If you care about justice, integrity and honesty, and like to be sure of your facts beware of quoting this article in the HERALD SUN by Andrew Rule which can serve to infect further reports.
Having worked on the Sue Neill-Fraser case for 4 years and producing the documentary SHADOW OF DOUBT I can say without doubt the article is filled with errors and misleading accusations and rumours, along with significant omissions that Andrew Rule should have reported.
Andrew Rule’s “investigation” and report does not present as an honest and fair investigation in light of the material available through both basic research and interview. The article appears to breach a number of the Australian Press Council’s Standards of Practice. The 1977 Advisory Guideline on Bias may have also been breached. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed, headlines and captions should fairly reflect the tenor of an article – this did not happen.
Andrew Rule spent hours talking to supporters of Sue’s, her lawyers and national experts on Miscarriage of Justice and civil liberty matters. He spoke to me briefly. Yet Andrew Rule chose not to utilise any of their information and referred to these highly educated professionals insultingly as a “conga line of supporters”.
The article promised details of “what really happened to Bob Chappell” – no one is the wiser as to what happened. We do NOT KNOW. We do not know definitively that Bob is dead.
We do know these facts from court transcripts and reviews of the case:
1. There were four recorded sightings of a grey dinghy tied up to Four Winds on the afternoon of Australia Day, very different to the Four Winds, which is a white dinghy with blue markings. This dinghy was a vital clue to someone else being at the crime scene between 4 and 5.30pm on Australia Day – not Sue Neill-Fraser. In fact the police were asked to go and re-interview Paul Conde, one of the witnesses because the grey dinghy had not been properly investigated. He said it was charcoal grey, with a dark lee cloth, wide, commercial looking, scuffed, not new, and definitely NOT the Quicksilver dinghy belonging to the Four Winds. There was no mention of this by Andrew Rule despite being informed by many.
2. A certain homeless girl’s DNA was found on the deck of the yacht, which could not be adequately explained, in fact it was only matched months after Sue was arrested because she, the homeless girl, committed a crime. She lied about her whereabouts at the time, claimed she had never been anywhere near the newly arrived yacht which was moored 450 meres off Sandy Bay. The need to recall this witness formed the basis of the application for special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia. Andrew Rule wrote:“The jury returned a guilty verdict. The fact that it took 18 hours suggests the defence stirred up enough doubt to fuel a campaign.” What fuelled the campaign were the many unanswered questions such as how the large volume DNA sample belonging to the homeless girl, which was also not even mentioned in the article, came to be found on the deck of the yacht.
3. The finding of Tim Chappell’s DNA on an inverted latex glove in the galley of the boat, seemingly before he came on board the yacht at Constitution Dock, yet the DPP accused Sue of cleaning up after the crime with the latex gloves. There was no mention of this ‘mistake’ (described at the Court of Criminal Appeal as an inappropriate comment) by the DPP Tim Ellis SC.
4. The prophetic and amazingly co-incidental late night phone calls from Richard King to both Sue Neill-Fraser and Tim Chappell warning that Clare, Bob’s estranged daughter, had foreseen that her father was going to come to harm on the yacht. Not a mention.
5. The range of mistakes and failings in the police investigation, substantiated in detail, that have been exposed on public blogs and in the Tasmanian Times in recent months and which are available through a simple Google search. Refer to this article:
6. The apparent deal that was done by police with key witness Phillip Triffett about his pending charges that had not been disclosed prior to trial and the 19 month adjournment of his charges. No mention.
7. The mysterious wrench, alleged to be a possible murder weapon, which was not even an exhibit at the trial. There is no body with wrench marks to substantiate this suggestion. No reporting of that.
8. There were other persons of interest including the homeless people on the Marieville Esplanade foreshore, as covered by Tasmanian media early last year. No mention.
9. The previous documented unlawful entry onto the Four Winds yacht, as evidenced in Sue’s diary. No mention.
10. The nosebleeds experienced by Bob Chappell and their likely contribution to the presence of blood and blood stains in the cabin of the yacht. Omitted.
11. The vague evidence given by the witness Hughes about what he is said to have seen between 11.30 pm and midnight on Australia Day and the possible alibi from the people swimming off the Derwent Lane Jetty at the same time, not too far from Four Winds – a fact known to police who appear to have been the primary contributors to the article. Overlooked.
12. The difficulty that someone of Sue’s age, health and general condition would have had in winching the body out of the yacht and observations made by at least one crew member about Sue’s lack of strength, especially her inability to use the winches. Not covered.
13. The totally unacceptable and inadequate police experiment or attempted re-construction of the winching of the body from within the yacht, up onto the deck, across the deck, and into a bobbing dinghy, at night. No coverage.
14. Bob Chappell and Sue Neill-Fraser were not married – the article said ‘wife’.
15. There was no evidence or suggestion Susan had a ‘rage’ problem – in fact there is evidence against that. In fact, the Trial Judge, Blow J, stated “She seems to me to be clever, very cool-headed and able to control her emotions”. The family maintains she was a caring and gentle person who rarely if ever got angry. Yet the article incorrectly referred to “… the rage”.
16. Bob was still working full-time and walking to work each day. While he was sometimes unsteady on his feet, he was hardly ‘little and frail’. There is no evidence that he would be “not that hard to kill”. Yet we incorrectly see in the article: “It’s not that hard to kill a little, frail man”.
17. Anyone with basic boating experience would know about seacocks, and the location of a water carrying pipe near a toilet is really a matter of common sense. In addition, Bob Chappell was tracing the wiring, the covering hatch on the floor was probably up, and the seacock would therefore have been both accessible and visible. Yet the article wrongly stated: “It takes inside knowledge to know where “sea cocks” are – and to cut the toilet outlet pipe to leak water into the hull”.
18. When giving evidence in court, Mr Barrett, the sinkage rate expert, acknowledged that the timeframe could possibly be 7 to 14 hours (CT p.625). Yet Andrew Rule wrongly stated: “It takes time to sink a 16 m craft. Up to 12 hours, according to the naval expert Tasmanian police asked to inspect the ketch Four Winds …”.
19. Sue was clearly very fond of the new yacht – so why sink it, especially as one of the supposed motives for the killing was to gain full control of the yacht? So this is a strange conclusion. “Sinking it must have seemed a quick way to trash a murder scene“. In fact Sue knew a much more effective and faster way to sink the yacht would be to open the fire inlet valve. Yet Rule wrote: “But who knew a yacht would take so long to sink?”
20. The Police Investigation Log states that the relevant forensic scientist advised that some of the blood could have been from a cough or sneeze. The same scientist advised at the preliminary hearing that she could not confirm that spatter was present and went to great lengths to avoid the use of the term ‘spatter’ in her evidence at trial. For more specific detail, see http://www.betterconsult.com.au/blog/spatter-matters/ This statement by Rule is simply inaccurate:“Blood spattered in the cabin, implying a blunt weapon attack”. There is no mention in the article that the source of such blood may well have been the well documented nosebleeds on board the boat, for which Bob Chappell was hospitalised in Queensland.
21. Two credible witnesses stated that the fire extinguisher did not appear to be present when they were on the boat (one on the day before, the other, only days before). So it may not have gone missing the night Bob disappeared at all. The only reason the Police think that it had was because Sue pointed out to detectives it seemed to be missing. Why would she do that if she had used it? Rule wrote: “A fire extinguisher was missing” … “the fire extinguisher would be an obvious choice to weigh down a body“. The missing extinguisher was only 9-14kg and would weigh less in water, against Bob’s 60-65kg. It has not been tested whether it could actually assist in sinking a body, either initially, or maintaining it underwater as body gases developed.
22. No red/brown staining was found during microscopic inspection of the dinghy suggesting a false positive luminol test (CT pp.657-658). There was no evidence of blood found in the dinghy. It was also acknowledged that a false positive luminol test can occur with a number of substances including some cleaning products, yet Rule asserted: “When the yacht’s dinghy was found, forensic tests showed blood in it”. This is incorrect.
23. Bob was paranoid about the boat being involved in drugs. Sue’s trial was to end with a curious twist, given the issue of possible drug smuggling involving the Four Winds. On 14 October 2010, the day before the jury was to hand down its verdict, there was a media release by the AFP on a major drug bust (worth $160 million) involving the very same marina, Scarborough, at which Four Winds had been purchased (AFP Media Release: Drug syndicate smashed, 464kg of cocaine seized). Yet Rule wrote: “Seemed unlikely to be involved in anything criminal“. The boat had only just arrived from Queensland one month before Bob went missing.
24. Bob and Sue had lived together for over 18 years and Bob was a father-figure to both Sue’s daughters, Sarah and Emma. More importantly, Sue was not the last person to have been reported as seeing Bob alive, according to the evidence given at court. Mr Lorraine reportedly saw someone fitting Bob’s description on the Four Winds, it would seem, at 5 pm on Australia Day. Yet Rule wrote: “She was not only his bed partner, but last to see him alive” .
25. Sue was grieving and in shock, with a blurred memory and medicated with diazepam (valium) the morning Bob went missing. But this was never acknowledged by police or prosecutors. Yet Andrew Rule gratuitously wrote: “Sue Neill-Fraser was a textbook suspect – with pearls and hyphen”. Where is the justification for such a statement?
26. The yacht was purchased by Sue and Bob – equally contributing to the cost. 50:50! It was to be their ‘floating shack’ to spend Bob’s retirement with extended family, and that is why they selected a large one. Sue got around in cargo pants and op shop clothing, spent most of her life working outdoors on her farm or renovating rental houses as her source of income, and spent many days shopping at Bunnings and other hardware stores. Yet Rule wrote: “SUSAN Blyth Neill-Fraser gave the impression she had the money to match her social position“…. “An impression strong enough for some to assert she would not have a financial motive“. She did, in fact, have financial independence, owning her own property and earning rental income. And if she was after Bob’s money, why wouldn’t she have just left him and got a settlement?
27. Neither Sue nor family recall Sue having had a band aid or wrist strapping at the time, but she may have. Sue had a long standing wrist injury (a floating bone) which sometimes required strapping. This is documented in her medical files. There are also historical family photos which show strapping from time to time. Police evidence regarding the band-aid was contradictory. And if the officer did not think about this until later, when he saw the photo taken by Ann Sanchez, as stated in the article, why did he allegedly get Sue to take off the band aid in his presence on Day 1 of the investigation? Sergeant Conroy in his statement dated 13 November 2009 stated that he did not seize the memory card from Ann Sanchez’s digital camera until around 3 pm on 28 January 2009. Hence, the Constable could not have seen the photo until some time after pm on 28 January 2009, which is well after he is said to have viewed the cut under the band-aid. Yet Rule simply wrote: “The day after Chappell vanished [a policeman] saw she had her wrist strapped and a Band-Aid on her thumb”.
28. Sarah did NOT identify a red jacket as her mother’s – she said she didn’t know, particularly as she had not that long returned from living interstate. At the time, when Sue was in shock and medicated, she apparently didn’t recognise it but has conceded it may have been one of the many old jackets they kept for guests on the farm and yacht over the years. It was not the jacket (a navy blue one) that Sue herself regularly wore. On the day, the jacket was not a big issue and Sue was not even questioned about it during her 4 March 2009 Record of Interview. Yet Rule wrote: “daughters identified it [the red jacket)] as their mother’s – but she denied it”.
29. There was no evidence provided at trial of Sue searching the Internet in the first days wanting to find out how long before a missing person could be declared dead. Other evidence about internet searches was presented (eg. Galapagos Islands). Any of a number of members of the extended family had access to the relevant PC. In particular, Sue’s daughters Sarah and Emma and sons-in-law frequently used the computer. The forensic computer analysis report by 1/C Constable Whittle found that there were four user accounts on the computer: Sue, Bob, Guest and Guest 2. It also found that all accounts had had their passwords changed on 18 January 2009. The access to the website referred to above occurred at 4.10 pm on 28 January 2009 and it occurred from a guest account, and not from Sue’s account. More importantly, another access on the same guest account at 4.11 pm, one minute later, was on “Helping your Child Deal with Death”. One of the daughters did a search to find out how to tell a child (Sue’s grandchild) that someone was missing or dead. The site accessed was UK and was not anything about how to declare someone dead. So this statement by Rule (and Inspector Peter Powell on 60 Minutes in March 2013) was totally inaccurate: “She also searched the internet in the first days, wanting to know how long before a missing person could be declared dead.” Rule even went on to assert: Some thought this a little calculating for a distraught woman hoping her man might turn up. It suggested she was keener on money – and more sure of his death – than she let on.”
Reading on this excellent blog by Barbara Etter APM: “Not only was the access to the “offending” website only for one minute, the site does not deal at all with the issue of how someone could have had Bob Chappell declared dead in the circumstances in which he disappeared. The page also clearly states that the website applies to England and Wales only. The company does state that they are a private company that specialises in dealing with the legal and financial procedures that are required after someone dies (a requirement in all deaths!). It does not deal with how you could have someone declared dead when there is no body or clear evidence of death.”
30. Mr Kimber, lawyer, prepared a will for Bob in 2002 which was superseded in October 2004, 5 years prior to Bob’s disappearance (See CT p.611). It stated that if Sue survived him that she would inherit his material possessions like the house and car, and the balance of the estate was to go to meet all expenses and debt and be divided 50% to Sue, forty per cent to his three children and ten percent to his sister. This was not a major issue at the trial and was altered five years before. Yet Rule wrote: “The police soon found out what Sue already knew: that Chappell’s will had been changed in her favour. She lied to police about that too.”
31. The yacht became contaminated by the large number of people who went on board to rescue the yacht from sinking when it was first found.
The police had a forensic team on board and later that day when they had ‘finished’, the police invited the family on board. Sue and her daughters Sarah and Emma and Bob’s son Tim were all apparently there, they were all touching things, and were never told not to touch things. Yet Rule reported: “When detectives took her onto the yacht, they told her not to touch the winch handle and other surfaces. She promptly disobeyed, effectively sabotaging forensic tests”. If she disobeyed why wouldn’t they just take her off the yacht or restrain her if she was so obstructive? It doesn’t make any sense that she would need to “sabotage” forensic tests – it was her boat so you would expect her DNA and fingerprints all over it.
32. Police picked up on a statement from Sue that she believed that someone had winched something from the cabin. They did not “deduce” a lone killer would have hauled the body. This statement by Rule is not true: “Police deduced that if Chappell had died in the cabin, a lone killer would have used the winch to haul the body up the companionway to drop in the dinghy and dispose of it.” Police “deduced”, using a strong policeman and a live human weight, that a lone person COULD have lifted a weight off the ground. But, they did not test a dead weight, using a female, middle-aged wincher. They did not perform the test all the way up the companionway, or into the dinghy, or the disposing of it (including the risk of capsizing upon tipping a body out of the dinghy). This test did also not involve rope configurations to match the burn marks on the timber that had been noted. The police “test” was so poor the police had the rope wound the wrong way around the winch in police photos!!
33. After providing information concerning Bunnings, Sue accepted that maybe she wasn’t there on that particular day, as she had been trying her best to piece together memories. Receipts show she was a very frequent visitor to Bunnings and K&D Hardware, purchasing things for the boat and her farm house that she was renovating, so it was an easy mistake. Rule wrote: “She was definite about the Bunnings “alibi” then but later retreated from it”. The possibility of her going to Bunnings that afternoon is also consistent with the phone call to Sarah at 1.16 pm where she told her that that was her intention and her 11 second phone call from the home phone at 1.04 pm to the Bunnings store (a fact which was not disclosed or highlighted at trial). The Bunnings security footage is quite grainy, and the family maintains it is still possible Sue went to Bunnings and has simply has not been identified on the footage. Bunnings may have supplied the wrong day’s footage…there is no proper provenance associated with the Bunnings footage.
34. The police said that a car resembling Sue’s was seen on ATM camera footage travelling along Sandy Bay Road, towards West Hobart and the family home, at 12.25 am on 27 January 2009. Rule wrote: “It meant she had been out until 3 am – and lied about it”. This is based on flawed logic and inconsistent with the ATM footage. The police have never asserted this was Sue’s vehicle. They used the video in the same “pea and thimble” manner they used the red jacket, showing it to the daughters first to try to gain an uneducated guess as a reaction.
35. The Australian Institute of Criminology’s latest report on Homicide in Australia (2010) states that in 2007-2008, where a motive was known, unspecified domestic arguments were the most commonly recorded motive in the National Homicide Monitoring Program. Alcohol-related arguments were next (11%) and other unspecified arguments (12%) were the next most frequently recorded motives, followed by revenge (8%), arguments over money (5%) and relationship termination or desertion (4%). “Sex” doesn’t actually feature as a motive! Money is very low down on the list. Such statements are clearly not evidence-based and are inaccurate. Yet Rule writes as if with authority: “Apart from revenge, the classic murder motives are sex and money. Sometimes both”.
35. One amicable divorce followed by an 18 year relationship is hardly “unlucky in love.” Yet Andrew Rule chose to write: “Neill-Fraser had been unlucky in love.” She also spent a large part of her life caring for her mother and daughters.
36. Bob was a radiation physicist, not a radiologist, which is defined as “a medical specialist who uses radioactive substances and X-rays in the treatment of disease. Yet Rule wrote: “long-time radiologist at Hobart’s Holman cancer clinic”.
37. Sue ran a successful horse riding school business for many years, raised two girls she put through private school, involved herself in property development, and paid off her own farm, on which she did extensive improvements. Yet Rule wrote a demeaning description: “Her main accomplishments had been taking equestrian courses.”
38. Circumstantial evidence of one form or another arises in most criminal matters. Rule wrote: “Tasmania had never used circumstantial evidence to convict a murderer. That was no comfort to the prime suspect”.
39. The investigation became focused on Sue Neill-Fraser within days of Bob’s disappearance on 27 January 2009. For example, a warrant for listening devices was issued on the 18th February and they were installed on 3 March 2009, warrants for financial records were taken out very early in the investigation and persons who should have been persons of interest or possible suspects were not even interviewed. In addition, the officer leading the actual investigation, Detective Sergeant Conroy, stated in his statement of 13 November 2009, after supposedly being advised of a cut on Sue Neill-Fraser’s finger via a mobile phone call at 9.30 pm on 27 January 2009, that: “At the conclusion of my duties on this day I had grave concerns for the life of Robert Chappell”. So why would Rule report: “The head of the investigation, Inspector Peter Powell, says the case was like any other missing persons inquiry for six weeks”? This statement is misleading.
40. The ATM footage of a bit of a car seen travelling North on Sandy Bay Rd at 12.25am was never proven to have been identical to her car. There was no number plate. See CT p.1015 about police acknowledgement of a failure to follow up on this issue. Yet Rule reports: “One reason she had to change her story was the police had security film of a car identical to hers passing a local bank after midnight”.
41. The incident happened on 26 January 2009 and she was arrested on 20 August 2009, some seven months later. Rule reported: “It would be six months before she was arrested”. This is inaccurate.
42. The trial began in September 2010. Rule reported: “A three-week trial began in October 2010”. This is incorrect.
43. There is no mention of Mr Triffett’s being re-called after a failure on the part of the prosecution to disclose, until mid-trial, that there had been an approach by Triffett to police to help him with his pending criminal charges. There is also no mention that Triffett was aware of a letter implicating him in any harm that may be done to Sue or Bob, which was disclosed in Triffett’s own statement to police. This description of Mr Triffett as ‘a “colourful” identity’ is misleading.
44. The “Integrity Commission” is NOT the “Corruption Integrity Commission” .This is not the correct title of the relevant organisation. Such basic errors indicate that facts for the article were not checked.
45. Barbara Etter APM has been pursuing a coronial inquest since 7 January 2013. Yet Andrew Rule wrote:“Two lawyers … Greg Barns and Madeleine Ogilvie – lead the push for an inquest” Neither of these lawyers was involved in this exercise.
46. All prisoners at the women’s prison wear exactly the same uniform. Whilst it is recognised that this is a quote from an unnamed source, the statement should have been recognised as being inaccurate and therefore not utilised. “Meanwhile, the best-dressed woman in Risdon Prison is keeping up standards. “She looks as if she’s going to the golf club …”. The treatment of class in this article seems unreasonable in the circumstances and seems to be being used as a tool to alienate Ms Neill-Fraser from the broader community.
47. The information of how many carpet squares were missing is scant and not properly recorded. Detective Senior Constable Sice in his statement dated 23 November 2009 states (at p.3):
A number of loose carpet squares located in the saloon were placed back in place on the floor. Many of the squares were cut to specific shapes and their original location could be determined. After doing this it was apparent there were a number of squares missing from the area in front of the engine room hatch.
All the statements were very brief and lacking in detail as to the number of carpet squares missing (although there appear to have been a mixture of sizes/shapes). Nor did the statements outline the extent of the area left bare (although the photographic evidence is available). Of particular interest is the statement of Sice in which he indicates that loose carpet squares were only sourced from the saloon. No stocktake seems to have been undertaken to ascertain the total number of carpet squares present in all areas of the yacht. How bizarre that Andrew Rule would have a precise number of titles when there is no record of this even in the court transcript: “And the fact 5 carpet tiles and the fire extinguisher were missing…”
There appears to be carpet squares scattered around the interior of the yacht. Most importantly, there was no forensic evidence that such squares were “bloodied”, as suggested by the DPP (CT p.1351). Nor was there any forensic evidence to suggest that the flooring beneath the missing carpet squares and near observed bloodstain patterns was bloodied in any way. If in fact there were carpet squares missing, the issue was whether the absence of the squares could properly be attributed to Sue Neill-Fraser. Rule with little knowledge wrongly reported: “The police suspected the carpet tiles had been ditched because they were bloodstained”.
48. The professionals involved in analysing this case are not part of “a conga line of supporters”. This is a gratuitous and unnecessary comment and does not reflect the professionalism of many of those involved in a search for the truth and justice in this matter.
Andrew Rule’s article breaks the rules of fairness, balance and integrity, with its major omissions and numerous factual inaccuracies; it grossly distorts the true circumstances of the Sue Neill-Fraser case and appears to advocate the cause of the police and prosecution.
I hope readers will choose to view my documentary SHADOW OF DOUBT with an open mind and focus on facts not fabrications. I spent 4 years making this film, and doing a lot of research and fact checking. You be the judge!
I will do the conga with a line of supporters when the real facts about this case are openly reviewed at a full judicial enquiry and Sue walks out from behind the prison walls.
Producer SHADOW OF DOUBT