraldine Allan says:

    BTW – astute analysis Andrew, succinctly written to capture the essence of why trying to be smart when under fire 🔥 is not recommended. Rather, it’s dangerous ⚠️

  8. Geraldine says:


    They’re now publicly available. No need for speculation any more.

    If any person wishes to safely make public comment without fear of defamation, you can quote from the papers directly.
    Remember to reference anything you write as being from the HANSARD as parliamentary privilege documents.

    To access the relevant papers, you need to enter “Susan” into the Search box and the papers will then be available.
    The documents attract absolute privilege as a result of them being tabled in Parliament. Note, you still need to exercise caution in their use outside of Parliament.
    Access to the documents will enable interested persons to make their own assessments.
    You are encouraged to read the documents which are based on detailed research and careful analysis over many years.
    Barbara Etter and others are very grateful to Mike Gaffney MP who tabled the papers in the Tasmanian Legislative Barbara Etter and others are very grateful to Mike Gaffney MP who tabled the papers in the Tasmanian Legislative Council, without any opposition, on Tuesday 31 August 2021.


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