Analysis of a press report on the High Court decision re Sue Neill-Fraser

Andrew L. Urban.

Here is an example of why the average person in the street cannot rely on press reports to be fully informed about matters relevant to wrongful convictions.



Tasmanian police officers have hailed the High Court’s rejection of the latest appeal bid by convicted murderer Susan Neill-Fraser as a vindication of detectives, forensic experts and prosecutors.

They would say that, wouldn’t they? It’s usually called ‘spin’. But the High Court was not asked to rule on the work of the detectives, forensic experts and prosecutors. The grounds of appeal were focused on the interpretation of ‘fresh’ and ‘compelling’ evidence. The Tasmanian Court of Criminal Appeal was conflicted on the issue, with a 2:1 decision.

On Friday, the High Court refused an application by Neill-Fraser for leave to appeal the Tasmanian Court of Criminal Appeal’s rejection of her second challenge to her 2010 conviction. The 68-year-old was sentenced to 23 years in jail for killing partner Bob Chappell aboard the couple’s yacht, Four Winds, on Australia Day 2009. Chappell’s body has never been found.

Police Association of Tasmania president Colin Riley said officers had always been confident in the judicial process. “We have also been confident in the integrity, thoroughness and professionalism of the investigative team, including the forensics experts, and the DPP’s prosecution case, since the initial conviction of Ms Neill-Fraser,” he said.

“However, since 2020, individual investigators and the investigation team have faced relentless scrutiny, media muck-racking and attacks.

What else could Colin Riley say? Although referring to relentless scrutiny as something to be avoided rather gives the game away. As for muck-racking, Colin Riley is accusing others of what he himself and some of his members might be accused of doing in their attempts to protect the conviction.

Then there is the massive Etter/Selby dossier on the police investigation tabled in Parliament (August 31, 2021). They found (among many other things):  An inadequate investigation and tunnel vision by police, which led to obvious lines of inquiry being ignored or barely followed up. Police failure to provide to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) the full disclosure of all relevant information.  Failures within the ODPP to ensure that their Director and the Defence received all the material supplied by the police. False evidence being put before the jury.

The facts remain Susan Neill-Fraser stood trial in the Supreme Court, she was convicted by a jury, her appeal was (twice) dismissed by the Court of Criminal Appeal, a coroner’s investigation reviewed all the evidence and supported the findings of the criminal proceedings. Today, the High Court rejected Ms Neill-Fraser’s (second) application for (a High Court) appeal.”

Citing the Coroner’s findings in this context is either uninformed or mischievous: the Coroner is bound by law to echo the verdict of the court. Incidentally, there have been other convictions where jury verdicts and subsequent appeals, including to the High Court, were dismissed before finally being quashed (eg Lindy Chamberlain, Henry Keogh…)

Lawyers for the Hobart grandmother wanted the High Court to consider whether a jury had given appropriate consideration to whether DNA evidence could have placed another person at the scene of the crime. High Court judges Simon Steward, Jacqueline Gleeson and Stephen Gageler “were not persuaded” by the defence’s argument and refused to hear the case.

The application for special leave to appeal centred on questions around how the DNA of a then homeless teenager, Meghan Vass, came to be found on the deck of the Four Winds. Ms Vass has given conflicting accounts of her whereabouts on the night Chappell was murdered, but told the 2010 trial she did not remember being on or near the yacht at the time.

At her 2012 appeal seeking leave to the High Court, on the ground that the defence was refused leave to recall Meaghan Vass was dismissed by the justices.

Neill-Fraser’s appeal before the Court of Criminal Appeal was dismissed last November after two of three judges rejected it. The court ruled the new evidence did not meet a required threshold of “fresh and compelling”.  

During the 2010 trial, the prosecution argued the DNA deposit from Ms Vass had arrived on the deck of the boat via secondary transfer. In Neill-Fraser’s appeal, lawyers argued it was wrong to dismiss the DNA evidence and if the jury had the chance to consider the possibility it was a primary deposit, it could have raised a question of reasonable doubt.

The Tasmanian Court of Criminal Appeal found the evidence of forensic expert Maxwell Jones did not prove there was a miscarriage of justice. A dissenting view from judge Stephen Estcourt said there was a “significant possibility” the trial jury may have acquitted Neill-Fraser had it heard Mr Jones’ evidence. The High Court ruled the Tasmanian Court of Appeal had not erred and refused to hear the case.

One reason why so many lawyers and others consider the conviction unsafe is that the prosecution built its case on the most egregious prejudicial propositions. These include the absurd speculation about injuries the body of murder victim Bob Chappell “would have had”, even though the body has never been found. Would the High Court have dismissed the application had they known that?

(Full disclosure: Andrew L. Urban was a theatre critic and later a freelance contributor to The Australian since 1988.)

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20 Responses to Analysis of a press report on the High Court decision re Sue Neill-Fraser

  1. Diane Kemp says:

    More biased reporting and skewing of the truth to fit the story. This reporter has a history of this type of reports regarding the Sue Neill Fraser case. This is not journalism but I am sure that it will continue.

  2. Geraldine Allan says:

    Candidly writing, the behind-the-scenes media-prepared grabs don’t work for me. Rather they irk me considerably.

    Preparation and worry what might happen if the ‘designated speaker’ is caught saying something off-message, almost to the point of death if it isn’t sanitised and targeting to a particular strategy, is foolish.

    As one who has not been schooled by officials in a large political organisation, mostly we peasants see through the stonewalling, spin and smoke and mirrors, thus see the prepared spiel for what it is —cunning trickery and insulting to thinking people.

    Why not be open and honest; just say exactly what’s on the collective mind? Readily admit to mistakes which frequently happen in life then move on and hope for acceptance and understanding. Why not; is it because the head puppeteer is holding the strings too tightly?

    I yearn for a refreshing change. Oh to hear the sound of real people speaking to fellow real people.

    • Robert Greenshields says:

      Yes Geraldine, mistakes are made by everyone, but, there is a world of difference between a mistake in judgement, and mistaken motives. From my perception the Sue Neill Fraser debacle is still being dominated by deceit and calculated machinated lies to protect the blueprinted processes and outcome originally craved.

      While Sue remains credible, reliable and steadfast, the desperados defending the injustices of the now transparent, questionable proceedings and policing processes, are desperately clinging to some abstract concept that policing and judicial authorities in Australia are still a force to be blindly accepted ex cathedra, due to the lofty ornamental and unrealistic positions they believe they occupy in our society, when the reality is, many/most, I concur, due to cowardly internal cultures, and conformity, operate and exist in the vacuums of incredibility and deception created and maintained over generations of malpractice across our nation.

      The justified repercussions to dishonest Tasmanian officialdom through dereliction of duty, dishonesty, lies, corruption, and perjury is taking on proportions not dissimilar to those of Napoleon in Europe post 1812, but all the while, time marches along and an innocent lady languishes, locked behind barbed wire and metal bars. A shocking indictment of where Australian populations still sit in relation to colonial inspired inhumanity and injustice.

      All the best, Robert.

  3. Robin Bowles says:

    So disappointed about the narrowness of our legal grounds for appeal. It is definitely a ‘legal’ system, not a justice system. The whole SNF saga is one of ‘if only’, and once again, if only the High Court Judges could have been told all of the facts. Sue and her family must be devastated, as are all her Supporters. But we fight on — for an independent inquiry.

  4. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich says:

    In my opinion, dangerous reporting which deceives the public into believing that our “Justice “System can be relied on, when in reality it it is deeply flawed and does not seek the truth but convicts people like Susan Neill -Fraser without any basis in fact.

  5. Williambtm says:

    I concur with the comments of Mr Robert Greenshields, my own conducted private investigation had revealed all the above in a serious case matter as had been stated in the above in this gentleman’s comment.
    I allege the former Director of Public Prosecutions in Tasmania had previously engaged in a cause to pervert the course of justice back in the year 2006.

    On that particular occasion, the State’s appointed high-level authorities had closed ranks to my further inquiries into that particular Supreme Court case matter (including the presiding judge he since then had been promoted) the peculiarities of the case include the following:
    A proper police investigation had been conducted into the proceeds of the theft of a substantial amount, in excess of $300,000 dollars via the aegis of both fraud and forgery, by the accused had stolen the bank savings money, personal goods, expensive jewellery and a collection of some 200 hundred solid Gold minted coins, plus a number of solid Gold ingots. The attempted murder charge, along with all the charges of theft were to be absolved under the direction of that era’s former Director of Public Prosecutions when he had sent his personal message to the presiding judge to discharge the case he was to preside over.

    The end result was the accused along with all her police charges had not been adjudged in this State of Tasmania’s Supreme Court.
    Yet the accused had been permitted to leave the court under the above-described plotted means of this uncontested case matter.

    The mere mention of the unrecovered 140 plus or minus of the stolen Solid Gold minted coins would cause the Gold Coins recipient to visibly tremble in light of the evidence that I had gained the access thereto, and leaves me to allege, had been passed off by the accused… to an anonymous positioned Tasmanian person of high authority,

    There has been improperly dealt with Supreme Court criminal case matters prior to the death of a well-considered but for now anonymous former State governor,

  6. Brian Johnston says:

    Keogh gets a mention again. Lets put that to rest once and for all. Moles spent 12 years to get him out. He was released 19 years into a 20 year sentence. The authorities dont care and they dont care he got $2.5 million. He did his time.
    Keogh either did it or was involved.

    Tedeschi in Sydney gaoled a few innocents. It is going on all the time and around the world, NZ & USA. Read up on the Montana Innocence Project. They are in there fighting for the innocent, and struggling. It is a hard game.

    Denholm said Sue was gaoled for killing Bob. It was not proven. He should have said for allegedly killing Bob.
    He said the police hailed the decision. There must be police who have their doubts.

    I believe Sue is there because of her own damned lawyer, that Felicity Ogilvie, a disastrous police investigation, a shonky judge and a ?? jury. Words escape me would lazy describe the jury. Stupid maybe.
    Now to be fair to the jury. They make a decision based upon the evidence before them. Where is the evidence. The mind boggles.
    She hit him over the head with a wrench or maybe stabbed him with a screwdriver. The jury bought that nonsense. Staggering.

    One judge ruled for Sue and two against. I wonder if they shared views.

    I feel for Sue and she should get out one day.

    In the meantime crowd funding for a civil case has to start now!!

    Elise Archer still owes me a reply. She is in a position to make a difference though wont on the basis she shouldn’t. Palm to forehead, large sigh.

  7. Owen allen says:

    Thanks folks, brothers and sisters; please keep the pressure on; we can not overcook it, like I did tonight my first attempt at topside in a pressure cooker.
    I cannot comment, it has gone beyond me, but I am working, don’t worry.
    I will Never Give Up, This Is A Fight For All Australians Freedom as I know you are aware; God Bless. Owen.

  8. Poppa says:

    The prologue to the United Nation Charter of Human Rights begins with ” Lest man should feel need to resort to Rebellion against Tyranny and Oppression”.
    The entrenched “Separation of Powers” that shields and protects from investigation & prosecution The Justice System cohort and the Affiliate Agencies that feed its bloodlust is a crime against all who have the misfortune to live within the arena of The English Adversarial Justice System.

  9. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Andrew we can only but remain a part of that mob who seek reasoning within the law. Those of the likes of Matthew Denholm are entitled to report on the latest High Court decision with regard to Sue Neill-Fraser’s appeal. However is the full report of the High Court decision to long to print in full so that reporters of this calibre can be brought to task for printing and cherry picking what they do and defiantly in defence of the same mob who concocted hell for four years on Jeff Thompson. Let’s get real folks, there are reporters and there are truth telling investigative reporters I like to refer to as ‘investigative journalists’.

  10. LizP says:

    Mel Hay, an arrogant and ineffectual WA Assistant Police Commissioner’s words reverberate on reading this. He insisted, following the Mickelbergs’ appeal vindication, that he was still sure they were guilty. West Australian police three years later issued a public apology to the Mickelbergs for what he said.

    To Sue Neill-Fraser’s ultimate vindication and the police also eating crow!

  11. Fiona Peate says:

    Matthew Denholm is a dweeb in my opinion. His writings are polemic – he manipulates things to skew things to his personal beliefs rather than reporting the facts. Plain and simple.
    He appears to be in league with Taspol too. Time will tell whether that does him any favors.

  12. Rosemary says:

    Being a former theatric critic would put you, Andrew, in a good position to critique the legal theatre that was the 2010 trial of Sue Neill-Fraser. The high court missed the opportunity to do the same. The realisation of “false evidence put before the jury” , as shown in the Etter/Selby papers should be of great concern to the investigating police and the DPP Office for complete transparency. Then in every article supporting the verdict, the coroner gets trotted out. “A coroners investigation reviewed all the evidence…” if so, and if he had done a good job of it he would surely have found the errors that many others have found. Was it just a “rubber stamp” exercise? Certainly looks like it. As you have pointed out Andrew, the coroner by law must echo the verdict of the court. The only reason this is dragged out is for additional PR.

  13. Geraldine Allan says:

    Andrew — requoting your above, “Then there is the massive Etter/Selby dossier on the police investigation tabled in Parliament (August 31, 2021). They found (among many other things): An inadequate investigation and tunnel vision by police, which led to obvious lines of inquiry being ignored or barely followed up. Police failure to provide to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) the full disclosure of all relevant information. Failures within the ODPP to ensure that their Director and the Defence received all the material supplied by the police. False evidence being put before the jury.”

    Can anyone please direct me to any
    1) TASPOL
    2) Colin Riley (PAT)
    3) DPP
    statement that specifically challenges any of the above in a direct and factual manner?

    I’ve searched.

    • Rosemary says:

      Agree Geraldine, I too, would like to read such a statement. Let’s compare apples with apples, not ‘look over here’ …oranges!

  14. Geraldine Allan says:

    “… as a vindication of detectives, forensic experts and prosecutors. …”

    Where’s the vindication. That’s self-indulging excrement

  15. Robert Greenshields says:

    To me, the words of an area commander in the NSW police force are recycled and ring true when I read of anything from authorities connected in any manner at all with this case. “I have been trying to sought out those bastards out there for years”, was the quote he made when we had a discussion, following a fabricated police case folding under the weight of appeal in another court. (A good old fashioned police verbal, a legal authority described it as, but it could not have progressed to court without participants actively perjuring themselves). The Superintendents words have been further cemented by the verbiage more recently of others within policing ranks from that disgraced policing area, who in following talks have used statements like “the trouble in this town comes from the executives directions at a more senior level out of town”, and in the words of one senior non commissioned police officer, “I have no faith in the officers or their leadership”. (Sadly the original area commander commander was eventually replaced by a far littler man, an individual, who was more compliant with the culture of conformity and the accepted status quo). Combine the cultures of choreographed criminality within the coordinated ranks of the policing forces, a lack of trust, impartiality, honesty and professionalism, among serving underlings, and the community is confronted with a formula for ongoing devastating disaster. Sadly, apart from Sue Neill Frasers ongoing injustice, again, more recently examples of this conformity and possibly corrupted behaviour was highlighted and exposed during a Coroners Hearing into the death of a younger generation person in a town to the north of where I reside. (Google ABC News and NSW Moree Coroners Hearing into young aboriginals mans drowning, for further recent information.) The reports indicate inherent cultural problems that should not exist within any service, let alone a perceived entrusted authority.

    The continuity of the cowardly closing of ranks to protect likely thugs and fundamental liars by other possibly/probably criminalised members of the policing forces, is an ongoing detrimental factor in the erosion of our nations values and morality, and it is something that is constantly and consistently evolving from the very head of our once, however marginally respected, policing forces, legal representatives, and judicial authorities across this nation. I include judiciary because from my knowledge, legal representatives when speaking to persons involved/harnessed into the corrupted legal processes of police, have used the words “you will not win in this court, but you will win elsewhere”. Localised corruption and or venality among public servants is not just seemingly apparent in Tasmania, it is, if media reports are anywhere near accurate, a national problem, and our dilemna is increasingly compounded through the need to supposedly rely on policing services in particular, being capable of adhering to the oaths they have sworn to be public servants, not to aligned influential, politically based forces, or other independent aspirants.

    Sections of our national media have indeed distorted the truth to enable sensationalism and profit driven sales when covering cases in the public interest. There is also a long term confirmed record of not making easily available to interested readers information that may well be considered important and relevant to an issue or case. I doubt motives can ever be excluded that not only financial profit drives media releases and operations, but locally accepted protocols, acting in the interests of preserving a cultured/choreographed image. I spoke last week to a local journalist, an employee of the local paper, and asked him why there was no coverage of the above mentioned Coroners Hearing, his reply was that it wasn’t a local issue, geographically. A couple of hundred kilometers means little when manipulating political issues and stories, or any other events that are deemed dynamic, but not the actions and behaviour of necessary legal authorities when it suits the accepted, charted agenda it seems.

    Australia needs honest policing services along with truthful public servants, but sadly when recruiting police officers in particular, in many cases selected applicants seem to be drawn from backgrounds of little stability or credibility. The Royal Commission into veterans suicides now active, illustrates the potential folly of recruiting from that once believed credible pool.

    Maintain the faith Sue, I believe you will be vindicated and freed, but the legacy of our nations policing forces and other authorities, I have grave doubts about, especially as we are a nation of but 27 million persons.

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