We respectfully request Police Commissioner Darren Hine, Police Association’s Colin Riley, Sue Neill-Fraser prosecutor Tim Ellis SC and the Director of Forensic Science Service Tasmania to confirm their trust in the validity of the evidence given by the forensic scientist at trial: the conviction hangs on it.
The evidence by the forensic scientist was crucial in the trial, given it was a major part of the circumstantial evidence used to convict Sue Neill-Fraser. But it was totally wrong, as any other forensic scientist will (and would have) told the court, explains Dr Bob Moles in a Letter to The Editor (below).
Will those defending the conviction still express their confidence in that testimony?
While the debate about ‘blood in the dinghy’ continues, we must not forget the ‘blood in the boat’ contributions to the trial.
Extensive evidence was given by the forensic scientist that she found areas in the boat which tested positive to luminol.
She explained that she could have used a preliminary screening test (luminol) or she could have used a confirmatory test.
She chose to use the preliminary screening test which glowed in the dark when in contact with certain substances.
It is well recognised that there are over 100 substances to which luminol will give a positive response – including cleaning agents, paint, fish and vegetable products.
The witness was asked if she meant to indicate that a positive response was to blood. She said that she did. When asked to explain how she could distinguish whether the response was to blood or any of the other substances, she said that she could tell by the duration and quality of the sparkle response whether it was reacting to blood.
That answer was what we call “junk science”. It was not properly explained what length of time or quality of sparkle was indicative of blood, or whether she had measured and noted those factors. It is important for any scientific result to be able to be checked by subsequent investigators. If what the witness said was true, then that would have altered the status of the ‘preliminary screening test’ to that of a ‘confirmatory test’. Clearly that has not been done or the manufacturers of luminol would have marketed it as such.
Using a preliminary screening test as a confirmatory test in a criminal trial was the problem which eventually led to the overturning of the convictions of those involved in the so-called IRA bombing cases in the UK. The scientist had said that the hands of the accused tested positive to nitro-glycerine. In fact the test used would have given a positive response to boot polish, the nitrates in common soaps and the plastic backing on playing cards. The scandal which arose from the overturning of those convictions eventually led to the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the UK. That in turn has now led to the identification of over 460 cases which had otherwise exhausted all avenues of appeal as wrongful convictions.
The ‘blood in the boat’ evidence presumably provided the basis for the extensive speculation by the prosecutor that Mr Chappel had been beaten with a heavy metal wrench before his body was disposed of. It should be noted that a prosecutor is not allowed to engage in speculation. He is not allowed to make submissions to the jury for which there is no evidence. There was in fact no ‘evidence’ of injuries to Mr Chappel, and therefore no evidentiary foundation to the prosecutorial submissions.
The combination of the inadmissible evidence by the forensic scientist and the inappropriate submissions by the prosecutor would be quite sufficient to warrant the overturning of this conviction.
The references to the trial transcript and the legal citations to support the above points are available from the research paper which we prepared on these issues: http://netk.net.au/Tasmania/Neill-Fraser95.pdf
Dr Robert N Moles
Adjunct Associate Professor
College of Business, Government and Law
Flinders University of South Australia