INSIDE STORY: Sue Neill-Fraser – and Karen Keefe as ‘collateral damage’

The inside story of the troubled inmate who befriended Sue Neill-Fraser ‘inside’ – and how the police used her. 

On August 8, 2017, Risdon prison inmate Karen Keefe was arrested and removed from the prison. The same day, detectives raided Jeff Thompson’s house (a pro bono lawyer helping with the Sue Neill-Fraser case), seized his computer and privileged legal files. Unusually, the warrant was signed by a police officer rather than a magistrate. Both were charged with perverting the course of justice and pleaded not guilty.

Karen, a recovering drug addict, returned to Risdon’s Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison (MHWP) 10 days later; she had been kept isolated for days in a dirty cell, only allowed out for 20 minutes walk each day, refused showers, visits, and her normal mental health counselling sessions, before being moved to the Launceston Remand Prison at the other end of the state. “Ten days in hell” was how she later described the experience. “Unheard of treatment for a minimum rated inmate,” says Sue Neill-Fraser.

During this time, she also endured hours of rigorous questioning by two detectives, and despite repeatedly asking for a phone call to her lawyer (and mother to ask about a sick child), wasn’t able to make one. Only after her lawyer finally located her and insisted on speaking with her, was she able to make the calls. The detective leading her interrogation was Shane Sinnitt,

not disclosed to the Defence

The Etter/Selby papers (revealing new exculpatory evidence in the Sue Neill-Fraser case) state that “It was clear from witness Peter Lorraine’s first statement to police (as noted by Sinnitt, the police officer, who took handwritten notes during the phone call that Lorraine made to police on 27 January, 2009) that he did not see the Four Winds yacht or its dinghy. Peter Lorraine’s evidence about sighting the Four Winds‘ dinghy on the Australia Day afternoon was incorrect. He didn’t see any of the Four Winds, its dinghy, or Bob Chappell. He saw another yacht, another dinghy, another person. The notes of his first contact with police make that quite clear. But those notes were not disclosed to the Defence.” (The Etter/Selby papers were provided to the Attorney-General and tabled in Parliament on August 30, 2021.) See ‘What a difference a dinghy makes’

“you’re just collateral damage” 

Karen Keefe

According to Keefe, Sinnitt had made no secret of the fact that the real purpose of her arrest related to Neill-Fraser’s latest bid for justice, telling her, “This is not really about you, it’s about Sue,” and “It’s not even about whether she’s innocent or guilty. The state can’t afford to let her out, it’ll cost $120 million. Karen, you’re just collateral damage.” (Jeff Thompson can sympathise with that!)

Karen said a ‘deal’ was offered conditional upon her agreeing to lie and say, she’d been complicit in coercing Meaghan Vass into saying she’d been on Four Winds for money. If she agreed to help them, she would only serve 12 months, otherwise they would make sure she served 10 years. The prospect of spending the next decade in prison was too much to face. “I’m so sorry Sue, I just couldn’t bear it any longer so I told them I’d say anything they wanted to hear just to be able to come back (to MHWP).”

Sinnitt said they had proof there was money involved due to things she’d said on a recorded prison phone. It turned out Keefe had talked about money. A reward had previously been offered by concerned private citizens to anyone who came forward with information leading to the reopening of the case (before the latest appeal). Someone had suggested Karen ought to be eligible for it. However, at the time she’d been adamant, she didn’t want any money. “I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, and now I’ve got a chance to do something good just because it’s the right thing to do. Anyway, I can’t have money. I’d only stick it up my arm.”

The reward in question was $40,000, a relatively small amount. Unfortunately, Keefe had wildly exaggerated both the amount and provenance when speaking with her associates on the recorded system, with the result police were able to use the information to exert pressure on her. She told Sinnitt the tapes didn’t reflect the truth, but he refused to listen.

Due to her not guilty plea, Karen was re-remanded. In June, 2018, she became distressed again after Detectives Shane Sinnitt and Jamie Hart, had visited her family home, armed with a search warrant and “turned the place over.” Keefe’s mother and small children were very upset by the experience.

* Sue Neal-Fraser’s last appeal was heard March 1-3, 2021; the judges’ decision is still pending. She was convicted in 2010 of murdering her partner Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009, on board their yacht Four Winds. Chappell’s body has never been found.

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19 Responses to INSIDE STORY: Sue Neill-Fraser – and Karen Keefe as ‘collateral damage’

  1. Garry Stannus says:

    Abbi ( Comments: Abbi Bennett says: October 1, 2021 at 8:04 pm ), yes, that post (elsewhere) on the ‘Wrongful Convictions Blog’ did contain the following text (referring to Meaghan Vass):

    “It was indeed true that she was going to be harmed if she didn’t remember the story she had been told to say.”

    Meaghan said (at the first ‘leave-to 2nd-appeal’ application hearing) she’d been threatened to be ‘put in the boot of a car’ if she didn’t speak out and say she’d been on the Four Winds yacht.

    I think that Karen has said (elsewhere) that such ‘boot of a car’ remarks were what she’d say to her own kids, and weren’t actual threats – just her ‘lingo’ (= manner of speech).

    Maybe Meaghan was in fear …I think she has had much to fear and that a Karen threat (whether real or not) was only one of a range of threats. If Meaghan was on the yacht, she has reason to fear whomever was present with her… if she ‘named names’. We saw her absolute panic and collapse after the failure of the court to suppress the details of her evidence at the actual 2nd appeal. She named a killer and The Mercury Hobart newspaper ‘front-paged’ her, with the headline: Sam did it. It seems most likely (according to the Victorian Forensic Expert, Maxwell Jones) that Meaghan’s DNA was not a case of secondary transfer, but that she had deposited it directly.

    Then again, she’s had ongoing police surveillance/harassment. It’s been detailed here, on this blog, before.

    Did police ask Karen to lie? How could we ever know but by examining such questions at an Inquiry. We know that the ‘pervert justice’ charge/s against Karen have collapsed. Why aren’t people, such as yourself, Abbi, asking whether police had misused their powers of arrest when hitting on Karen? And Steve Gleeson? And Jeff Thompson?

    And for the legals who have hit on Barbara Etter?

    So who should run the Inquiry? There’s only one group of people that I can see who might be able to conduct an honest, open and independent inquiry … and that body is our (Tasmanian) Legislative Council … ‘Select Committee B’ … is that it’s name? They would be able to call witnesses, to hear and receive submissions from all and sundry (you and me!) and to be free of the shackles that seem to be worn by our Minister for Justice/Attorney-General, by our Premier and by our Solicitor General and sadly, also the shackles worn by Crown Law and our Judiciary … and also, it seems, by our Tasmanian Police.

    So Abbi, my comments are usually never brief … this one included. If you’d like to learn more about Karen’s treatment … read Death on the Derwent /Robin Bowles. Just want to skim? – ok, go to Chapter 28.

    I don’t wish to ‘take sides’, because I’ve not been present at certain events, or (for example) haven’t heard from Karen’s mouth/or read Karen herself saying anything bad – or threatening – about Meaghan. (I have met Karen once, and had a chat with her). I haven’t met Andy (though I’ve ‘seen and listened’ to her when she attended Sue’s 2nd Appeal. I supported Andy in her efforts to support Meaghan. But I should point out that Andy has several times used WRC to bag Karen out. She may be justified in that, but then again, it might be because of prior ‘bad blood’ between herself and Karen.

    I don’t know if Karen has ever threatened Meaghan. I don’t know if Andy has actually been present when – as she says – Karen has threatened Meaghan. Maybe it’s all been some ‘mouthing off’ that Andy has heard, relayed on the grapevine, and thus, second/third hand.

    These last comments of mine are not an attack on Andy … I believe she is speaking the truth, as she understands it. Me? We’d need the ‘wisdom of Solomon’ to sort this overall mess out … however, if we ever get to have an Inquiry, I think that the police should be officially restrained from harassing people like Meaghan … no more parking outside where she’s stayed, getting her into the car, finding a bud of dope … and back to Damian she goes… We’ve seen that before. Those actions were exposed (on this blog!).

    Free Sue – Inquiry Now!

    • Abbi Bennett says:

      Garry, this is a very long reply which in summary says that you have met one of the parties once, and have not met the other, and that you don’t know whether one, both – or neither – is lying or not. The rest of the content is not relevant to my question

  2. owen allen says:

    I am with you Andrea re, Karen, because you are supporting Meaghan who spewed on the boat and the evidence was there.
    I know how corrupt some Tasmanian cops are.
    2 Detectives tried it on me. Stand over. I stood up. I was threatened. I told them to fuck off. I was arrested within a couple of days.
    God Bless,.

  3. Tom Cairns says:

    The Tasmanian “powers that be” must be gloating over the escalation of moot points especially of contestable evidence. Can’t you just see them sitting on the fence avoiding any involvement while the growing multitude of protesters continue to haggle and ruminate over points of law (and order)? I suppose we are now playing their game and with their rules. And never a word from them about “Sam”, whoever he is, or why it is taking so long to resolve an appeal held months age.
    You’ve got to hand it to them. They don’t have to say a word. They lock the door and throw away the key just like they did in feudal times, which is where our “Apple Isle” has found its niche in time.

  4. Em says:

    I live in the uk, but have just watched the entire series of “Undercurrent” on Amazon Prime. Cannot believe how corrupt the police etc are! It’s obvious to me that Sue is innocent, just from watching a tv series! The evidence against her is non existent. If she had had a lawyer in all of the interviews in the beginning and said “no comment” to everything would they still have charged her? Because they built a whole case around her “lies” which I believe was a combination of shock, Valium, exhaustion and being flustered by the police.
    There is so much evidence that proves it was not a petite woman with a bad back. Bob didn’t get “winched” out, the blood on the seat shows he was lifted through the skylight above the seat, which was portrayed by actors in the series and proves that you needed at least 2 strong men to get him out. Meaghan was really trying to milk the “poor little victim” routine. Which she actually is, but it seemed whenever she had an audience to play to she went completely over the top, in the series she was effing and jeffing and acting (badly) like it was really hard to say what happened, but she kept looking directly into the camera whilst doing her little act. She wasn’t bothered about sue in the slightest. She was just a drama queen wanting attention off whoever said they would “protect” her, first it was the biker, now it’s a police officer.
    I can’t believe that everything that the police and justice system did when they discovered that they had been found out for prosecuting the wrong person, was documented on film and put on Amazon prime, so the whole world can see how corrupt they are, but they still carry on with their agenda. Like if we keep saying this massive fuck up by the police and the justice system isn’t a massive fuck up, and we all did our jobs correctly, and haven’t ruined a woman and her entire families life, then that makes it true and all ok. I don’t know how these people sleep at night. The whole thing has just made me really angry! And the really sad thing is that Sue didn’t even get to mourn the death of her husband properly because the police had decided after hearing from a deranged ex friend of hers that she had planned this, that she was guilty, so they didn’t need to look anywhere else, and they can just pick and choose bits of information and make it fit so it looks like she did it.
    I’m thinking unbelievable, but this keeps happening all around the world, and it’s mainly because people in high places can’t admit they fucked up, so instead of owning up they continue punishing innocent people. What a shitty world we truly live in. I am disappointed with the people who we allow to be in charge. Something really needs to change. They are destroying peoples lives just to save face.

    • Tom Cairns says:

      Thank you Em for a precis of what I myself felt when I watched the UNDERCURRENT series. It is such a tour de force by Eve Ash and Colin McLaren. Your comments are so appropriate. Eve Ash deserves a special award from the highest level in Australia and that much-prompted Royal Commission is long overdue with many voices in accord.
      We do have one fault. We in Oz are motivated by a thing called ‘sport’. Colin McLaren himself alluded to the importance of winning that drives so much of our psyche. Sport can never be anything other than kid’s games but the vital significance attributed to it distorts the focus we need to be giving to education and public morality. We do have some shocking case histories of corruption in places where it should never be.

  5. Brian Johnston says:

    There is dishonesty and corruption involved and Sinnitt, along with others, is a part of it.
    For the Attorney General to not act makes her a party to that dishonesty and corruption.
    I have written to the AG twice to no effect, she thus cannot claim she knows nothing. In fact she claimed she could not act. Bizarre.

    I pointed out to the AG in my second letter that a precedent has been set. The then prime minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon intervened for Arthur Allan Thomas and had him released. Thomas received about a million dollars.
    I would have thought the AG would get involved to save herself embarrassment and to save her career.

    I suggest that everyone write to the AG immediately, stating that they put the AG on notice and explain they believe Sue is innocent and that they wish to see the AG intervene, have Sue released immediately and set up an inquiry.
    The letter should be along the lines of.
    To The Attorney General Elise Archer
    I hereby wish to put you on notice.

    If you feel uncomfortable a quick phone call to your lawyer will get you sorted.

    Come on guys lets all write that letter. I shall write a third time.

  6. Noeline Durovic says:

    Andrew, as was published there ‘it is’ a brutal unconcealed harsh immorality? One Hundred and twenty Million Dollars compensation ($120,000,000)? Compensation what ever the amount payable in the Millions for damages done in the name of the State of Tasmania to an innocent persecuted woman – Susan Neil Fraser? The exposure stated and now shown underwritten by the terrible grubbiness never/not to pay for the criminal persecution of an innocent woman? . Evil is as evil does! Who is/are at the top of this bitter twisted non payable non-compensation racket? Marked not a cent of compensation to be paid in bitter illusion for bad deeds done? How and why whom/who has set the rules? Adding to crimes of malfeasance of further criminal happenings devised to. frame and shut decent people up or blackmail them into submission! Furthering as we watch the added inhuman abuse of Susan Neil Fraser. Whom/ who/are the criminals whom continue to abuse and take Susan Neil Frasers Human Rights? Who are these criminals? Actively acting against the State of Tasmania! Doing so unjustly in the ‘States” name ? The Etter/ Selby papers expose some! Time all were exposed and above all else Susan Neil Fraser guilty of nothing; yet persecuted to hell. Must be released free and cleared to her good name back to her family? Susan Neil Frasers Human Rights?

  7. Robert Greenshields says:

    The regretful aspect to me that is related to the most recent article, ie, posted on October the 1st; is that if it is at all transparently kosher, then, going by news paper and other media reports from credible investigative journalists, the cultures of venality and criminality, along with the obsequious acceptance of the choreographed status quo of that regressive culture, confirms a conformity to policing malpractices across every state in our now grossly devalued Commonwealth.
    Sue Neill Frasers wrongful conviction and, repulsively injust evolving predicament is not just seemingly becoming more profoundly obscene, as those involved in either fabricating and manufacturing, or providing the original deceit that was the catalyst behind creating this incredible fiasco, attempt to use every available avenue and conduit, in now obviously vain efforts to cover the paths of their unprofessional behaviour and, or sponsored venality. I tend to think that only delusional charlatans would embark upon, or could behave so appallingly, and expect not to be held to account.
    Keep strong Sue, and your psychologically terrorised friends too.

  8. Andrea says:

    I dont believe much that comes out of karens mouth as we have known each other quite a few years and had the occasional hiccup or bump in the road but i tend to agree with her regarding the pressure that they would have put on her considering she was already in prison but it doesnt explain saying meaghan had diaries when she didnt and what karen and another man were doing at the nerida st units banging and kicking on doors demanding meaghan come out.
    I was there when meaghan got the ph calls from people living there telling her to stay away?

  9. Brian Johnston says:

    There is dishonesty and corruption involved (edited for legal reasons)
    For the Attorney General to not act makes her a party to that dishonesty and corruption.
    I have written to the AG twice to no effect, she thus cannot claim she knows nothing. In fact she claimed she could not act. Bizarre.

    I pointed out to the AG in my second letter that a precedent has been set. The then prime minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon intervened for Arthur Allan Thomas and had him released. Thomas received about a million dollars.
    I would have thought the AG would get involved to save herself embarrassment and to save her career.

    I suggest that everyone write to the AG immediately, stating that they put the AG on notice and explain they believe Sue is innocent and that they wish to see the AG intervene, have Sue released immediately and set up an inquiry.
    The letter should be along the lines of.
    To The Attorney General Elise Archer
    I hereby wish to put you on notice.

    If you feel uncomfortable a quick phone call to your lawyer will get you sorted.

    Come on guys lets all write that letter. I shall write a third time.

  10. owen allen says:

    This is history.
    This is getting worse. Who do they think they are?
    Why and how do they think they can get away with this?

    It is different in Tasmania; I lived there 14 years in Kempton..
    Well done Karen Keefe.
    It blew my mind when I first read about the police responce.

  11. Abbi Bennett says:

    The Andy Brown article on the blog last week said that it was true that an inmate had threatened to harm Meaghan if she didn’t remember the story she had been told to tell. This version says the police asked her to lie and say that she coerced Meaghan into saying she had been on the boat for money.

    Which version is true? Did Keefe threaten her or not?

    • Andrea says:

      Yes she did 100% and karen knows she did but its easier to play the victim when things dont turn out as planned i suppose

  12. Pauline Chalmers says:

    If the word “Miscarriage of Justice” was placed on the official list of terminology, would this improve the authorities ability to comprehend that Sue’s release is an imperative, if the Tasmanian government is going to maintain it’s credibility.

  13. LB says:

    Isn’t perverting the course of justice an offence in Tasmania? Asking for a friend ! Simply scandalous.

  14. Garry Stannus says:

    The answer is clear, Andrew: we have to have an Inquiry … whatever we call it. The Appeal Court seems day-by-day unable to address the matter … impotent? The police … or those of them responsible for Sue’s unreasonable conviction … seem to have ‘doubled down’. The Crown? The present DPP and his offsider have done the same thing. The former DPP? Still thinking he’s standing at the bar, a jury … still eating out of his hand? Still insisting on Sue’s guilt. And the acolytes biting at the ankles of truth. We need something.

    Sue Neill-Fraser writes a letter from prison … it passes through the censor’s hands … you publish it …

    Sue says as a result, she was “hauled off to face the music ( 5 days in solitary, loss of phone and visit privileges)” … and was told she’d be “remaining in maximum for the foreseeable future“. Okay, they sent her back to her old unit after 12 days … those 12 days will teach her to keep her trap shut!

    So Elise Archer, our Minister for Justice and for Prisons, has her Director of Prisons tell the Parliamentary Committee … that there is no solitary confinement. What did he say? Was it that prisoners were in some circumstances … ‘separated’?

    And the collateral damage … how can one begin to list it? The destruction of community trust, the hardening of bureaucratic hearts, be they police, judicial or political? The disgrace of the shallow attacks on Gleeson, on Keefe and on Jeff Thompson.

    Keefe says the same as Gleeson … she was offered a deal if she’d say the right things in court. Gleeson rolled over (and got his promised parole) and Keefe refused … and was eventually – recently – vindicated … charges dropped … though they have other words for it … something like ‘will not be progressed’.

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      Garry, “Indictment will not be proceeded with”, is the sanitised version of dropping the charges of perverting justice.

    • Andrea Brown says:

      Why did they let her out if they said ten years? Karen is karen and meaghan is absolutely petrified of her thats all i know.

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