Will big question be exposed in High Court?

Andrew L. Urban

A question of profound and long lasting importance will be laid bare before the High Court on Friday, August 12, 2022, when the application for special leave to appeal her 2010 murder conviction by Sue Neill-Fraser will be put before the learned judges – a question not exposed before in any court. 

The long-running and controversial debate between the Tasmanian legal establishment and thousands of Neill-Fraser’s supporters, has seen the Crown’s case now come down to the very DNA deposit (that of Meaghan Vass) that the prosecutor at trial dismissed as a ‘red herring’. That DNA deposit is the subject of the appeal.

The Crown continues to maintain its position: that the DNA deposit is irrelevant because (they claim) its manner and time of deposit is uncertain. Expert evidence (they say) is ambivalent: it may have been transferred, it may have been deposited a day or three after the murder. It denies the validity of the Vass eye-witness testimony: that she was at the crime scene at the relevant time and Neill-Fraser wasn’t there. At best, the Crown is in fact providing reasonable doubt ….

But what the Crown has done here is really to obfuscate, to make the relevance of the DNA the central issue, the key element on which to refute Neill-Fraser’s application. Rather like the magician who attracts attention with his left hand while his right hand preforms the trick. Misdirection, as it’s called.

If the High Court were to find that the expert testimony does not support the appellant’s claim that it was deposited as Neill-Fraser’s legal team claims, it may dismiss the appeal. In other words, the defendant will have had the presumption of her innocence trashed.

big question

And the question thus exposed would be : how does that decision turn the Crown’s assertion into evidence that Neill-Fraser murdered Bob Chappell? It simply means that, according to the court, Vass was not there at the relevant time and therefore could not testify to Neill-Fraser’s absence. That is not evidence of Neill-Fraser’s presence.

 And in turn, that means that Neill-Fraser would remain convicted of murder in the absence of evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

Sue Neill-Fraser attending Supreme Court in Hobart

In several previous articles, we have argued that there is a logical flaw in the assertion that Vass was making up her evidence about what she saw. It may be that she gave conflicting accounts, but that doesn’t explain why she would admit to the world on 60 Minutes (in March 2019) that as then a homeless 16 year old, she was an eye witness to what ended up as a death (probably manslaughter). She stood to gain nothing and lose everything

But if the court grants leave and hears the appeal, Neill-Fraser’s legal representatives would be entitled to point out how the Crown, in the absence of probative evidence, reversed the onus of proof, challenging Neill-Fraser to prove her innocence.

The Crown did not provide any evidence that Neill-Fraser was on board the yacht (the crime scene), that she murdered Chappell, or that she disposed of his body. It was all speculation.

Her success at this appeal would provide some assurance that the outrageous mishandling of her case by the Crown does not provide unacceptable precedents, from the prejudicial speculations of the prosecution and prejudicial remarks by the trial judge, to the inadmissibility of forensic evidence.

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28 Responses to Will big question be exposed in High Court?

  1. Owen allen says:

    This is great PR for Tasmania, the whole wide world is watching, and waiting.

  2. Sue Marsh says:

    I know this is based on the “Vass” part of the case but I still have never understood how a guilty verdict was arrived at with no evidence and based on “ he said” (he was not credible) . I cannot understand how a prosecutor can put ideas forward as the truth. The time spent on the murder weapon which didn’t exist and the actual fact of the possibility of any female of that age being able to complete the tasks stated without assistance or of being seen is a farce. And no body located! Purely speculation based prosecution. The length of time that she has been in prison also in comparison with real criminals is criminal in itself. Checked the television lately in any state and you will see the real criminals ( where there has been real evidence) get out anywhere from 3-7 years.

    • Robert Moles says:

      Prosecutors are not allowed to speculate – there is clear legal authority on that – so when the prosecutor told the jury about the injuries Mr Chappell ‘would have had’ that was inadmissible – so too his claims about his injuries being caused by a friend – or the statement that only friends dispose of bodies in murder situations. ALL terribly prejudicial and ALL just as terribly inadmissible. Those statements alone clearly warrant the conviction being set aside. And that is without going into the inadmissible forensic evidence given at trial.

  3. Robin Bowles says:

    If Sue wasn’t on the boat she couldn’t have done it. Simple as that. The Crown hypothesis that Sue killed Bob hitting him ‘again and again’ with a ‘big wrench’ earlier in the day going back later to dispose of his body is debunked in several ways— including the incorrect ‘sighting’ of a ‘female figure’ rowing a boat out there; Sue being at home to take a call around 10pm that night; absence of the murder weapon; we are all familiar with the roll-call of injustice swirling round this murder, quite apart from
    Any evidence given by Meaghan Vass. ( I happen to believe Meaghan, as I heard her story well before she was ‘got at’ by various interested parties, which process has confused and her and rendered her evidence almost inconceivable). The only thing certain is that with no body, no murder weapon, therefore no cause of death; no reliable witness to place Sue at the scene; no motive ( other than one manufactured by the Prosecution) and no confession, there is NO EVIDENCE to convict Sue Neill Fraser of Bob’s murder and she should be exonerated. I hope those High Court judges have done their reading!

  4. Greg says:

    Thank you for your response. I ought to clarify what I was referring to.

    It has been known since the trial that the forensic scientist who took the swab from location 11 couldn’t conclude whether the DNA was from blood or saliva or other bodily fluid. It has been known since before McLaren’s involvement in this case that there was no evidence that location 11 had any vomit. It has been known via McLaren’s own testimony during the right-to-appeal hearing that he himself was of strong belief that Vass’ DNA at location 11 was a direct transfer. It was evident during the cross-examination of McLaren in Feb 2019 that the prosecution had sufficiently strong reason to claim that McLaren fabricated the 2017 statement for Vass to sign. In other words, although Vass expressed to McLaren in early 2017 that she had no memory of ever being on Four Winds, Vass was led by McLaren to believe that she was on the boat but lost her memory. Vass expressed in the court in 2017/ 2019 that she was coerced and/or threatened by several people into saying that she was on the boat (and that she vomited after seeing the attack on Bob). In other words, despite the contradiction between Vass’ 60 Minutes story (and her 1March2021 testimony under examination) and the crime scene evidence (on a number of issues, including the amount of blood; absence of vomit, etc, none of Neill-Fraser’s supporters have to date doubted the validity of Vass’ 60 Minutes story. Garry Stannus is the recent exception.

    Any objective person who is sufficiently well informed about the above circumstances of the case would have had strong enough reasons to seriously doubt the validity of the claim that Vass was on Four Winds at the time of the attack on Bob, and that her DNA at location 11 was as a result of her vomiting. Other than Garry Stannus (who appears to have a rather comprehensive knowledge of the case evidence) I am not aware of any other supporter of Neill-Fraser who has demonstrated such an objective and evidence based opinion on this case.

    • andrew says:

      Just one quick reality check on this comment (dangerously close to being rejected on grounds of rehashing Vass/DNA issue). Re the following sentence: “Any objective person who is sufficiently well informed about the above circumstances of the case would have had strong enough reasons to seriously doubt the validity of the claim that Vass was on Four Winds at the time of the attack on Bob…” But it was Vass herself who reported the attack on Bob. He had disappeared from Four Winds. Without Vass reporting it, nobody would know that he had been attacked. That sentence seems self contradictory.

  5. Diane Kemp says:

    August 12th will be a monumental day for truth and justice to be tested. My faith in our justice system has been eroded through what has been allowed to occur with Sue. I have no trust anymore in police, lawyers, the legal system or the court process including judges. What has been condoned in Tasmania is not what I thought my country would do – I naively believed Australia was a just an d fair country. How wrong I have been!!!
    So many people have been involved in keeping Sue in prison for a crime with no evidence of her involvement. I thank Justice Brett and Justice Estcourt for acknowledging there is doubt. Is this a safe conviction – no – I do not intend to go over what occurred as we all know.
    It is time to stop this now, bring Sue home to her family and hold those involved accountable to deliberately withholding evidence in order to secure a conviction. That includes the Judge, the DPP, poor police investigation, the politicians and those who turned their back and ignored what has happened.
    Stay strong Sue.

  6. Garry Stannus says:

    Yes, it is the DNA deposit that is the subject of the application for leave to Appeal to the High Court.

    However, to write that “The Crown […] denies the validity of the eye-witness testimony…” is in my view to ignore the elephant in the room: Meaghan Vass has herself told the 2nd Appeal Court that she didn’t know Gleeson or Wroe, that she’d been harassed by McLaren, ‘Gabby’ and ‘Sharyn’ to say that she’d been on the boat. It was at that point that Coates, for the Crown, indicated that he would tender a tape of a long interview of McLaren speaking to Vass on 17Mar2017 and that he would seek to play the tape.

    Coates suggested that the tape would show that McLaren put to Vass that she’d been present on the boat with Paul and Sam, that the old bloke had arced up, that [she] had shot through. Coates put it to Vass that she had told McLaren,

    I’d like to be able to say that but I don’t have any recollection of this.

    Vass agreed that she had said that.

    Vass also agreed that she’d told McLaren that

    I have not been on the yachts with Sam knocking shit off.

    I must acknowledge that during Coates’ cross-examination of Vass she had reached a stage where it seemed she simply wanted to get out of the court and not to have to come back. She seemed to be taking the tack that if she simply agreed to everything that Coates put to her, she would be ‘done and dusted’ all the quicker. Coates’ earlier questions had exposed (in my view) her possible lack of actual memory. It seemed that she’d thought she’d only have to come into the court to say that what she’d signed in her affidavit about being on the boat with two others etc, was true … and that would be that.

    I don’t actually know what was going on in Vass’s head during that cross-examination. I was there, watched it all, took notes throughout, have the transcript and I formed the view that under Coates’ questioning, Vass realised that her actual/or stated lack of recall of the details of what happened on the yacht was being exposed. She, in my view, realised that Coates was not going to roll over and let her simply state that she’d been on the boat, that Bob C. had ‘arced up’ etc. and ‘thank you very much, Miss Vass, I won’t need to ask you any further questions’.

    It was at that point – in my view – that Vass gave up, and began agreeing to everything that Coates put to her. Just for the record, I don’t believe that Coates’ XXN was abusive, disrespectful or anything like that. However, his questioning was relevant and ongoing. When Vass ‘broke’ and ‘rolled over’, we lost the opportunity to find out if Vass’s account was ultimately one based on her having been on the yacht or whether her account was one where at McLaren’s suggestion, she had come to believe that she must have been on the yacht … after all, her DNA was there, n’est-ce pas?

    This is one facet of the tragedy … we probably will never know. Vass herself may not actually know if she was on the yacht.

    At Coates’ mention of the taped (McLaren-Vass) interview, Mr Richter put his head in the noose and started to quibble, along the lines of not having seen it, of not having a transcript (actually it seems they’d earlier been provided with one … during McLaren’s evidence). Thank you very much, says Mr Coates and asks for permission to play the tape. The Court did not want to do that – citing Vass’s desire to finish as quickly as possible – as a compromise/alternative, Coates agreed to make available to Richter a copy of the interview transcript and the Court adjourned to facilitate that.

    Upon resumption, Mr Richter formally abandoned the Vass evidence – a tacit acceptance of Coates’ version of the contents of the tape? He told the court: “We are in a situation in which we concede that the evidence of Vass cannot support the notion of fresh and compelling evidence leading to the miscarriage of justice.

    And in this way, Meaghan Vass got to go home. She’d been promised security but had been let down. Her name had made the front page of the Mercury … ‘Sam did it‘. The suppression order was applied after-the-fact. If you don’t mind me saying, its was a weak and short-lived suppression order. A bit like closing the gate after the horse had bolted.

    CLOSING:
    At the end of WCR’s introduction, the following appears:

    If the High Court were to find that the expert testimony does not support the appellant’s claim that it was deposited as Neill-Fraser’s legal team claims, it may dismiss the appeal. In other words, the defendant will have had the presumption of her innocence trashed.

    I don’t have any legal qualifications or training, so my view of the ‘presumption of innocence’ is simply a personal view:
    -I see the ‘presumption of innocence’ as applicable within a trial courtroom and applicable to media reporting of the trial proceedings.
    -I don’t believe that you or I as private citizens are required to presume that all persons brought to court are innocent. We can have our own views.
    -Basically, in my view, it is the jury/judge that must presume innocence.
    -I don’t believe that the ‘presumption of innocence’ requirement persists after a finding at trial of guilty. At appeal, if anything, I believe there may be a presumption of guilt… that is, is is up to the appellant to make out their case (as opposed to a trial situation in which the onus of proof is on the prosecution).
    -I am open to the suggestion that at appeal both appellant and respondent have to make their cases and that no presumption either way is present.

    • andrew says:

      Garry – my statement that if the appeal is dismissed “the defendant will have had the presumption of her innocence trashed” refers to my argument that at trial, the prosecution reversed the onus of proof; see the article published on July 24, 2022https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2022/07/24/sue-neill-fraser-case-moves-out-of-tasmania-to-the-high-court/

      • Greg says:

        Andrew,
        It’s good to see that someone within the Neill-Fraser support group by the name of Garry Stannus is finally beginning to realise in the last few weeks that it is highly likely that Meaghan has zero memory of ever being on Four Winds, and that her statement of being on that boat is most likely due to coercion by 3 people (one of whom is Colin McLaren). It is pleasing to see that Garry is beginning to show objective analysis of the case evidence that goes beyond what was reported in the public domain in relation to the case since McLaren got involved in this case. I don’t expect you to see this case without bias.

        • andrew says:

          Whether Meaghan Vass has any clear memory of the exact circumstances of her presence on Four Winds on Australia Day 2009 is not in dispute. My bias, as you call it, is just not finding evidence beyond reasonable doubt on which the murder conviction could be based. The only lawyers who have trusted the conviction are those who have an interest in protecting it. I’d say that was the real bias …

      • Garry Stannus says:

        Thank you, Andrew. You indeed did write

        ” The prosecutor repeatedly told the jury that Neill-Fraser had erected a ‘wall of lies’ – ‘though the truth will come seeping out through the edges’. Even a simple diary entry written with two pens was said to be ‘laying a false trail’. The prosecutor went so far as to say:

        When you look at the number of lies and look at her credit, look how she seemed in the witness box to you, ladies and gentlemen, I suggest that you would be very hard pressed to believe anything she said unless it was reliably corroborated by someone else.

        To suggest to the jury that an accused person should be disbelieved in all that she says unless she provided corroboration is effectively to reverse the onus of proof. “

        I had read that opinion of yours and it resonated with me. I accepted it – and I still do. With that in mind, you are more than correct in writing that her “presumption of innocence had been trashed.” Please forgive my obtuseness, I had thought you had been suggesting that a presumption of innocence persisted at every stage of a person’s (such as Sue) legal journey, that is, beyond trial, to first and second appeals and thus, even to the High Court etc.

  7. Peter Martin says:

    The High Court on 12 August. The suspense is killing me!

  8. Andrea says:

    Not to mention meaghan who stated she was there numerous times and was ignored. To those who say she’s drug affected I challenge you as these days its zero of anything except fresh air

    • Geraldine Allan says:

      Andrea, I am indeed impressed on the way Meaghan has turned her life around in recent years.

      I have other words for “ignored” = viciously attacked & deliberately destroyed by DPP COATES. I witnessed it @ CCA March 2021 hearings … I know who I believe and it isn’t COATES.

      What I didn’t witness yet am aware of is TASPOL behind the scenes verbal threat to Meaghan Vass to withdraw her signed statement with, “if Sue comes out, you go in”.

      Systemic desperation personified.

  9. Owen allen says:

    PS, President Putin and President Xi Jinping are up to date with what is going on in Tasmania, and Australia, which helps them in the decision making process; but of course also the USA and I warned the US via Navy Captain years ago of Tasmania Corruption.
    As I did President Xi Jinping. Lest We Forget, Tasmania Injustice and Corruption.
    Owen, son of Anzacs.

    • Owen allen says:

      Sorry, but I also contacted the USA Drug Enforcement Administration in Canberra, where Tasmanian Magistrates and Judges let drug dealers walk, and the Tasmania Chief Justice sent a female Asian University student to prison for stealing books.
      Owen,

  10. LB says:

    It beggars belief that this farce has not been resolved over the many years by everyone who had the power to do so in Tasmania – various Premiers, Police Commissioners, Attorneys General, members of Parliament both Commonwealth and State; in my view, it is nothing short of criminality. Hoping the High Court will step up to the task and correct the wrongs.

  11. Rodger Warren says:

    Hi Andrew
    Many thanks to you and all of Sue Neill-Fraser’s supporters.
    Keeping her case and others in the limelight has required dedication and perseverance.
    I hope this time Sue will get True Justice.
    Take care
    Rodger Warren

    • Owen allen says:

      It beggars the question, Rodger, True Justice For Sue Neil Fraser.
      National Criminal Case Review Commission; before War. Lol.
      Hey did I write that? Where are the 1%ers? Lol.

  12. Geraldine Allan says:

    Seems a relevant question here — I ask what weight is afforded “EXPERT EVIDENCE”?

    “… The validation process identifies the critical aspects of a procedure that must be carefully controlled and monitored, as noted in Tuite v Queen [2015]. Metrology (the science of measurement, of which all of this kind of evidence forms part) stresses the need for validation to be demonstrated, not just asserted.

    Before a scientist switches on the GCMS instrument or starts a feature comparison, he/she/they must be able to demonstrate that the method to be applied gives results that are valid and reliable. A valid method will be:

    Repeatable: the scientist will obtain the same results in repeated tests on the same sample;
    Reproducible: different scientists will obtain the same results, within measurement uncertainty, from the same sample; and
    Accurate: with known probabilities, the scientist will obtain a positive result from a truly positive sample, and a negative result from a truly negative sample, according to the US-based President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
    The methods used must be fit for purposes of the litigation (and the facts in issue) and the resulting opinions capable of being understood and evaluated by fact-finders.

    It is important that lawyers understand the need to question scientific evidence and be aware that, on many occasions, what is presented as solid science may be untested or speculative opinion. …”

    https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/wig-chamber/34320-expert-evidence-and-the-law

  13. Geraldine Allan says:

    Andrew, there’s much comment that I could added to your article, yet in the interest of brevity & spare-the-readers concern, I’ll confine mine to your, “… Expert evidence (they say) is ambivalent: it may have been transferred, it may have been deposited a day or three after the murder. It denies the validity of the Vass eye-witness testimony: that she was at the crime scene at the relevant time and Neill-Fraser wasn’t there. …”

    What jumps out to me as the bleeding obvious: the Vass eye-witness testimony, or I might more strongly label it — the ‘direct evidence’ of the ‘I was there’ witness, verifies that, Meaghan Vass: –
    1) was on 4Winds yacht, the night of Bob’s disappearance on the Australia Day 2009 night, and
    2) vomited on the 4Winds yacht deck.

    Now I’m not going to be distracted about which spot her vomit DNA was located. FACT, DNA of her vomit was identified from swabs taken. Meaghan Vass verified that FACT 1) & 2) above-mentioned, are true.

    Andrew you refer to her as an eye-witness. I refer to her as a primary witness giving direct evidence. What is jumping out at me is where is any alternative eye-witness direct evidence of Meaghan Vass being on 4 Winds yacht at another time, other than what she says, and what generally the evidence suggests — she vomited on board the yacht that night. She collaborated it didn’t she?

    From my viewpoint direct evidence must outweigh speculated evidence, in the absence of alternative contradictory eye-witness evidence. Surely?

    Thus, how can the evidence of owner of the DNA/vomit be contradicted by speculation, without an alternative eyewitness?

    *she writes scratching her head.

  14. Owen allen says:

    Yes, and in all said here, I can not believe Australian Federal Government has the audacity to condemn nations, ( Russia and China ) for breaking International Law, ( to protect Internationals ), yet they have not, will not protect Australian Citizens within Australia from domestic injustice and corruption.
    Bring on the National Criminal Case Review Commission; Australia is lagging behind other Nations, yet Australia indocrinates that the Green and Gold is Best.

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