This compelling and heartfelt letter from Hobart resident Lynn Giddings to Tasmania’s Attorney-General is representative of public demand for a Commission of Inquiry into the case of Sue Neill-Fraser. And below, Giddings witnessed how the jury had been left with a false impression about DNA in the latex glove from the crime scene. It wasn’t Sue Neill-Fraser’s.
My dear Attorney-General, 19th June 2023
I am writing to you to implore you to call for a Commission of Inquiry in the case of Susan Blyth Neill-Fraser.
Firstly, I would like to say a few words about myself so you don’t think I am a Johnny-come-lately jumping on a band wagon.
All my life, I have valued fairness and justice. As a schoolgirl, I received a prize for a speech I gave about the last man hanged in Victoria. In trying to escape from Pentridge Gaol, he may or may not have shot a prison warder. Following his execution, there were suggestions that another warder was the killer, when trying to shoot the escapee.
Although a school teacher in Papua New Guinea, I started a Community Corrections (Probation) Service for the country when my husband, then a magistrate, was sending some of my students to gaol for shoplifting. I declined a medal for this work, wanting to see fairness and justice, not accolades.
When I left PNG in 1986 and moved to Hobart, I found employment with the Justice Department in the Community Corrections Service until I retired in 2005. This included five years or more as a welfare officer in Risdon Prison, the first female employed in the male section. During this time, I ran a successful Anger Management Programme. I say this, to stress that justice has been a strong influence in my life and I have had many years of experience with criminals in and out of prison.
I would appreciate an interview with you but, as the mother of an ex-politician, I am aware of the demands upon you. I sat through Sue Neill-Fraser’s trial, not as a sticky-beak but to help her elderly mother, my friend, Helen Neill-Fraser, understand the workings of the court.
I have written a somewhat lengthy article on the trial titled What Evidence? prompted by a letter by Ben Lohberger to the Tasmanian Times, 25 August 2014 in which he referred to Neill-Fraser’s “farrago of lies”. I have never sought to have it published. However, I will draw to your attention a few of the salient points that left me angry and concerned and ashamed of our justice system in Tasmania.
1 The evidence of (the late) Mrs Barbara Zochling, who stated in court that “the lady in the box” was not the lady she saw arguing with Mr Chappell on the beach that morning. (Their arguing was the fatal friction the police needed to charge Neill-Fraser). Mrs Zochling described a lady with fair, shoulder-length hair, not the black hair she saw in a picture of Sue Neill-Fraser on the television news.
No one in the court, not the judge nor the defence counsel, said “We seem to have an identification problem here”. It went through to the keeper. After giving her evidence, Mrs Zochling waited outside the court until the next adjournment and spoke to family members, pointing to Bob Chappell’s sister, Ann Sanchez, as the lady she has seen. Bob Chappell had taken his sister to Bruny Island the previous day.
She had the wrong lady on the wrong day; easily done on an Australia Day long weekend. Family passed this information to the defence team and the detective in charge of the case, but nothing happened; it was never disclosed to the jury.
2 During the trial, the prosecutor told the court that Sue Neill-Fraser put on a latex glove “to clean up as best she could”. Surely, he had the forensic report in front of him that contradicted this statement and named Tim Chappell (a son) as the DNA in the glove. This does not mean I suspect Tim Chappell murdered his father; what worries me is that the jury was totally misinformed.
3 People like to say that Ms Neill-Fraser lost her appeals. That is legally true but, in my opinion, she has suffered a gross miscarriage of justice. In her first appeal, a ground for appeal was the forensic report about the glove. I went to the appeal court believing she would be released when this came out but, before the appeal commenced, the prosecutor beckoned to the new defence counsel from Victoria, Mr Croucher (now a judge) and said, “You can drop the ground of appeal of the latex glove as I can answer that simply, the police told Tim to put on rubber gloves”. I wanted to call out to Mr Croucher, “Don’t do it. That is what the jury heard”. But I feared I would be in contempt of court. The police told no one else to wear latex gloves that day. (See Giddings’ stat dec about the latex glove, below.)
The newspaper, Examiner, reported on 11 August, 2011, under the headline Mistake admitted in murder appeal: Tasmania’s Director of Public Prosecutions has admitted that he made a mistake suggesting a Hobart woman murdered her husband using a wrench while wearing rubber gloves but he told the Supreme Court in Hobart the error was not grounds for an appeal …it was a ‘throwaway line’ among a volume of evidence against Neill-Fraser.
I would argue that it was powerful and inaccurate evidence and completely prejudicial to Sue Neill-Fraser’s trial. It was wrong and it was damning. It was what the jury (and so many others) heard and believed. And, there was no wrench.
4 Why did the prosecutor mention “young Mr O’Day”? What did he mean by his comment, “with her involvement with the disappearing young Mr O’Day and what happened to him, no one knew, disappeared, no body”. Sue Neill-Fraser’s only involvement with Mr O’Day was to employ his girlfriend at her riding school. He came to the riding school to see his girlfriend who apparently broke off their relationship. I note that the prosecutor is careful with his wording: he uses “disappearing” an adjective and avoids saying the “disappearance” (noun) of Mr O’Day.
5 The subject of dinghies took up a lot of time in court. In his closing address, the defence counsel highlighted the importance of the evidence of Mr Conde, who saw a “battleship grey” dinghy with a lee cloth across the front at 3.55pm. He described it as, shabbier – older, worn, faded and more of a ‘commercial look’ about it than the usual dinghy belonging to a ‘leisure yacht’. The defence counsel asked:
Who was there at 3?
Who was there at 5 o’clock?
Whose grey dinghy was it?
What were they doing on board?
He summed it up:
Now a reasonable hypothesis …is that whoever was on that boat at that time is responsible by whatever means for the disappearance of Mr Chappell. That is the only reasonable conclusion that is open.
6 The evidence of Phillip Triffett, in my opinion, was a fantasy. Although the defence counsel submitted at the outset of the trial that Triffett’s evidence was “So prejudicial that it ought to be excluded”, quoting from the Evidence Act:
The court may refuse to admit evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger the evidence might be unfairly prejudicial to a party” but the judge allowed it in despite admitting he saw “a significant risk of unfair prejudice”.
The prosecutor went so far as to acknowledge Triffett as “someone who can take a little bit out of the story here and splice it together in a way that doesn’t involve perjury.”
How is a person like that believed over Sue Neill-Fraser of whom the judge at trial commented, “She has no prior conviction. She apparently led a blameless life …”?
Triffett admitted to the defence counsel that, upon giving his statement to Constable Mikulski, who was aware of charges pending against him, he asked, “… will this help me with these charges?”
7 Although Sue Neill-Fraser was accused of lies and ‘red herrings’, the most legitimate evidence at this trial was her own admission that she told a lie, one lie to the police when, with Tim Chappell standing beside her, she was asked if she were home that night. Following a strange phone call informing her that Bob Chappell’s younger daughter was frightened something bad would happen to her father while on the boat, Sue went down to the marina to check on Claire. She lied because the family down-played the daughter’s mental illness. When giving evidence about his sister, in relation to her premonition of her father, Tim Chappell did not like the references to ‘fantasies, paranoia and delusions’ saying, “We like to call them anxieties”.
8 Then we had the appeal where we hoped Meaghan Vass would give evidence that would release Sue. What Vass said on Sixty Minutes had me thinking, “At last I have heard the truth”. She should have been given a closed court if she was going to name names. Anyone who has worked with criminals knows “You do not grass on your mates”. Meaghan Vass is lucky to be alive having friends in bikie gangs. When I saw the newspaper headlines, Sam Did It, I knew Sue had lost her appeal. Lindy Chamberlain’s release was the result of the death of an English tourist on Uluru, enabling police to discover the matinee jacket that Chamberlain had always said her baby was wearing and would have had the dingo’s DNA on it.
Sue Neill-Fraser’s supporters had hoped the Vass evidence would be Sue’s ‘matinee jacket’. Without a closed court, Day 2 was a fiasco and positively heartbreaking for the support group. All Vass could say, amid her tears, was, “I made a mistake yesterday, I made a mistake yesterday”.
At the trial we were told there were 3 unidentified DNA – a female and 2 males. Meaghan Vass was identified as the female when she was charged with shoplifting. We have never heard about the 2 males. Surely now, after fourteen years, the police could find matches for the two males. A Commission of Inquiry could sort out the DNA and other matters.
9 I could go on and on with asides such as I believe the witness, Mr Hughes, who saw a female “rowing out” that night was looking at Grant Maddock. Sue told me, when I visited her in prison before the trial, that a detective informed her that a witness had come forward who had seen a female rowing out in the marina at Sandy Bay that night. Sue said she replied, “Well it can’t be me; I have no rowlocks in my dinghy”.
Grant Maddock gave evidence at Sue’s first appeal that he had gone to help Mr Brettingham-Moore in rough weather that night. Mr Brettingham-Moore confirmed this although he did not accept the help.
In court, the DPP asked the witness “had he heard anything” and he said he had heard an outboard on the back that was reasonably quiet and only going at a slow speed. My impression was that this evidence was manipulated.
10 In my opinion, this was a trial of speculation, innuendo and mockery. Here is an example of speculation:
(i) She’s walking backwards and forwards and delivers … a blow or blows, or maybe stabs him with a screwdriver, I don’t know, he doesn’t look round and so the body doesn’t have any marks of what you’d expect if someone had come down there, a stranger, intent on doing him harm, the body I suggest would have marks consistent only with being delivered by someone who he knew to be there, who he knew and expected to be behind him.
But there was no body.
(ii) Here is an example of innuendo:
Much grander plans, I suggest did Ms Neill-Fraser have than Mr Chappell had, much grander plans indeed, and perhaps it became clear to her that those plans would not include Mr Chappell, he would not be the one to be sailing on that boat in particular to the Galapagos Islands with her, or the Ecuador with her.
To be going to Ecuador suggests to me that Sue and Bob were planning to visit Bob’s sister, Ann Sanchez. The Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador where Bob’s sister lives.
(iii) Here is one of mockery:
And you really wanted this yacht? A tremendous yacht? … A beautiful yacht?… When you finally got it back here people no doubt complimented you on it, people from the yacht club … But anyone who saw it and commented to you would have said what a lovely yacht it was: …of course, you were imagining then, you’ve told us, sort of grand sailing, grand sailing to the Galapagos Island.
What could all this humbug be about, other than to alienate Susan Neill-Fraser in the eyes of the jury. This was not a search for the truth, nor was it evidence.
At the end of the trial, my husband said to me, “I think there is more justice in Papua New Guinea than Tasmania.”
I don’t believe respected senior counsel such as Tom Percy (WA), Robert Richter and Paul Galbally (Vic) would represent Sue Neill-Fraser pro bono if they didn’t think she was innocent. In addition, lawyers such as Barbara Etter and Jeffrey Thompson have paid dearly for their help.
[- redacted -]
Please, Attorney-General, intervene for Susan Neill-Fraser as you have done for Jari Wise. Call a Commission of Inquiry with an interstate judge such as Lindy Chamberlain’s Morling Inquiry. Please help us out of this chaos that is dividing the community. Sue Neill-Fraser needs exoneration.
[Ed: A month later (in mid-July), Giddings received a reply from the Attorney-General; it was a repeat of the standard response, citing the by now familiar and spurious grounds: see our post of 21 July, 2023.]
Lynn Giddings is far from a lone voice. Many of our readers have called for a review of this case, not to mention now over 37,600 signatories to the petition. Have a look.
The latex glove in the wrong hands?
Sitting in the front row of public seats behind the prosecutor and defence counsel at Sue Neill-Fraser’s 10 August, 2011 appeal, Lynn Giddings overheard a brief exchange about the latex glove found at the crime scene that has haunted her ever since. In February 2020, she could stay silent no longer and made a statutory declaration detailing what she heard. On reading our 21 July 2023 post listing appealable errors in the case, Giddings has provided her damning stat dec to add to the list.
I do solemnly and sincerely declare that: I attended the first appeal of Susan Neill-Fraser at the Supreme Court in Hobart on 10 August 2011. I was seated in court in the front row of the public seating, behind Mr Michael Croucher who was the counsel appearing for Ms Neill-Fraser.
Before the court commenced, the DPP, Mr Timothy Ellis, walked from his designated area to stand in front of me. He beckoned, with a hand gesture to Mr Croucher to join him. With the two men standing in front of me, I heard Mr Ellis clearly say to Mr Croucher, “You can drop the ground of appeal of the latex gloves as I can answer that simply, the police told Tim to put on rubber gloves”.
I wanted to call out to Mr Croucher “But that is what the jury heard when the DPP claimed that the ‘appellant had sought to cover up what she had done and had got out latex gloves and left them on the stove top and, in his closing address referred to the appellant as ‘someone who sought with a pair of latex gloves … to clear up as best she could’ and that is the information the jury would have considered when they found her guilty of murder.” But I held back from speaking, fearing being in contempt of court.
The reason, I am making this statement now is that I have spent nearly a decade troubled that Mr Croucher had dropped that ground of appeal so easily as it could have made the difference had it been tested in court. It did not seem reasonable to me that a person would be directed by police to touch the gloves that were an exhibit in the trial.
The key issue is that the jury was led to believe the prosecution’s speculation that Sue Neill-Fraser had worn the latex gloves to clean up after she murdered Chappell. The jury was misled.
How can this conviction stand?
Cover photo courtesy Eve Ash