A letter from Robert Richter QC, one of Australia’s leading silks, has been provided to the Tasmanian Attorney-General, the Hon. Brian Wightman, calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the safety or otherwise of the 2010 conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser for the murder of respected Royal Hobart Hospital radiation physicist, Mr Bob Chappell, on the Four Winds yacht on Australia Day 2009.
Ms Sue Neill-Fraser is currently serving a 23 year sentence at the Risdon Women’s Prison in Hobart. She will have spent four years in prison on Tuesday 20 August 2013, even longer than the time spent by Lindy Chamberlain behind bars.
The Bob Chappell murder investigation was an entirely circumstantial case with no body, no weapon, no plausible motive, no direct eyewitnesses, no admissions or confession and no forensic evidence linking Sue Neill-Fraser to the crime scene.
What the jury was not told
A seven-page attachment to barrister Robert Richter QC’s letter to the Attorney-General outlines new and fresh evidence … and what the jury was not told.
The attachment provides details of key witnesses and numerous documents, many subsequently obtained under Right to Information legislation, that were never drawn to the attention of the court.
The attachment also outlines various significant issues relating to the forensic science and expert evidence in the case, some of which are highly reminiscent of issues encountered in the Lindy Chamberlain case over 30 years ago and the Alexander McLeod-Lindsay case, both of which involved significant blood evidence. The solicitor in the matter, Barbara Etter APM, stated “One wonders what real progress has been made in forensic science since Chamberlain. There is no dingo in this case, but there is certainly a dinghy – a grey and very different one to that of the Four Winds”.
Both the Chamberlain and McLeod-Lindsay wrongful convictions were only corrected after Inquiries.
An example of prejudicial and misleading evidence in the Sue Neill-Fraser case is the photo of the Four Winds dinghy that was shown to the jury glowing blue from treatment with luminol, a screening test for blood. The court was not clearly told that all confirmatory tests for human blood were negative. There was in fact no confirmed blood from Bob Chappell in the Four Winds dinghy, contradicting a key plank of the Crown case that the body had been placed in the dinghy and dumped in a deep section of the Derwent River. Experts had also not considered or investigated the possibility of false positives, such as from bleach-based cleaning products, in relation to the results obtained. (False positives were an issue in the Chamberlain case).
Similarly, it was not made clear to the court that the bloodstains detected on the cushions in the saloon of the yacht and on the yellow Dolphin torch were “altered” or “diluted”, possibly with saliva or nasal secretions. The experts had also not indicated to the court, particularly given the very small size of the blood drops, that the various blood patterns identified could have come from a cough or a sneeze during one of Bob Chappell’s nosebleeds (as suggested on the Police Investigation Log or running sheet), for which Bob Chappell was hospitalised in Queensland in the month before his disappearance.
Maintaining confidence in the criminal justice system
“I feel confident in saying, after my 30 years in policing, that an inadequate police investigation failed to properly inform the court and the jury about the full circumstances surrounding the events of Australia Day 2009,” Mrs Etter said.
“The jury and the court were denied material evidence in this case and placed trust in the forensic evidence presented. It is now time to review the matter and put community unease and concern to rest. It is essential that as Tasmanians we have the utmost confidence in our criminal justice system,” Mrs Etter said.
The Eve Ash documentary Shadow of Doubt, which covers the case, has been extended and is now in its third week at the State Cinema in North Hobart.