A Further Response to Tasmania Police Media Release 25/8/14 in Sue Neill-Fraser Case from the lead investigating Detective
The media release dated 25 August 2014 by the lead detective in the Sue Neill-Fraser murder investigation stated the following in his media release of 25 August 2014:
Police made enquiries and established that there had been no reported break-ins of vessels in this area for the three months prior to Mr Chappell's disappearance. (emphasis added)
This was in response made to comments in the 60 Mins that went to air on Sunday 24 August 2014.
It appears that this statement has been carefully worded to avoid the issue of trespassers on boats, thefts from boats or the theft of dinghies. One also has to consider what police were referring to when they state "in this area".
Overall, from a careful analysis of all the police investigation records available, there seems to have been an inadequate canvassing or acquiring of intelligence about the theft of dinghies in the area, about boats that had been unlawfully entered, or broken into, property stolen from boats, or people trespassing on boats moored off Sandy Bay or Battery Point. In addition, it would have been useful to know about people who had been apprehended or charged in recent times for similar offences in the area. Also, a check should have been made in relation to assaults or serious injuries in the area to persons by intruders or trespassers. The Marine Police would have been a key source of information in this regard and it would have been useful to discuss such matters with members of the yachting fraternity in Hobart or appeal to members of the public for such information via the media.
According to the investigation records, Tasmania Police carried out some specific checks for the 3 month period before Australia Day 2009 and a 3 month period thereafter.
In relation to the period leading up to Australia Day, there is a statement by a Senior Constable from the Southern Crime Management Unit, dated 19 March 2009, which states:
On the 17th of March 2009, I processed a request for information from Detective Sgt [deleted] of the Hobart CIB. The request required me to list any crime reports relating to break-ins of vessels moored or docked at Royal Hobart Yacht Club and Derwent Sailing Squadron for a period of three months prior to and including 27/1/2009. I processed the request and found no other crime reports, other than the one under investigation, relating to vessels in the area specified. (emphasis added)
Subsequent to Australia Day, there is a statement from a Constable from the Southern Regional Intelligence Service dated 23 November 2009, some 10 months after the Australia Day incident. He states that he was asked to process a request for information on 23 November 2009. The request required him to list any crime reports relating to “break-ins of vessels moored or docked at the Royal Hobart Yacht Club and Derwent Sailing Squadron for a period of three months with the parameters being 28/01/2009-28/04/2009” (emphasis added). The Constable stated that he processed the request and found “just one crime report, in addition to the matter under investigation, relating to vessels in the area specified”.
From the Police Witness Summaries document, acquired on 11 April 2012 through an RTI request, the Constable looking at the period after Australia Day located a report of a stolen tender dinghy from the RYCT between 6 and 13 February 2009. The dinghy was one of many stored in dinghy racks at the Club and was a white hulled fibreglass clinker with a blue interior.
The two requests by Tasmania Police referred to above were very narrow in that they did not pick up the theft of dinghies or other boat equipment or provisions, possible trespassing onto vessels where nothing may have been stolen and any events that occurred in vessels that were not moored or docked at RYCT or DSS. From the Police Investigation Log (PIL), it was clear that there had been two relevant incidents around Australia Day at a private jetty near Waimea Avenue in Sandy Bay, where there was an attempt to steal a dinghy, and a further incident involving a boat moored off Lutana (a 10 minute drive from Sandy Bay) some time prior to 26 January 2009, where a boat had been entered and the power turned off. In the Waimea Avenue incident, some time in the week commencing 21 January 2009, a person or persons had attempted to steal a dinghy which was winched up to the jetty. Offenders had apparently been disturbed because there were some drops of blood and tools left behind (PIL entry for 28 January 2009).
The parameters for the police intelligence searches outlined above were inexplicably narrow given that the Four Winds was moored off Battery Point and not moored or docked at the RYCT or DSS.
One has to seriously wonder just how many relevant incidents may have gone unreported to police, for a variety of reasons. Moreover, what relevant incidents were not picked up as a result of the narrow and specific parameters of the intelligence requests referred to above?
Interestingly, the statement of one of the key Detectives in the case, dated 13 November 2009, despite the incidents near Waimea Avenue and Lutana on the PIL, makes the following comment:
Police records do not indicate any break-ins on boats in the area around this time or in months previously (sic) I requested a report from the Southern Management Unit regarding this issue.
Note, the wording used again only relates to "break-ins". "In the area" is also quite vague.
There is now documented evidence of a person living in close proximity to the Marieville Esplanade foreshore, having reported his dinghy stolen to police on 27 January 2009. This information, claimed to have been reported face-to-face to a detective in the team working on the case, was not included on the PIL, mentioned in the relevant Detective's statement nor raised in court. Nor was a statement taken by police from this man who also had other highly relevant information. Such information is indeed critical as the theft of dinghies from the area meant that people living or visiting in the area had a means of getting out to the yachts moored in the vicinity. In addition, a grey and different dinghy (very different to the Four Winds white inflatable dinghy) were seen by four witnesses tied to the Four Winds yacht between 3.55 pm and 5.30 pm on Australia Day.