ABC RN Law Report guests consider the DNA ‘possibilities’ after dismissal of Sue Neill-Fraser appeal

Andrew L. Urban. 

Meaghan Vass’ DNA deposit on the Four Winds being the sole focus of Sue Neill-Fraser’s second appeal (decision announced November 30, 2021), it was central to the ABC RN’s 30 minute Law Report program on Tuesday, December 7, 2021. Perhaps inadvertently, it showed the weakness of the dismissal of the appeal.

Hosted by Damien Carrick, Law Report invited Loretta Lohberger, ABC Hobart journalist, Peter Powell, Tasmania Police retired detective inspector who led the investigation into Bob Chappell’s disappearance and Lara Giddings, former premier of Tasmania.

Lohberger recounted the basics of the case, but made the mistake of referring as probative evidence to the midnight ATM footage of the back half of a car which police claimed ‘looked like hers’ and could have been Sue Neill-Fraser’s. The footage was not used in the trial and remains highly speculative.

Meaghan Vass’ DNA deposit being the sole focus of this second appeal, it was central to the program.

Inspector Peter Powell still thinks “there is every possibility that her DNA got on at Cleanlift” (a couple of days later). Law Report Host Damien Carrick did not seek Powell’s explanation as to why Vass would insert herself into the case after the trial.

Powell also quotes Max Jones of Victorian forensic service who “makes concessions about the possibility of the DNA being a secondary transfer”. Secondary transfer on a shoe… worn by a one legged cop who hopped on board and then never set foot on the deck again?

Lara Giddings referred to the two appeal judges considering “the possibility” of it being a secondary transfer.

Reliance on ‘possibilites’ about evidence cannot lawfully underpin a guilty verdict beyond reasonable doubt.

Giddings also made the argument about Vass and her alternating evidence that it had to be seen in the context of her vulnerability. Giddings also explained how the appeal judges were restricted in their considerations to the matter before them at court, without looking at all the material that has accumulated since the trial.




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15 Responses to ABC RN Law Report guests consider the DNA ‘possibilities’ after dismissal of Sue Neill-Fraser appeal

  1. John Biggs says:

    I was disappointed in the Law Report yesterday. Loretta Lohberger was reasonably factual but raised old issues not to do with the Appeal, as mentioned by others here. . Damien Carrick gave far too much time to Det Peter Powell who of course doubled down on the police work and the original trial, emphasising Sue’s lies as to her whereabouts as if that proved murder. The fact that her partner of long standing was missing, she would understandably be confused – that was overlooked. It would have spoiled the police case and their follow up. He also repeated the untrue assertions that she and Bob were folding up, even quoting the man who sold them the Four Winds as “evidence” for that, which was crass and hearsay. Carrick should have stopped him in his tracks. Lara of course did splendidly trying to explain the technical issues and how appeal after appeal drew the court deeper into tunnel vision, thereby putting the case for a Commission of Enquiry, (which surprisingly Powell appeared to agree to). The support Group was fleetingly mentioned but should have allowed a spokesperson to have been interviewed. . The programme was supposed to be about the Appeal but instead Carrick allowed Powell to rake over the original trial. It left a bad taste in the mouth and the naïve listener I think would have been swayed the wrong way. Shame on the ABC! (And I don’t often say that).

    • Keith says:

      Shame on the ABC indeed, although John, you shouldn’t be surprised, they have an outstanding record of getting it wrong.
      Do the Cardinal Pell, live cattle exports, Andrew Laming, Christian Porter issues ring a bell? With Louise Milligan being the poster girl for their shocking errors.
      Shame on the ABC.

    • DJS says:

      The program gave a quick overview of the whole case including the issues raised in the 2nd appeal. If anyone wants a thorough review of the main issues that the 2nd appeal dealth with then a good understanding of Justice Wood’s excellent summary is absolutely necessary. Unlike the other two judges, Justice Wood gave us an insight into the reasoning process associated with explaining the complexity of the forensic science problem.

    • DJS says:


      The program had a representative from both sides of the case although it would have been more fitting had Barbara Etter spoke on behalf of Sue.

      One thing that I would suggest is that there be a televised debate between Barbara Etter and Peter Powell, followed by questions and answers.

      Barbara Etter knows the case details to great depth, has a police background and has a law degree. Etter and Powell are the best qualified people to discuss the respective sides of the case.

      I think that a suitable investigative journalist ought to be selected to moderate the debate.

      What do you think?

      • Garry Stannus says:

        A good comment … yet:

        …with no disrespect intended, I’d rule out Loretta Lohberger and Matt Denholm as moderators. So too, I’d rule out others, such as our esteemed Editor … he has similarly … some ‘skin in the game’.

        How about ‘P.K.’? (Patricia Karvelas … she is sharp and ‘to the point’.)

      • Rosemary says:

        A debate would be counter productive as it would only rehash just like the law report. Important things that are new would not go through the legal process for admission as facts. A more fitting process would be investigative of new evidence with proper legal boundaries such as a CCRC or Inquiry or Royal Commission with broad terms of reference so that something definitive could result. A debate at this stage would have constraints of contaminating proper testimony for a future inquiry; so critical things could not be said. It may be entertainment to debate but time would be better spent on investigation with the aim of finding the truth. We are far from that now to know what really happened to Bob Chappell in his disappearance. Some of us are in a hurry to get to that point and enough with the diversions from that critical task.

  2. Noeline Durovic says:

    Andrew. I can not help my self uttering and calling out the lunacy of the reported supposed secondary DNA dinner plate size (by one only). Thrown up DNA vomit!
    Vomit made up of the DNA of Megan Vass! (contents on the deck as sick/spew as we would know it, if we had to clean up such a mess! )

    I cannot in all reason understand the unreasonable supposition of:
    1. “A one legged any one” or a “two legged any one (with a dinner size foot) clumping/hopping across onto the FourWinds deck (high) to place DNA of Megan Vass ‘spewed/vomit/sick’ onto that spot from under a supposed shoe?
    2.Peculiar and ominously to ‘ Tasmania Police’ is the missing tagged police forencic evidence Megan Vass DNA towel/cloth from the Four Winds? Why?
    3.Was not this said to be used by Megan Vass creating the DNA of vomit /spew on it?
    The unsupported impossibility; made up to dam an innocent person for a crime they did not do! Made up as a prosecution of proposed re-made possibilities and concessions!
    I say ‘Rubbish Tasmania Police’ – DPP(S) INK!
    Plus Tasmanian police hiding such important DNA forensic evidence begets those involved prosecuting Susan Neil Fraser fate of an added up false conviction?
    DNA despots Tasmania Police/DPP(S)INK

  3. Garry Stannus says:

    Yes, I noticed a series of factual errors during that ‘Lohberger’ segment. Andrew: the articles on WCR sometimes get supplanted at a rate that I haven’t had time to go back and make notes of what I’ve just read / heard in order to be able to comment on what I’ve read.

    I’ll do what I can…

    Over the years, I’ve read many of Loretta Lohberger’s news reports (on the subject of SNF). Generally, I think she reports well and accurately – much better than I myself ever could. But this 7Dec2021 ‘Law Report’ … in which Lohberger, Powell and Giddings are each featured … surprised me.

    I thought that Loretta was better than that. As I listened to the broadcast, I heard what were (to me) several mistakes. Some came from Loretta herself … and some came from questions that Damien Carrick put to her (fallacious questions) and which Loretta did not reject for the false premise/s contained within.

    I haven’t had time … please ‘stop the world, I want to get off‘ … but one example from that Lohberger-Carrick segment was the ridiculous stuff about Sue rowing the dinghy between the shore and the Four Winds. It was mentioned a couple of times. Tell me I’m wrong, tell me it’s not there and I must have been imagining it. I will check my claim if needed. But to anyone who’s stayed connected over the years … not even the prosecution at trial claimed that Sue ever rowed there or back in a dinghy. Yet we recall the snippets where it has been suggested that the first accounts of that chap having a ‘Farmers Union’ flavoured milk … out there on the rowing club ‘spit’, may have mentioned a dinghy being rowed. That account actually supports Sue. Sue’s dinghy had a motor.

    And it sounds as if Lohberger/Carrick have confused and wrongly applied that notion of the Four Winds dinghy that night being rowed. Yes, readers, in my view, it wasn’t the Four Winds dinghy being rowed, it was Grant Maddocks.

    At the trial, our ‘Farmers Union’ chap now/then told how he saw a dinghy and [also] heard an outboard motor.

    To me, what followed has always been a case of putting two and two together and coming out wrongly with a dinghy being powered by an outboard motor = 5.

    We think that the police may have cajoled him into saying he saw a dingy (not being rowed as in his first apparent account) but being powered by an outboard motor – the sound of which had actually come from Brettingham-Moore’s motor cruiser trying to dock, just further metres away.

    We don’t know for sure, what that ‘Farmers Union’ chap first told the police. That’s why we want an Inquiry. There are suggestions that his first account … words on the phone … words put to Sue by police at interview … were of a dinghy being rowed out … and Sue dismissing that by saying there were no rowlocks in the Four Winds dinghy.

    So what happens next? A witness is perhaps cajoled by police into remembering hearing the noise of a motor? (At the same time as Mr Brettingham-Moore was manoeuvring his motor cruiser towards the Royal (Sandy Bay) Yacht Club of Tasmania?) In direct line … from the ‘Farmers Union’ spot, across those 50 or so metres to a dinghy, further past that dinghy, further by only some tens of metres – actually as it seems … just beyond a dinghy being rowed/sculled by Grant Maddock on his way back from a day’s sailing … and possibly a late-night-shop up at the supermarket up the hill.

    The noise of Brettingham-Moore’s motor cruiser – close as it was to Maddock’s exiting dinghy – carried over to our ‘Farmers Union’ man, there on the spit. Only a hundred metres or so involved in it all … the wind carrying the sound over the water, to the spit as if it was a shoe-length away?

    In my view, the ABC Lohberger-Carrick segment contained errors of fact.

    Of course, thankfully, Andrew, you have also pointed out that inaccurate ABC statement of Sue’s car being photographed late into the night on Sandy Bay Road. I can provide imaging (just as you can too) which shows only that a vehicle which could have been the same model as Sue’s was seen on the Sandy Bay CBA’s CCTV. So the ‘Law Report’/Peter Powell gets that bit wrong, too.

    I don’t have the time to deal with it all, point by point. If someone asks me about a particular point, I will answer. But I hope it would be: a considered, serious question. I’ll leave off here with this finale reflection:

    The matter of Sue and her imprisonment on conviction is one helluva matter. It concerns her own self and the frightful feelings that she must – once suspected/accused – have had to deal with. Then there is her family. Miedecke (elsewhere) has tried to bring Bob’s family into the fold, acknowledging that they too have this ongoing ordeal. Similarly, we too, in the wider society, are fraught with the concerns and doubts that accompany this case.

    Oh gee! Would that we all could witness some process – calm and sane like that in South Africa after Mandela got elected – would that we all could have an Inquiry which would dispassionately examine all that has already been offered and which in doing so, would also hear from many sources … some known and some as yet unknown to those who are associated with Sue’s case.

    Sue writes to many who write to her.

    Today I received a Christmas Card from Sue. She wrote:

    Dear Gary,
    Despite recent setback, I remain positive, for now. We have quite a festive time in here at Christmas; lots of nice little treats – possibly not too good for our waistlines, though.
    I’ll write properly in the New Year, but for now, I wish you all the very best for Christmas, and hope 2022 brings us closer to world peace and an end to Covid.
    Warmest wishes,

    Adeste fideles…

    • andrew says:

      When the prosecution proposes that a dinghy heading roughly in the direction of Four Winds, with a figure that may be a female, is even mentioned never mind presented as evidence of the destination and the intent, we know there is no valid Crown case. The prosecutor and the hapless defence had the judge captured, too .. . what a tragedy for Sue Neill-Fraser. What a shameful case. History will be unforgiving…

  4. Geraldine Allan says:

    Lile you Andrew, I too noticed Lohberger’s “…mistake of referring as probative evidence to the midnight ATM footage of the back half of a car which police claimed ‘looked like hers’ and could have been Sue Neill-Fraser’s. …”

  5. Robert Greenshields says:

    Lara Giddings as stated hones in on 3 relevant points I believe, The concluding point being that the appeal judges were restricted in their considerations to the matter before them at court, confirms the appliance of accepted status quo standards, that in turn can only result in status quo choreographed outcomes.
    While a possibility can only be looked upon as a potential variable, it is impossible for me to understand or accept that it is ex cathedra factual, and therefore beyond any inclusion in the term beyond reasonable doubt.
    I am open to be corrected of course, but given the broader Australian history of recognised and recorded known venality, deceit, perjury, collusion, corruption, fabrication and blatant criminality in all of our policing and judicial administrations, it’s difficult to accept, or indeed even remotely generalise that the machinations interwoven into Sue Neill Frasers plight are anything different from what has been previously recorded.

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