Kathleen Folbigg – The Science v The Courts

Follow ‘the science’? So far, as we reported in March 2021, the courts have resisted that call in the case of Kathleen Folbigg, convicted of murdering her children and in prison for the past 19 years. With more new expert evidence that is claimed to exonerate her, the conflict between ‘the science’ and ‘the courts’ has reached a point that reveals the weaknesses of both. Below, we publish extracts from Quentin McDermott’s exclusive report in The Australian (Oct 8, 2021). 

The very diaries that helped convict child killer Kathleen Folbigg may now hold the key to overturning her convictions. Four leading experts who analysed Folbigg’s diaries have formally submitted their opinions to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC, and to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, as part of a petition originally lodged in March – and which has now been backed by 150 eminent scientists, science advocates and medical experts from around the world – calling for Folbigg to be pardoned and released.

“I am comfortable in describing Ms Folbigg as having been a very loving and attentive mother … ,” psychotherapist Dr Kamal Touma said. “After reading and analysing the minute particulars of Ms Folbigg’s diaries, and having met her for five analytical psychotherapy sessions, I cannot see anything in the diaries or from my sessions with Ms Folbigg to indicate that she harmed her children.”

Dr Touma, who had five audiovisual consultations with Folbigg, concludes that she is suffering from primary and secondary “dissociation” following traumas she endured in her childhood, including the death of her mother at the hands of her father, when she was 18 months old.

no evidence of premeditated murders

A second expert, US-based psychologist and textual analyst, Professor James W. Pennebaker, who has helped the FBI and CIA understand the language of kidnappers, terrorists and violent criminals, said: “I see absolutely no evidence to suggest that these were premeditated murders.

“I see no evidence that Kathleen Folbigg’s language … exhibited any signs of deception or attempts to cover anything up.

“I also see no sign that Folbigg is mentally unstable or is someone harbouring buried hostility or rage.”

A third expert, consultant psychiatrist Associate Professor Janine Stevenson, said: “Nowhere in her journals does she use agency verbs, such as ‘I hurt her’ … Throughout the journal Ms Folbigg is detailing all the steps she took to ensure the safety of her children.

Kathleen Folbigg

“There is no anger, no aggression, only self-doubt.”

And a fourth expert, associate professor of linguistics Professor David Butt, said: “There is a likelihood that the courts and inquiry have misinterpreted the feelings of responsibility for not being a better mother as admissions of agency in the deaths of the children.”

Folbigg’s legal team has also resubmitted a report from clinical psychiatrist Dr Michael Diamond, who met Folbigg and assessed her before writing a report for the 2019 inquiry, in which he said: “I found no evidence to support a view that Ms Folbigg has suffered from psychotic illness, severe mood disorder consistent with homicidal conduct or any other brain injury that might affect her conduct so as to carry out homicidal acts.” Dr Diamond diagnosed Folbigg with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Dissociation is frequently observed with those who suffer from c-PTSD.

A sixth expert report, submitted by clinical psychologist Dr Sharmila Betts, questioned how the diaries could be “tantamount to confessions” as asserted by the Crown. “(That assertion) is misleading and unsupported by my reading of the diaries or the psychological literature on maternal adjustment, in both bereaved and non-bereaved mothers … In my opinion, the diaries do not contain any clear admission of guilt or confession of homicide,” Dr Betts said.

psychiatrist would not assist inquiry – Blanch

In 2019, the inquiry’s Commissioner Blanch dismissed the suggestion that experts could help him understand Folbigg’s diaries. “I would not be assisted at all in this inquiry by a psychiatrist who wanted to come along and tell me a) what the words of the diary mean, or b) about the fact that a mother who had lost her babies would be upset and emotional and so on,” he declared.

Instead, he said: “I am satisfied that the plain meaning interpretation of the diary entries carries the character contended by the Crown at the trial, of virtual admissions of guilt.”

He added: “Even making every allowance for her deep-seated psychological subjective experiences and childhood trauma, and any emotional state she may have been in at the time of writing the various entries, it is impossible to give the diary entries any meaning other than their ordinary English meaning.”

Macquarie University Professor Butt said the 175 pages of Folbigg’s diaries – which he studied – “do not at all convince me that the claim of a single plain meaning is sound”, and contends that the diaries could be “cherry-picked” to focus only on “those wordings that permitted some possibility of an interpretation of guilt”.

“It is not reasonable to claim that the diaries of Kathleen Folbigg support only one ‘damning’ interpretation,” he said.

None of the fresh expert opinions supports the view that the diaries reveal an intent on Folbigg’s part to harm or murder her children, or that they carry any admission that she did so.

“At first I did find some of her diary entries troubling but, when taken in the context of her mindset, that she basically hated herself and everything she did, they are a lot less troubling,” Assoc Prof Stevenson said.

“It is not possible for a therapist, let alone a lay person, to interpret the meaning of writings in a diary. They are personal, idiosyncratic, expressing fleeting feelings, imaginings, and very influenced by the emotions of the minute … The ‘meaning’ one day could be different the next, or there could be no meaning at all,” she said.

Comment: Does all the new scientific evidence, from 150 scientists around the world, provide grounds for reasonable doubt? How reliable is the notion that she would make her diary entries confessions to murder?


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19 Responses to Kathleen Folbigg – The Science v The Courts

  1. Ben Dean says:

    Recently, I was at a social gathering, and had the chance to ask a current practicing Tasmanian Magistrate what is meant by the Burden of Proof? Considering 3 recent Tasmania criminal cases recording a conviction, but had an absent of evidence to prove each of the accused, were in fact, at the crime in time and space. And considering every innocent person will claim not to have been at the crime, then how are the innocent identified, when evidence is not considered necessary by the court, as a burden of proof, to establish who in fact, was at the crime scene.

    Instead of giving a rational explanation he screamed at me, and with others turning to observe the outrage, he shout that I was out of order to question authority. It was a bizarre moment. Yet indicative of a culture that considers questioning its right of command, to be tantamount to blasphemy. Long live Legal Positivism.

    • andrew says:

      In Tasmania? Surely not !

    • Donald says:

      Had I been the magistrate in question I would have been annoyed by then question given that we are in the age of internet where it would have taken you less than two minutes on internet to look it up. Given that you were aware of the term ‘burden of proof’ I would have wondered why didn’t you look it up. I would have wondered what is really your motive. Was it to initiate a debate or something such.

      What was your purpose in asking him that question anyway?

  2. Joshua M Smith says:

    This case has always been one of the most nagging and anger inducing for me. I only became aware of her plight by virtue of being at the downing centre for trial the same day as her sentence being handed down. And that was because of the media that were present outside, like on a hunt for an injured impala. I walk outside and thought, this must be the next coming of Christ, Our guy just walked on about six gazillion offences against us as kids, no one even asked me if I would like a glass of water.
    So I naturally wanted to know what all the fuss was over. Once I was up to speed, I I considered for a moment , the implications if she was innocent.
    I don’t think I spoke for that whole evening. Aside from the diary being exactly just that. The personal musings of someone, and unremarkable at best, and just weird at worst, there was not one iota of physical evidence pathology wise to suggest that these kids had been killed. Much less killed by their mother. Not a cracker.

    How can it be that a judge only saw “one meaning “ of these highly personal, and individual-specific in the diary entries? And why did he say as much? It’s like he was oblivious or couldn’t care less how his evaluation might be perceived by others. His mindset I think was at that time one which he genuinely believed was the only one possible. It’s like a psychiatrist who thinks there’s only one way you can become psychotic, and only one way to treat it.
    For shame

  3. tony brownlee says:

    Yet again we suffered in the decision of Blanch QC the arrogant firm belief that lawyers are somehow skilled in medical matters, more able to determine same than those clearly qualified to do so. Bloody joke. The law is and always has been in the eyes of those who administer it, superior to all even when adjudicated upon by amatures.

  4. Ron Beckett says:

    Folbigg Innocent. Martin Bryant, Innocent. Milat-Guilty as all hell. Thats my take.

  5. Jared Oberton says:

    What a horrible miscarriage of “justice”. Australia should be ashamed.

  6. Nola Rae Scheele says:

    You have all these Psychologists and Psychiatrists who have impeccable knowledge to be listened to with half an ear by the courts.
    Science plays a big part in every ones life good and bad.
    Are we so backward in our court system to ignore them in the Kathleen Folbigg case.

    • Ms. Sarah Abercrombie says:

      Yes: Not ‘We’, them. I’ve never been witness to such arrogance, and complicated complacency. Introverted Denials, that “they could or are Wrong”. Their Bible’s weld power, as they Lord above us in their all powerful Rank. From Police Patch to Wigs to Registrars. The codswollop I heard this year, in accusations against me makes me realise, that these people are complicated idiots. Living in a false bubble of Legal liturgical, ignorance.

  7. Brian Johnston says:

    Crackpot psychiatrists will only take this case so far.
    Now the answer lies in professors readings of her diary.
    Should we consult the tea leaves.
    The psychiatrists are still divided over Michael Jackson.
    Any woman who murders her children like Folbigg is alleged to have done, has a mental disorder. This has to be dealt with.
    This case is the mental order/disorder of Folbigg versus the genetic order/disorder of the children.
    Does Folbigg need treatment or is gaol the right place and this question opens up a whole raft of questions.

    On another note. Why is Andrew Urban so selective in the cases he chooses. Why the bias. Why the prejudice. Surely he can see that Bryant and Milat may be innocent.
    Murdoch is a dead cert for innocence. Not much talk on him.

    Finally. Andrew, you asked for my views on the Keogh matter. Have they been printed yet? Are you running a form of censorship?

    • andrew says:

      Brian, you have just earned the Most Annoying Commenter Award, for your pestering over your Keogh obsession – not only did I have to invite you to send it on your request TWICE, this is the third time you have asked if I have run it… after I have TWICE replied. Here is my reply – it will be the last time:
      Your ‘Keogh story’ is pointless conjecture. I will not publish it.

      • Brian Johnston says:

        I am glad we have that sorted. Not to my satisfaction though sorted all the same.

        • owen allen says:

          Brian, why don’t you set up a blog org, Martin Bryant, mentally deicit; the worlds best close range sharp shooter, from the hip in his opposite hand, who attempted to disguise himself with an acne scarred pock marked face, and had a cooee who yelled no not here and was shot dead, by the shooter impersonating Martin Bryant. He the shooter was videoed and on the net, as was the telephone exchange between martin Bryant and police when he was at seascape cottage. And somebody was firing shots from the cottage whilst bryant was on the phone. Bryant was meeting with Tavistock.

      • Peter Gill says:

        In reply to Brian Johnston

        What mental disorder of Folbigg? All the evidence, and (not that it matters much) my personal experience when I met her in jail, are that she has no mental disorder. However, the evidence of the genetic disorder(s) of the children is overwhelming.

    • Julie in Sydney says:

      I also have found it peculiar that, when recently performing a search with the name, Martin Bryant no reference is to be found. Why is this the case when so many irregularities are known to have occurred in the police interview,I.e
      verbaling by police & no lawyer was present at the time for the man who has an certified IQ equivalent to an 11year old, etc

    • owen allen says:

      How can you question Milat, like Chopper Read, gungho madmen that needed a war to go to.

  8. Pauline Chalmers says:

    Andrew – if the children Kathleen conceived had genetic anomalies that inherently shortened their lifespan, that is entirely outside her capacity to control? Why did the coroner not order health professionals to test the first dead infant and include both parents in the screening process. It all seems very odd to me that all this scrutiny isn’t focused at these failures at recognising the true causative factor in the first child’s death so the parents could knowingly risk assess the feasibility of having more children.

    • Peter Gill says:

      I can’t recall any coronial inquest ever into the deaths of the four Folbigg infants. That’s why the Coroner didn’t order anything – the Coroner was never involved in the case. The 2019 Inquiry happened to be held at the Coronial Court but had nothing to do with the Coroner – it was an Inquiry by a single Judge who was requested by the Attorney General to inquire into one particular question about the case. Ref https://www.folbigginquiry.justice.nsw.gov.au/.

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