Grey dinghy turns white on water and shrinks – DPP tells appeal judge

The Etter/Selby papers reveal ‘what a difference a dinghy makes’ in the 2010 Sue Neill-Fraser murder trial – and how at the 2021 appeal, the DPP insists that the grey dinghy described by an eye witness turns white on the water. And it shrinks… (Paragraph numbers refer to the Etter/Selby papers dated August 12, 2021.) 

The ‘miracle’ of the dinghy seen beside Four Winds on Australia Day 2009, as revealed in the Etter/Selby papers:


4. Mr Conde in his initial statement described himself as ‘an experienced and competent yachtsman’. His initial description was simply that of ‘a grey inflatable dinghy’. At trial, he went further and described it as a large dark grey rubber dinghy (T 2010 p.426). In cross-examination (T 2010 p.428) he said it was ‘battleship grey’.

5. In re-examination Mr Conde said that the Four Winds dinghy was smaller than the one he saw (T 2010 p.431). He also said that the dinghy that he saw had a lee cloth across its bow (raised spray guards which stop water coming into the boat in bad weather) and the Four Winds dinghy’s bow was blunter than the pointed bow of the dinghy he saw. He added (T 2010 p.431): “… the dinghy – the Quicksilver dinghy in the photographs is not the dinghy I saw at five to four on Australia Day last year.”

The Four Winds dinghy (police photo)

6. After Mr Conde had given his evidence at trial, he was re-interviewed by Sergeant Conroy who later gave evidence of what he had been told by Mr Conde (T 2010 pp.940-945). Mr Conde signed a five page handwritten statement to which are attached two hand drawn diagrams.  He stated, inter alia, as follows:-

  • The dinghy he saw was not less than 10 feet long; his estimate is 10-12 feet;
  • Dark grey in colour (darker than “our” battleships);
  • It seemed fairly beamy; too wide to fit into the yacht club ‘tender’ racks;
  • The bow came to a point as opposed to the Quicksilver dinghy he was shown in photographs; that Quicksilver dinghy was ‘oyster/pale grey’ and 8 – 9 feet long;
  • Particularly remembers a fabric covering stretched across the bow which he described as a lee cloth. That cloth was dark grey, battleship or charcoal grey;
  • No picture in his mind of its stern and any engine it might have had;
  • He was familiar with Quicksilver dinghies which were white or grey; and,
  • It did not look new; it was scuffed and a bit faded, more a work thing or “commercial” rather than an upmarket yacht tender or “something aimed at the leisure boating market”.


1. On 3 March 2021 (appeal hearing) 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 – 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.

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)

2. The DPP’s response to His Honour’s question is incorrect.

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20 Responses to Grey dinghy turns white on water and shrinks – DPP tells appeal judge

  1. Noeline Durovic says:

    Andrew.. White is White and Grey is Grey? Why would DPP Mr Coates respond to His Honour theorising ? Prosecuting and victimising Susan Neil Fraser? Like his Predecessor DPP Mr Ellis who speculates a large wrench into the trial he prosecutes against Susan Neil Fraser! A large heavy visual? “I want you to visualise; used such an ugly hefty shiny weapon as she stood behind her partner and whacked him over his head and murdered him? – Bob her partner of years..??? DPP Ellis ? What sort of a person with no regard to Sue or her family conjures up pure evil made up diabolicals to sway a Jury. Such ‘Form’ seems out of line misleading and utterly contemptible! (edited for legal reasons)

  2. Brian Johnston says:

    Clair, no offence, are you on the side of Sue’s guilt or are you being impartial?

    It is very difficult to look several hundred metres out to sea and estimate the length of anything and in this case a small inflatable dinghy. One can look across land and get a better idea by nearby reference points.
    One can look across the water and say that Zodiac is 12′ though that is not an estimation, that is knowledge.
    Conde, an experienced boatie, gave an estimation of a ‘dinghy’ length. It is a description based on memory and experience. He had no idea this would lead to a Court appearance. It can be taken he is doing his honest best to assist in the case.
    The police on the other hand take all this information to create doubt to support their story, their sequence of events especially taking into account they ‘know’ or believe in Sue’s guilt. Manipulate the evidence to suit their hypothesis/novel/story.
    Greys, light greys and white can look similar, reflected light plays a part along with the varying types type of paint in use.

    The point is, we need to know what time Vass has indicated that she and the guys were on the Four Winds. Can anyone help with an answer, a time?

    There could be three dinghies:
    Sue. 2.00pm – 3.00/3.30pm
    The large grey dinghy 4.00 – 5.00pm. A visitor. If so why has he not come forward.
    And thirdly the Vass trip under the cover of darkness.
    This has to be resolved.

    The large grey dinghy at 4.00 – 5.00pm could be at a different yacht.
    Is Conde sure his sighting was at the Four Winds.
    Conde can be taken as a credible witness.

    The large grey dinghy does fit the description of a ‘dinghy’ owned by the military.
    They owned a number which were auctioned off.

  3. Robin Bowles says:

    More importantly, what about the eyewitness evidence given by Meaghan Vass, who was on the boat when Sue was not? And the eyewitness evidence of the forensic scientist who found a large patch of Meaghan’s DNA on the deck of the yacht? And further, the eyewitness accounts of all those police who saw with their own eyes that forensic sample Number 9, a navy coloured, bad smelling small towel or face washer found near the the ‘unexplained female DNA’ on the deck had vanished, off the record and off the pile of evidentiary samples collected that day. It looks as if there are none so blind as those who cannot ( will not?) see!

  4. Robin Bowles says:

    I agree the DPP’s response to His Honour was incorrect. It was also incoherent.

  5. LB says:


  6. Clair says:


    Rather than offering my own opinion on the unreliability of eyewitness testimonies about what they saw I think it better that people read the following:

    Myth: Eyewitness Testimony is the Best Kind of Evidence – Association for Psychological Science – APS

    Here is an extract from the above titled text. It might help your followers to better appreciate the error rate with respect to eyewitness testimony:

    “We trust our own perception and experience. “I’ll believe it when I see it” isn’t just a cliché, it is a statement of the most persuasive form of evidence we allow.

    But being convincing isn’t the same as being accurate. Eyewitness testimony is more fallible than many people assume. The advent of DNA analysis in the late 1980s revolutionized forensic science, providing an unprecedented level of accuracy about the identity of actual perpetrators versus innocent people falsely accused of crime. DNA testing led to the review of many settled cases. According to the Innocence Project , 358 people who had been convicted and sentenced to death since 1989 have been exonerated through DNA evidence. Of these, 71% had been convicted through eyewitness misidentification and had served an average of 14 years in prison before exoneration. Of those false identifications, 41% involved cross-racial misidentifications (221 of the 358 people were African American). And 28% of the cases involved a false confession.

    The claim that eyewitness testimony is reliable and accurate is testable, and the research is clear that eyewitness identification is vulnerable to distortion without the witness’s awareness. More specifically, the assumption that memory provides an accurate recording of experience, much like a video camera, is incorrect. Memory evolved to give us a personal sense of identity and to guide our actions. We are biased to notice and exaggerate some experiences and to minimize or overlook others. Memory is malleable.”

  7. Fiona Peate says:

    Claire Moire, Mr Conde, a self proclaimed experienced & competent yachtsman, in his evidence clearly stated that the dinghy he saw was dark grey or battleship grey, larger and a different design than the Four Winds dinghy.
    It is not the role of the prosecutor to alter that evidence …from dark grey to white.

  8. Rodger Warren says:

    If Agatha Christie was still alive, she would not write a novel about the murder of Bob Chappel as presented by the prosecution, because readers would find it unbelievable.
    Keep up the pressure for her release.
    Rodger Warren

  9. John Ferris says:

    Grey inflatable 10 to 12 feet LOA with “pointy” bow and with a bow dodger sounds like an Avon by brand name. These were UK made of hypalon fabric (a rubber based material) with glued seams ( as opposed to high frequency welding of lesser brands of that era which were made of plastic-type fabric, like Quicksilver brand). Avon were popular as workhorses with an enviable reputation for seaworthiness, robustness and reliability. There were a few copycat manufacturers still using grey hypalon (Achilles was one) but most went the plastic way. Avon were expensive but were the chosen brand of commercial operators, water police and other rescue authorities, especially with the RIB (rigid inflatable boat) versions. These were even more upmarket because of their fibreglass hulls which could be designed and shaped in a boat-like way as opposed to the flat floors of conventional inflatables which sometimes used inflatable keels beneath plywood floorboards which pushed the fabric floor downwards in the hope of providing a V shape. None of the above will be of much help but might spur further thought in anyone apart from Mr Conde who might have seen the dinghy.

    • Clair Moore says:

      John, You can go to the Trial Transcript to see what Paul Conde said. One of the very important things he said was that that Four Winds was facing Southeasterly. You can then go online and use the SunCalc software to check where the sun was located with respect to the eyewitnesses who were looking at portside of Four Winds when they saw the dinghy at 3:55 pm and at 5pm. You will learn that the eyewitnesses were looking in the general direction of the sun. As such, the eyes of the witnesses would have received strong sunlight that is reflected from water. But the surface off the dinghy that was facing the eyewitnesses would have been illuminated by direct sunlight but by diffuse light that is reflected from water and the clouds. Under such viewing conditions, the eyewitnesses are unlikely to see the true colour of the dinghy and are unlike to the true shape of the dinghy, Their perception of the dingghy’s shape and it’s length would also be skewed by the viewing angle.

      It is thus virtually meaningless to discuss the perceived colour of the sighted dinghy (and it’s shape, it’s length) unless one takes into account he viewing geography and the viewing perspective. The same applies to all other sightings of a dinghy.

      There are several photo’s of the Four Winds’ dinghy available online, In some photos, the dinghy looks significantly longer than the dinghy that is shown in the photo that was shown to Paul Conde. This is an excellent example of how the viewing perspective can significantly affect one’s ability to estimate the correct length or the correct shape of the viewed dinghy.

      In my previous post, I mistyped the length of the dinghy. I meant to type 3.6 metres. That would then equate to 11 feet 10 inches.

      • andrew says:

        I wonder how the light makes a lee cloth appear at the bow … and the bow come to a point … physical differences cannot be dismissed by reference to tricks of the light…

        • Clair says:


          If you trust the accuracy of eyewitness accounts of what they recall seeing then you must be pretty new to the study of wrongful convictions or you haven’t read the right literature.

          • andrew says:

            According to Griffith University research (by Rachel Dioso-Vila) eyewitness errors are responsible for about 6% of wrongful convictions. Police work is responsible for about 55%.

  10. Clair Moore says:

    The Four Wind’s dinghy is about 3.5 metres is length. That is equal to 11 feet 10 inches.

    Why did Paul Conde underestimate the length of the Four Winds’ dinghy?

    The answer is that the viewing perspective can and does distort one’s ability to correctly estimate the length of the dinghy.

    Similarly, the viewing geography can and does distort one’s ability to correctly see the true colour of a dinghy on water. The simple explanation is that if there is a significant amount of sunlight reflected from water towards the eyes of the observer then the effect will be to reduce the contrast of the colour of the dinghy with respect to its background. It all depends on whether the sun is in the field of view of the person who is looking at the dinghy. A white dinghy will appear to be a shade of grey if the sun is in the field of view of the observer and if there is a body of water from which the sunlight can be reflected towards the eyes of the observer.

    Anyone who doubts that a white dinghy can appear to be grey can go out to a river, a lake or an ocean and test it out.

    • Rosemary says:

      Many people have done exactly that on the river. It is far more complex than you have stated and includes other factors in additon to those that have been so far explained. For instance a portrait artist familiar with facial features in their experience of portraiture would be much more proficient than an ordinary person if they had to describe a person that they saw. Hence a difference in the quality as a witness. Experienced yacht people with real experience and knowledge of the water environment, boat types etc would make better witnesses than armchair critics no matter how much ‘science’ they know. A car enthusiast would identify car models etc more accurately than others who take no notice of cars. People with photographic memories will remember number plates for instance. More visual people are better remember things seen and observed, and audio memory people would remember conversations better. The list goes on. So in their area of expertise they could rightly be deemed experts. People who may assist a jury composed of people who may have never been sailing or zero experience of activities on the water. Then in the area of boating expertise what is sadly lacking in the trial is people with yachting experience which is quite specific which was very evident particularly in the cross examination of the accused. Not every dog owner would be as observant of the physical properties of every breed as a show dog judge for instance. Keen observations are critical for doctors and other medical people such as ambos to diagnose and save lives in emergencies. There is more to seeing and remembering details than just light and angles for interpretation and why one witness may be more reliable than others. Hence in giving evidence questions are asked and more details obtained. Anyone familiar on the water with light etc sun in eyes can allow for differences. What makes a difference is the specific area of the Derwent. Local knowledge makes a huge difference. Perhaps a trip to Hobart and test your ideas might assist you.

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