‘Enough’ is not enough, Sue Neill-Fraser supporters stand firm

Andrew L. Urban.

It is not surprising that TasPol would want legal challenges to Sue Neill-Fraser’s 2010 murder conviction shut down, but it is somewhat surprising that the late Bob Chappell’s family would – according to The Australian’s Hobart reporter, Matthew Denholm (December 3, 2021). Chappell’s body has never been found; wouldn’t the family like to know what actually happened to him? 

Some cases take decades after a wrongful conviction to resolve. Just last week, author Alice Sebold publicly apologised to the man who was exonerated last month in the 1981 rape that was the basis for her memoir Lucky and said she was struggling with the role she played “within a system that sent an innocent man to jail.”

Anthony Broadwater, 61, was convicted in 1982 of raping Sebold when she was a student at Syracuse University. He served 16 years in prison. His conviction was overturned in November after prosecutors re-examined the case and determined there were serious flaws in his arrest and trial. Bells ringing for anyone …?

Denholm’s article, headlined “The murder case with no end: family, police call for closure in Susan Neill-Fraser saga” begins with a troubling proposition: “When does a fight for justice ­become an obsessive crusade fuelled by conspiracy theories and wishful thinking? That moment, for many, has arrived in the case of the 12-year campaign to free Susan Neill-Fraser.” (emphasis added)

While “…for many…” is undefined, it probably doesn’t include the 26,600 + signatories to the petition calling for an inquiry into the case. Nor, we suggest, are the lawyers, legal academics, investigative journalists, authors, TV documentarians and filmmakers among the ‘many’.

As for “conspiracy theories and wishful thinking”, details of those remain locked in the writer’s mind. Perhaps these are disparaging references to evidence that challenges the conviction. Evidence which has been accumulated in the detailed, documented, legally supported Etter/Selby papers, for example, tabled in the Tasmanian parliament at the end of August 2021. Importantly, those papers include details of evidence withheld and other problems in the investigation and at trial. Those details are neither conspiracy theories nor wishful thinking. They are facts.

Why this article, why now? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the repetition of the official police line: “Colin Riley, president of the Police Association of Tasmania, said: “Individual investigators and the investigation team have faced relentless scrutiny, media muck-racking and attacks over the past 10 years.”

“The four key investigators of the Chappell murder had more than 100 years of combined policing experience. “They have spent the greater part of their careers as investigators, successfully investigating murders and serious crimes,” he said. “The investigation has been scrutinised inside and out by the courts.”

No, it has not. For that level of scrutiny we have to refer to former detective Colin McLaren’s book Southern Justice and the Etter/Selby papers.

Denholm has relayed the police line before: “The version of events given by Ms Vass on 60 Minutes is contrary to her previous police interview, contrary to her sworn evidence in court and contrary to last week’s police interview,” Commander Cowling said,” Denholm reported on April 14, 2019.

That was the police line, but it was not true. At an unrelated hearing in Hobart on April 18, the prosecution told the court that key murder witness in the Sue Neill-Fraser case, Meaghan Vass, had said ‘No comment’ to everything put to her by police when she was picked up for questioning on Thursday March 7 – just before the 60 Minutes interview, the ‘tell all’ promotion of which had prompted her being questioned by police.  

He continues: “After a unanimous jury verdict, two appeals, a High Court challenge, and a coroner’s finding, police and Chappell’s family are pleading for an end to more than a decade of campaigning, legal manoeuvres and “muck-­raking”. (The High Court refused leave to appeal; it did not hear the case; the coroner made no finding of his own, bound by law to echo the verdict … )

“Chappell’s son Tim, who has stood by the jury verdict, told The Weekend Australian the seemingly endless nature of the campaign was upsetting for a family needing closure.

“The ongoing appeals and media attention continue to be distressing to the family,” Tim Chappell said. Many within Tasmania Police, particularly those involved in the case, also believe “enough is enough”.

Memo to those who believe ‘enough is enough’: More so than you, Sue Neill-Fraser (in her prison cell), her family and friends, the 26,600 + petition signatories and all those previously mentioned lawyers, legal academics, investigative journalists, authors, TV documentarians and filmmakers, have no doubt also had more than enough.

But, to his credit, Denholm reports: “The fight continues. Neill-Fraser’s large band of passionate followers, including her dedicated daughters Emma and Sarah, are having none of it, vowing to fight on to redress “the worst miscarriage of justice since Lindy Chamberlain”.

“This just sharpens our focus to take stock and examine the mechanisms now available to us to continue to fight,” daughter Sarah Bowles said this week.

“The sentiment is echoed by an army of true believers in Neill-­Fraser’s innocence, many of them retirees whom one detractor this week accused of “watching too much Miss Marple”. (oh, those deplorables…)

“There are prominent people in Tasmania who know that Sue is innocent, but who have chosen to remain silent while the matter was before the court,” said Rosie Crumpton-Crook, spokeswoman for the Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group. “It is time for these people to speak out.”

As for the ongoing trauma for the Chappell family, that is certainly understandable, as is the ongoing trauma for the Neill-Fraser family. Such is the direct effect of a police investigation and conviction that raise questions instead of providing answers.

Only the willingly gullible, the uninformed and the compromised could be satisfied with the status quo. Not Miss Marple, though … it’s unfinished business.

They are Miss Marple

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19 Responses to ‘Enough’ is not enough, Sue Neill-Fraser supporters stand firm

  1. Don Wakeling says:

    Has the High Court’s decision of Peacock. v R (1911) not been considered in this case. It’s principal remains binding to this day and has been applied in many cases, including Chamberlain.
    Put shortly it is authority for the proposition that a reasonable hypothesis, consistent with innocence, SHALL be accepted notwithstanding other hypotheses consistent with guilt.
    Given that the crown case has been committed, irreversabley, to the assertion that Sue Neill Fraser was on the yatch when her partner was attacked and killed, then any reasonable hypothesis to the contrary absolutely destroys the Crown case. On the presented evidence the DNA of Megan Vass’ was on the yatch. There are 2 hypotheses as to its presence: 1.That she was on the yatch and it was a direct deposit from her,or, 2 It was deposited on the sole of the shoe of some, as yet, unidentified Police officer , forensic officer, or any other person who boarded the vessel.
    Ms Vass has alternated between stating she was on the vessel, actually witnessed the fatal assault, named the assailants, and was nauseated to the point of vomiting on site, on the one hand, and on the other, that she was not there at all and had totally fabricated the other alternative.
    That one of those hypotheses IS consistent with innocence , then the proper application of the law of our nation demands its acceptance. Did
    the then Blow J direct the Jury on that legal imperative ? Was he asked by the defence to do so ? Has the principle even been raised is this total and utter disgraceful episode of the misapplication of the criminal law.
    All of this travesty of justice may well have been avoided from inception had the arrogance of Blow J not prevailed when he refused the request from the defence that the witness Megan Vass’, be recalled for further cross-examination when it was learnt ( before the Jury was retired) that contra evidence
    as to her whereabouts had, just then, become known. His ruling that , in his view, , no useful purpose could be served by recalling her, was a pompous assertion of his know-it-all arrogance. The denial of that Motion was, and remains, a stain on Judicial responsibility. Vass’ answers on recall may have had enormous affect on .that trial. Was that Motion, and Blow J’s ruling , in the presence of the Jury. ?

    • andrew says:

      Jury was absent for the discussion about recalling Vass.
      (BTW, I corrected the name of the trial judge to Blow J. You had it as Bowles … you must have read Robin Bowles’ book on the case, Death on the Derwent:)

  2. owen allen says:

    “The ongoing appeals and media attention continue to be distressing to the family,” Tim Chappell said. Many within Tasmania Police, particularly those involved in the case, also believe “enough is enough”.
    “enough is enough”.
    Guilt is self destruction. Tasmania is imploding.
    I am over the fear of name dropping.
    Leader of Opposition Michael Field apologised to myself and my ex wife. He said, “Tasmania Police are too corrupt to do anything about.”
    I need debriefing. That was about 26 years ago. I was fighting since 1991 that is 30 years.
    Tasmania has a ball and chain strapped to my leg.
    Good cops can set me free; blow the whistle coppers.
    [no wonder I am mad]

  3. Diane Kemp says:

    Sorry Tim but people have been named as being involved in the disappearance and probable murder of your father, Bob. Surely you wish for the truth to come out and those involved punished. Maybe you think that Sue did it however there are so many prominent people who disagree – surely you want that to be investigated if you and your family are truly seeking closure??
    The lies are being questioned now with another judge considering that the verdict is unsafe and identifies a new trial is required. If a new trial occurs with only what they presented at the original trial and with a jury outside Tasmania – there is absolutely no doubt that Sue would be exonerated and freed. They the real criminals involved can be brought to justice. You know this is what Bob would want.

  4. Mieneke Haynes says:

    We are sorry that your father has been killed Tim. Please join us in the fight for a Commission of Inquiry. Let the whole case be thoroughly investigated again, with all the knowledge we have now – the appeals could not do that. Then we will know who killed Bob.

  5. John Ferris says:

    What purpose does it serve to keep Sue incarcerated ? She has been locked-up for longer than some correctly-found guilty offenders who are now out on parole after qualifying for early release. Sue, family, friends and supporters would be willing, wanting and able to devote their energies in ways which would be of benefit to the wider community. I bet Sue for one would have ideas, contributions and suggestions aimed at helping inmates she has met to cope with their isolation and prepare for their release and freedom, to emerge as reformed and worthy fellow citizens. Enough is enough ! I don’t think more Appeals are likely, or the answer. Some person or persons know the true story of that fateful night. Perhaps they will spill the beans one day but until then lets get on with life – open Sue’s door so she may enjoy what is left of her shortened life.

  6. Robert Greenshields says:

    Does not the Judge who was one out of three, opinion account for anything at all?
    Surely if one third, 33% of the judicial administrators who sat in judgement of the appeal fundamentally reached the conclusion that they considered a new trial was required, so that justice could be seen to be not only a dynamic impetus, but accordingly and accurately served, then the community has some right to expect the processes and proceedings to free Sue Neill Fraser will recommence through court initiated activities forthwith.
    The ruinous clouds that hang over the credibility and professionalism of the Tasmanian Judicial System, and its now Government, can only be, at this time, compared to the barbaric days of a colonial Port Arthur, a then, choreographed psychological terrorists utopia. Keep strong Sue and family.

  7. Peter Gill says:

    Scrutiny? The journalist thinks there should be no scrutiny?

    Scrutiny happens in democracies.
    In totalitarian societies, the aim of the authorities is to avoid scrutiny of their actions.

    I prefer a society where scrutiny is permitted.

  8. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Andrew, can I get clarification on “Comments on Denholm’s article have been disabled”. Thank you.

  9. Robin Bowles says:

    Denham is a journalist, not an opinion writer. He therefore should not express opinions, but rather report facts. In the latest article in The Australian, facts are a bit thin on the ground. Of course he can publish quotes from others who do have opinions, like Tim Chappell and Mr Riley, but going gung ho to support them and using emotive words like ‘muck raking’ and silly comments about Miss Marple shows an unattractive bias in a reporter. To my knowledge, Denham has sat through most of the hearings, especially Sue Neill Fraser’s Application for Leave to Appeal, which convinced Justice Brett to allow a fresh appeal. I hope he has read the Etter/Selby papers and some of the material written by Dr Bob Moles on the subject of the miscarriage of justice in the SNF case. Why not quote some of those facts instead of stirring up more disunity between police and the public who support SNF. I’ve often been called ‘Miss Marple’ through my writing career, which is quite inappropriate, as my job has been to report the facts, not unsubstantiated theories. It is used by those who want to diminish the dedication applied by those trying to have justice prevail.

  10. Brian Johnston says:

    We had high hopes. My hopes were boosted by the pro bono legal council.
    Many of us were aware of the stakes and held fears for the loss that happened.
    My thoughts now turn to the legal council who gave so much time, to lose. I just wonder how they feel.
    Maybe now Moles will realise this case cant be won based on a ‘mistake’ occurred.
    We now have one judge favouring a new trial and two against. Is the one judge right or are the two judges right. The dilemma should not exist. If the one judge is right then the two judges are wrong which means wrong won over right. We should not be in this position. What we have now with one for and two against is doubt which suggests an unsafe conviction.
    The only way forward is a civil case and crowdfunding.
    Someone will take this case on and win.

  11. LizP says:

    “Chappell’s son Tim, who has stood by the jury verdict, told The Weekend Australian the seemingly endless nature of the campaign was upsetting for a family needing closure.”

    Brings to mind Lord Denning’s deplorable comments about the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four’s “ endless campaigns.” His stance was that if we still had the death penalty, we wouldn’t be bothered by all these pesky appeals ( paraphrasing). I was 15 ( 1979) when I first marched for their release and had turned 27 when the Birmingham Six were finally released.

    Tim needs to climb down from his ivory tower, pull his head in, and think of Neill- Fraser, now 67 and wheelchair bound , who has suffered so much since his dad’s death including being subjected to a patently unfair trial.

  12. LB says:

    Can someone enlighten me about the Etter/Selby papers that were tabled in the Tasmanian parliament? Is Parliament permitted to ignore these documents, given that they highlight seemingly serious shortcomings in the investigation and prosecution of the SNF case? Surely these papers raise the questions as to whether the trial was fair, and that the verdict was beyond reasonable doubt? Don’t even start me on the wrench, the luminol confusion or the large DNA deposit that was dismissed as a “red herring” if I remember correctly. What exactly is the Tasmanian Parliament doing about the Etter/Selby papers? How can an allegedly incompetent investigation and a verdict not justified by the evidence stand, let alone satisfy any basic standard? Tasmanian Parliament needs to act.

  13. andrew says:

    I should also point out that Comments on Denholm’s article have been disabled. That is to say no comments were ever allowed.

    • Pauline Chalmers says:

      I have always wondered about the late evening phone call Sue received and if anyone of the Chappell children shouldn’t have become a person of interest, as it was that call that prompted Sue to walk down to physically have a look at the Four Winds on it’s moorings, thereby dropping herself straight into becoming a person of interest.

    • Ruth Graham says:

      What a cop out.

  14. Rosemary says:

    Doesn’t Miss Marple always get to the truth in the end? Likewise we all seek the truth in the disappearance of Bob Chappell. Well said Andrew to correct the errors in the article in the Australian. Don’t they have their own fact checkers? So many want to close the book and leave Sue to ‘rot’ in prison because with the truth yet to be fully be exposed they will certainly be left with egg on face when it does.

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