Andrew L. Urban
Sue Neill-Fraser’s alleged 2016 phone conversation from prison, newly revealed, in which she is claimed to express regret for having returned to Four Winds “that night”, raises more doubt, underlines the need for a full review of her case … and poses questions for detective sergeant Sinnitt.
In Matthew Denholm’s report in The Weekend Australian (19/20, February 2022), “during a phone conversation from Hobart’s Mary Hutchinson Women‘s Prison, recorded at 7.15pm on November 13, 2016, Neill-Fraser at one point tells a male friend she did return to Four Winds (crime scene).”
Until the unedited tape of the phone conversation is made available for verification, we are entitled to wonder why the content of this alleged phone call was not made public when it was allegedly recorded, over five years ago, prior to the second appeal.
Denholm writes: “Neill-Fraser says: “You know, oh God, I wish I’d never gone out to the boat that night, oh.” The male friend replies: “Oh … well.” She then says: “Mmm. Or decided to stay on it that night, yeah.”
“She then restates her original story – rejected by the trial judge and jury – that she had left Chappell on board that night and did not return to the yacht.
“The conversation is revealed in a detailed defence of police actions in the case penned by senior detective Shane Sinnitt, who worked on the initial and related investigations.
“Obtained by The Weekend Australian, Sergeant Sinnitt’s document addresses what it calls “distortions” and “falsehoods” in a dossier being used by Neill-Fraser’s supporters to push for a commission of inquiry, Tasmania’s equivalent of a royal commission.” (Denholm’s police sources have always been helpful in providing him with information…including the police-sourced and later debunked April 15, 2019, story that Meaghan Vass had recanted her 60 Minutes story )
However, this report raises a few questions:
Are recordings of phone conversations made by inmates at Risdon prison made available on demand to police officers?
Sinnitt claims to be addressing “distortions” and “falsehoods” in the Etter Selby dossier; what has this conversation to do with those issues?
Why is Sinnitt trawling through prison recorded phone conversations in 2016?
How was this particular conversation discovered among the hundreds of Neill-Fraser’s calls that were recorded?
Has Sinnitt played the tape of the alleged phone conversation in full to his senior police officer and/or the DPP?
Has Sinnitt sought permission to release the selected details to a journalist?
Will TasPol issue a press release about this alleged phone conversation?
As the alleged 2016 conversation has no relevance to Sue Neill-Fraser’s current position, what is the motivation for its release now in 2022?
“confused …her normal behaviour”
The self-contradiction in the alleged phone conversation on Sunday, November 13, 2016, raises the possibility that Neill-Fraser was confused about which day she was remembering. She was similarly confused when recalling visiting Bunnings on the relevant afternoon and a long time family friend, Bob Martyn, has stated in a sworn affidavit: “I don’t believe that Sue told police that she had been to Bunnings to hide where she had really been. It was common for Sue to get confused and mistake the day that she went and so this was consistent with her normal behaviour.”
Neill-Fraser phones Martyn regularly on Sunday evenings. “That was probably me on the phone that Sunday in 2016, but I can’t remember her saying that, so I’d like to hear the entire recording … to be reminded and check the contents…”
It is feasible that in the subsequent conversation Neill-Fraser corrected herself – or was corrected – about the day, because, as Martyn says, he would remember if she claimed that she did return to the yacht that night.
Neill-Fraser has lodged an application to seek leave to appeal to the High Court to contest her 2010 conviction for the murder of her partner Bob Chappell on Australia Day 2009, on their yacht Four Winds.