A proven murderer? Or a catastrophic failure of the legal system?

Andrew L. Urban.

Since her arrest for murder 13 years ago tomorrow (20/8/2022), up to the latest High Court decision a week ago, Sue Neill-Fraser’s case has moved slowly through the courts. The 2010 trial, the appeal, the seeking leave at the High Court, then a second appeal and finally seeking leave to appeal to the High Court again … a dozen jury, a dozen years and a dozen judges. Murder solved? Or a catastrophic failure?

The legal system has insisted she is guilty.# But that flies in the face of reasonable doubt, as we summarise here. So as Winston Churchill noted: The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.

For those of us who have followed the case over the years, we have indeed seen the truth attacked by malice and derided by ignorance. Neill-Fraser is still in prison (for now), despite the many prominent legal opinions that question the conviction and the 35,000 signatories to the petition who desperately want the case reviewed.

“The prospect of an innocent person being convicted of a serious crime represents a catastrophic failure of the legal system.”  The Chief Justice of England, Lord Igor Judge (1 October 2008 – 30 September 2013) 

# Just some of the people who maintained that they had been wrongly convicted and were eventually vindicated: Lindy Chamberlain, Edward Splatt, Andrew Mallard, Gordon Wood, Jeffrey Gilham, Scott Austic, David Eastman, John Button, Darryl Beamish, Mickelberg Brothers, Gene Gibson, Roseanne Beckett, Farah Jama, Henry Keogh …

DETAILED DECONSTRUCTION OF ERRORS AT TRIAL BY DR BOB MOLES

THE HOW

The case features the Crown’s speculation that Neill-Fraser murdered Bob Chappell on Four Winds below deck, hauled the body up and into the dinghy bobbing up ‘n down by the yacht, and then (somehow) dumped it overboard. There was no evidence presented to the jury to support any part of this speculation.* Chappell had disappeared from the yacht. Neill-Fraser was 56 at the time and had a weak back. But worse, Chappell’s body has never been found – yet the prosecutor speculated as to what sort of injuries the body might have had. There was no murder weapon found, either. Yet the judge was silent. He is now the Chief Justice.

The Four Winds dinghy – blue from luminol test

*The prosecutor did, however, show the jury a photo of the dinghy stained blue with luminol, a preliminary test for blood … not that he believed it was blood, he confided in the judge and defence counsel.

If the prosecution hadn’t made up that story, the jury would have been left with a void; there is no real evidence of Neill-Fraser being at the crime scene at the relevant time – the relevant time is not known – nor of really murdering her partner. (The jury could be excused for being furious with both the prosecutor and the judge … and they wouldn’t be the only ones.)

Never mind the absence of evidence, to anyone familiar with yachts or boats, then DPP Tim Ellis SC’s speculation is utterly absurd. As a seasoned yachtie tells it, none of what he was putting to the jury as to how Neill-Fraser disposed of Chappell’s body would have been physically possible for Neill-Fraser to perform. But Ellis is not ‘nautical’, neither was defence counsel the late David Gunson nor is the trial judge. Evidently, none of the jury were, either.

This is the same judge who in his summing up, mentioned Neill-Fraser having ‘intimate knowledge of the boat’ as being relevant to ‘an attempt to sink it’, but failed to mention that she had stated the boat was virtually unsinkable because of its ‘six watertight bulkheads… it can’t sink’ – and it did not sink. (She was accused of trying to sink it as part of her plan to acquire all of Chappell’s assets:  an irrational contradiction of the accusation.) It was built in New Zealand for Antarctic charter.

Further evidence revealing the blatant failures of the police investigation were provided in the Etter/Selby documents tabled in Parliament on August 31, 2021. The subjects include Police Investigation Corrupted, Accused Not at Crime Scene, Speculation Not Evidence and Appeal Court Misled.

THE WHY

When Neill-Fraser is ultimately exonerated – and she will be – we will look back and see the four major factors at work in keeping her in jail:

  1. The combination of incompetence – leading to severe embarrassment – and protective malice, which in turn constrained political decision making, like the rejection of the 2013 proposal for a review (first of several) by Robert Richter QC;
  2. The failure of character among those who were more concerned about the embarrassment and covering it up, than about the rule of law and justice, resulting in a culture of denial;
  3. The small-town, clubby environment of the Tasmanian politico-legal establishment that discourages internal questioning and is insulated from outside oversight;
  4. The reluctance of many Tasmanians to make their doubts about the conviction public, in fear of denigration and ostracisation

A year ago we published an article that explored this latter phenomenon, which began:
“What’s with the taboo? Every Tasmanian I’ve spoken to agrees: people feel intimidated talking openly about the Sue Neill-Fraser case, the long-running miscarriage of justice that is a weeping sore on Tasmania’s legal system. Perhaps that’s why there are no mass protests in the streets? Or maybe Tasmania’s media, also feeling intimidated, haven’t reported the malpractice, incompetence and lies that led to her conviction, as have some of their mainland peers?” Perhaps afraid of defamation action, the media has not lead the charge. (For the record, the defence against defamation is truth and/or honestly held views. That should be easy …)

Of course, there is the ever-present 50-member Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group, and I’ve met other individuals on the island who have serious misgivings about the case, and also those who are simply uninformed or misinformed about it. Some admit that they don’t know enough, but ‘they arrested her so she must be guilty…’

What do we want? REVIEW!
When do we want it? NOW!

A rally calling for an inquiry will be held tomorrow, August 20, 2022, 11 am – 1 pm at Tasmania’s Parliament House Gardens, with speakers including Rosie Crumpton-Crook, President of Support Group who will also read messages for Sue from around Australia and across the world, Andrew Wilkie MP, Federal Member for Clark, and former Attorney-General & Premier Lara Giddings. Statements will also be read from filmmaker Eve Ash and investigative journalist & author Andrew L. Urban.

Vigil for Sue

‘just going through the paces’

One concerned Tasmanian overheard an odious remark in the corridors of Parliament concerning Neill-Fraser, made by a senior Minister, “She won’t be coming out …we’re just going through the paces.” Who is “we”, do we think?

On August 8, 2017, in the midst of Neill-Fraser’s pursuit of a new appeal, Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison inmate Karen Keefe, who had befriended Neill-Fraser, was arrested and removed from the prison. According to Keefe, Detective Shane Sinnitt had made no secret of the fact that the real purpose of her arrest related to Neill-Fraser’s latest bid for justice, telling her, “This is not really about you, it’s about Sue,” and “It’s not even about whether she’s innocent or guilty. The state can’t afford to let her out, it’ll cost $120 million. Karen, you’re just collateral damage.”

dressed to kill?

Sue Neill-Fraser, Australia Day 2009

The day on which Sue Neill-Fraser was charged with murdering Bob Chappell, Australia Day 2009, she was photographed on the quay, smartly dressed for lunch at the Royal Hobart Yacht Club with Chappell’s sister, Anne, visiting from Ecuador. Lunch at the club before a spot of brutal murder? Other than the legal reasons why the conviction should be set aside (like examples above) there are logical, common sense reasons why Neill-Fraser should never have been charged in the first place.

# Neill-Fraser and Chappell had just a month earlier arrived in Hobart with their (expensive) dream yacht, with plans for retirement cruising. Together….

# Neill-Fraser is a mild mannered, middle class, middle aged mother (now grandmother) with no history of misdemeanours never mind violent crime.

# When Four Winds was towed to the wharf after being reported low in the water, and Chappell was missing, the police did not treat it as a murder but as a disappearance. Had they been thorough, they might have sought to investigate if the yacht break-ins were connected with the case; they even had the clues from Neill-Fraser’s Statutory Declaration (see below).

# In her frank and fulsome Statutory Declaration, made two days after Bob Chappell was found missing from their yacht, Four Winds, Neill-Fraser provided crucial information that can be seen as a collection of clues – but once she was targeted as a suspect, they were ignored by the police investigation. Read it for yourself. Her observations on inspecting Four Winds are exculpatory; there is no other way of reading them. For example: “… moving into the saloon I immediately noticed that the flooring was missing. This would not have floated free when the vessel flooded, it had to have many screws taken out to lift it up. Bob knew that this was a difficult job and had no reason to remove the floor. I’m sure he would not have removed the flooring. In the hole left were two screwdrivers, these were from our toolkit … – from the galley I cannot locate two knives, a Wiltshire knife is missing, this would have had a round (handle?) with a six to seven inch blade. It was originally mine, have had it a long time. Another similar knife is also missing…”

# The police all too readily accepted as indicative of murderous intent the petty crim Phillip Triffett’s outlandish claim that Neill-Fraser had asked him to kill her brother Patrick 11 years earlier, throwing him overboard. He had rushed up to the police with this claim immediately after Chappell’s disappearance while waiting to be tried on certain charges. Could him ‘helping’ help him? He had a grudge after losing their friendship when Neill-Fraser and Chappell had years earlier broken off all communications with Triffett in fear of their safety. They had then lodged a letter with police about their fears – in case anything happened to them. Triffett got in first …

Triffett’s credibility may be tested in any review which takes into account the sworn evidence of long-time Neill-Fraser friend and former business partner Bob Martyn, whose rediness to testify at trial was ignored. We have his affidavit; for example, in Par 29, he states:Phillip Triffett’s claim that he worked on the engine of La Bacquet (once owned by Neill-Fraser) was a total fabrication. More specifically, the statement provided by Phillip that Sue had asked him to sink La Bacquet by reversing the electric bilge pump mechanism could in no way be true as the yacht was not fitted with an electric bilge pump.”

In our first report on the case on August 15, 2013, we quoted Sarah Bowles, Neill-Fraser’s daughter, making the point that the way the police and the prosecution conducted the investigation and the trial, her mother has had to try and prove her innocence. “That’s the opposite of how our justice system is supposed to work.”

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19 Responses to A proven murderer? Or a catastrophic failure of the legal system?

  1. Suzi Burge says:

    There are many that have been wronged by the Tasmanian Supreme Court. That old buddy system is in place as I found out.

    How can you have a Chief Justice (as a single Judge) rule over a special leave to appeal after admitting that they Banked for the very bank you are up against, ‘FAILED’ to advise that they once worked for that bank. ‘FAILED’ to advise that they ordained the very Barrister against you to SC and’ FAILED’ to advise that they once part owned the Chambers that the Barrister works from? SPECIAL LEAVE TO APPEAL DENIED with the comments that ‘In my court the loser pays’.

    Until Bias and wrongoing within the Judicial system is found and dealt with, then many cases will go without the appropriate rulings. What must happen is cases that have been the subject of wrongdoing, collated and documented in order for all cases including the SNF case to show that the Supreme Court of Tasmania is ‘NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE’!

  2. Keith says:

    It is clear now that the only way to have an inquiry into this matter is through the weight of public opinion. Sadly, over the course of this debacle, Tasmanians have largely only seen one side of the story through the government banning television programs and the Mercury’s lacklustre coverage of the alternative view.

    With all court proceedings having now run their course, there can no longer be suppression by the government on subsequent media exposure of this case. It seems the time is right for SNF supporters to double down on efforts to publicly raise this matter to generate the necessary interest to place pressure on the A-G to act.

    It is my view that all supporters on this page, and hopefully many who have signed the petition, will write to the 60 Minutes and to CH7 Spotlight program pressing them to do an expose that includes the views of the defence, Prof Bob Moles, Eve Ash, Robin Bowles, Colin McLaren, our own Andrew Urban and all the other legal luminaries who know that this is an unsafe conviction.

    Please write, it may be the only way to continue the fight.

    Please

  3. Robin Bowles says:

    The legal consideration of ‘circumstantial evidence’ requires it to be ‘taken as a whole’. That is, all the i individual events, cobbled together, form a believeable ‘whole’. In Sue’s case, if you unpick the ‘whole’ you are left with many holes! One that always sticks in my mind is Tim Ellis addressing the jury and performing the bashing motions with an imagined big wrench and then, as if even he had doubts, he said that she might have perhaps stabbed Bob with a screwdriver —‘I don’t know’. In fact nobody then or now knows how Bob Chappell died —including Sue, excepting his killers. This dreadful saga has irrevocably stained the legal system of Tasmania, still recovering from the spilled blood of the previous two centuries. Time for Tassie to grow up, man up and face the consequences of this persecution of Sue and those who try to help her, such as Jeff Thompson and Karen Keefe.

  4. Don Wakeling says:

    NOW that the “judicial” process/ farce has come to an end , will the Tasmanian parliament be called by it’s electors, to fully answer the matters presented to it by the Etter Selby documents. Bland refusal to publicly address that matter by full, open, parliamentary debate and THEN, referral to full public inquiry must follow . Who , in that Parliament, will have the guts, let alone the integrity to do that NOW

  5. John Ferris says:

    Setting all the legal argy-bargy aside it remains that Bob’s supposed murder and disposal of his body would simply not have been physically possible the way it has been portrayed ! Perhaps two or more strong guys could have lifted him to deck level and dropped or rolled him into a dinghy alongside or was he forced up top, quite conscious, and murdered there ? Or, taken elsewhere in the dinghy and murdered ashore ? Did those “strong guys” remove the floorboards to retrieve what they knew was hidden there ( maybe drugs brought down from Queensland on the voyage to Tasmania) ? Speculation that an old 14 kg fire extinguisher would help sink a human body is just that – speculation ! Some are virtually buoyant, depending on what is inside, and even 14kg would more likely become half that in submersion. Like Bob’s body and murder weapon I bet the fire extinguisher has never been found. Get real, legal fraternity and Tassie coppers. Give us a break ! Sue especially.

    • andrew says:

      It is deeply disturbing that some people over the years have been trying to prove various elements of the fanatsy scenario that has not a shred of evidence to sustain it…. They don’t seem to realise if it is made up, finding reasons to show it can be done is barmy.

  6. tony brownlee says:

    Unfortunatley the Neill-Fraser corrupt decision/s are not alone in this world of ego maniac Prosecutors and plain fantasy flyer Magistrates/Judges and Justices and of course who could forget Jurors who in many cases if not all just do not even know why they are in the jury and what they are suposed to do! Its a mess.

  7. Don Wakeling says:

    Have you read the statements and suggestions and suppositions made to the jury by the trial judge Justice Blow’s. If you haven’t,it’s almost compulsory legal reading..absolutely undefendable by any legal or moral standard. A total disgrace , and ought not to be forgotten or forgiven by administrators and legal practitioner alike.

    • andrew says:

      Yes, an extract from his sentencing remarks reflect just how far Blow J (as he was then) strayed from the rules:

      Blow: I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Neill-Fraser attacked Mr Chappell

      Urban: On what evidence? None was produced in court. No weapon. No body. No Witness.

      Blow: I cannot rule out the possibility that the attack left him deeply unconscious, and that drowning was the cause of death

      Urban: Baseless speculation based on baseless speculation.

      Blow: I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Neill-Fraser used the ropes and winches on the yacht to lift Mr Chappell’s body onto the deck; that she manoeuvred his body into the yacht’s tender; that she attached an old-fashioned fire extinguisher weighing about 14 kilograms to his body; that she travelled away from the Four Winds in the tender with the body for some distance; and that she dumped the body in deep water somewhere in the river.

      Urban: On what evidence? None was produced in court.

      • Suzi Burge says:

        I actually feel sick when I read this… as a Victim Of Chief Justice Blow we need to find others that have absolutely had rulings that are against the rule of law!

        • Don Wakeling says:

          BlowsCJ even seeks to have the government of the state EXTEND his compulsory retirement age so he can hang on to his self applauded role for further years.
          From his conduct of the trial he showed total disregard for legal process and obvious prejudice against the accused. Over the years, when I’ve personally seen that type of prejudicial and arrogant conduct by a judge or magistrate, it has usually been a continuing character trait of that personality. A situation arose years ago in NSW where the outcry by defence lawyers against the conduct of certain magistrates was a daily constant. The NSW Government didn’t interfere but when the fixed periods of their tenure was reached FIVE magistrates’ terms of office were just not renewed. Prejudice ( and self opiniated arrogance) by those in whom we repose the power to judge us, cannot be accepted in any form

    • m says:

      I’m wondering what sort of management and oversight systems are in place with Judges? These people seem (mostly) to be a species of their own making and pretty much untouchable.

      Who is conducting regular assessments on them, especially with their exposure to despicable crimes? How do they debrief after these cases? When they have erred, who conducts the reviews, and the performance management? Most people in work places today are open to this type of management.

      If there is no structure or system in place this could be a reason why they lose touch? Become so hard-hearted, hard-headed and seem to develop grand delusions about themselves, with people fawning over them.

      The whole system has developed into a toxic, narcissistic, cruel space where only the hard-and-dim-hearted operate.

      The system lacks transparency. As tax payers we have a right to know, after all they are our servants…not the other way around.

      I also have come to the belief that Judges should not have jobs for life (this goes for many other public servants, but we will leave that to another time). The judicial system requires a rigorous review because what we have quite frankly stinks.

      • andrew says:

        Agreed. Considering the crucial role judges play in society, the lack of adequate training, professional development and quality control is disturbing. But judges are regarded as sacred cows … pity they leave so many cow pats in their wake.

        • Owen allen says:

          Thanks, I am reading, it just blows my mind; may I suggest, too many joints and hallucinogenics in the early years? They all did it, experimentation, and we know it bends peoples minds from reasonable thought, smoko (pot) too yet the world is legalising it.
          Check out Drug Free Australia. And Chief Justice Alan Blow and other Judges give out lenient sentences to hard drug dealers, and Chief Justice Alan Blow sentenced a young female university student from Asia, to prison, for stealing books. It just doesn’t add up. Owen.

        • Geraldine Allan says:

          😁😂👏🏻

  8. Chris says:

    It did seem rather strange to me that Etter and Moles should focus so much on forensic evidence when the crime scene was not preserved properly by police, and where there is no forensic evidence implicating Sue in Bob’s disappearance. Hence the inevitable dead end pursuing alleged flaws in the forensic evidence all the way to the High Court. Maybe not the best tactic with the benefit of hindsight.

    Isn’t the real issue that you would not want to convict anyone on the basis of such a circumstantial case? Does the Chappell case imply that when someone disappears or is murdered, that the police can cobble together a circumstantial case against the nearest family member, and prosecutors and judges will allow such a case to progress to a jury trial?

    Bottom line is that even if Sue did kill Bob, she should never have been convicted on a flimsy circumstantial case full of speculation by Tim Ellis. Where’s the justice in that?

    • Brian Johnston says:

      An Australian prosecutor once said to me “Circumstantial evidence is good enough in Australia and I have won every one of my cases”. I was shocked.

      Sue was the nominated suspect. The cart is before the horse. It was then a matter of building the case around her and without real evidence circumstantial evidence plays a large and vital part. They are experts at this.
      It was pretty much all over when Sue was arrested and that @$$%@!8 Gunson ought to have known it.

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