In Baden-Clay Scratch Marks on His Face - In Sue Neill-Fraser a 1-2 cm cut on her Thumb?
Why was the Sue Neill-Fraser 1-2 cm cut on her thumb said to be made by a knife not treated like the scratch marks on Baden-Clay's face?
In jury trials, one never knows how significant particular pieces of evidence are in decision-making. As the Baden-Clay case in Queensland has just proven, an injury on a person suspected of killing someone in a circumstantial case is a very powerful piece of evidence. Investigators are trained to note, question and photograph relevant injuries, as occurred in Baden-Clay's case. We have all seen the pictures of the scratches or so-called blunt razor cuts on national TV.
In the case of Sue Neill-Fraser here in Tasmania, it appears that a case for her unphotographed injury, an alleged 1-2 cut on her left thumb, may have been “pieced together” as time went on.
In a photo of Sue taken by the media on 27 January 2009 - she seems to be clutching her purse/wallet and is possibly wearing a bandaid on her left thumb (See for example, “Neill-Fraser Hires Big Gun” Glaetzer The Mercury 23 January 2012). Police apparently became suspicious when they noticed that, in a photo taken of Sue by her sister-in-law, Ann Sanchez, around lunch-time on 26 January 2009, she did not appear to have any bandaid on her thumb.
Whilst Sue’s memory of 27 January 2009 is admittedly poor, she has no recollection whatsoever of having a fresh cut or removing a bandaid to show an injury. Sarah Bowles, who was with her mother at all times with the police, cannot recall any strapping, a bandaid nor Sue revealing any injury beneath any supposed protective strip to police.
Police would later allege that Sue Neill-Fraser had a fresh cut about 1-2 cm on her left thumb which appeared to have been made by a knife. Sue was said to have shown the injury to police on 27 January 2009, by actually removing the bandaid (see below). A 1 to 2 cm cut on a thumb would, you would think, be quite noticeable and significant.
When the Four Winds yacht was found sinking on its mooring, 400 m off Sandy Bay, Constable S was one of the first uniformed responders, along with his partner, Constable E. They both spoke to Sue on the Marieville Esplanade foreshore and then attended at the West Hobart family home at 11.50 am on 27 January 2009 where they took a statement from Sue.
When questioned at court about whether she had any memory of a bandaid or how she had injured herself, Sue stated (Court Transcript (CT) pp.1201-1202):
I mean I could have had - one of the cats could have scratched me, I have no memory of a cut ... especially of that size that he described.
The evidence of police is again interesting, as is the timing of the emergence of the new and adverse evidence.
A review of the bandaid ‘evidence’ and timeline reveals some worrying aspects:
1. Constable S prepared a statement on his interaction with Sue Neill-Fraser and other activities on 27 January 2009, the very same day. In that document, he makes no mention of any cut or bandaid.
2. On 20 March 2009, 52 days later, Constable S makes a further statement specifically on the issue of the supposed injury. It states:
As previously stated at 11.50 am [on 27 January 2009] I attended 7 Allison Street, West Hobart to take a statement from Susan NEILL-FRASER. During the time of taking this statement I observed a band-aid on the left thumb of NEILL-FRASER. I asked her to show me what the band-aid was covering.
NEILL-FRASER pulled off the bandaid and revealed to me a small cut (1cm – 2cm), which appeared to have occurred in the past 24 hours as it looked fresh. My immediate thoughts were that the cut appeared to have been made by a knife.
I was in the company of Constable [E] at the time of being shown the cut. (emphasis added)
3. On 17 March 2009, Constable E made a statement to the effect that:
During my time spent with FRAZER (sic) I found her demeanour to be very odd given the circumstances. I also made observations that her wrist was straped (sic), and a (sic) was bandaid on her thumb from a bleed. I conveyed my observation to Constable [S] and also to acting Sergeant [Y]. I recorded details of my conversation with FRAZER (sic) in my police note book.
An earlier notebook entry by E was to state “wrist wrap and cut thumb, bled” (see p.60 of preliminary hearing transcript).
4. Acting Sergeant Y who was present on the foreshore on 27 January 2009 did not mention anything about a cut or a bandaid or strapping (or blood) in his statement even though the information was apparently conveyed to him.
5. It is incongruous that E makes no mention of Sue removing the actual bandaid in his statement yet he stated in court that he had asked Sue for an explanation of how she had cut her thumb but did not recall her answer (CT pp.471 &472). He also stated at trial, for the first time, when asked to recall any conversation, “Yes, she did state to me that she cut her thumb” (CT p.471), although there were no actual words provided.
6. At trial Detective Sergeant C gave a very detailed account of the time spent on the yacht, with Sue Neill-Fraser, her two daughters and Tim Chappell on 27 January at 4.30pm, after it was towed to Constitution Dock. He indicated in his statement that the family left the yacht some time after 5.30 pm. Sue was pointing out various things that were out of place or strange. At no time did C notice a bandaid or cut thumb, or wrist strapping, yet he was commenting and asking Sue not to touch things and to put the winch handle down on the deck, he saw her try to start the bilge pumps using switches, so there was ample opportunity to see a bandaid on her left thumb covering an injury of 1-2cm – if it existed at that time.
7. At trial, Constable S was to tell the court that he was so concerned about the injury to Sue’s thumb that he phoned Sergeant C on the evening of 27 January 2009 (CT p.272).
8. C in his statement dated 13 November 2009 stated that Constable S contacted him by mobile phone on 27 January at around 9.30 pm to discuss “an injury/cut to the hand of the accused”. (Given that Detective Sergeant C had not himself observed this injury, despite having spent significant time with Sue only 4-5 hours before, one would imagine this would be foremost in his mind to check at the pre-agreed meeting with Sue next morning. This is particularly so given that in his statement to the court, C, immediately after stating that he received the 9.30 pm phone call from S, further stated: "At the conclusion of my duties on this day I had grave concerns for the life of Robert Chappell".
9. C attended the West Hobart home the very next day at 11am and did not raise the issue of the cut with Sue nor ask to view it. Nor is there any entry concerning this phone call from S on the Police Investigation Log, a critical record of the investigation. Moreover, there was no attempt to even photograph the said injury. It was only then that he actually took with him the memory card from the digital camera belonging to Ann Sanchez, which had the photo of Sue on 26 January 2009 without a bandaid on her thumb.
10. The cut was not mentioned by C during the lengthy ROI on 4 March 2009 and no-one again asked to look at it or any scar that may have resulted from such a cut.
11. Tim Chappell, the son of the missing/deceased Bob Chappell, in a supplementary statement made to police on 8 September 2009 stated that he could not recall seeing or discussing any injury to Sue’s hands and wrists. Tim had spent quite a bit of time with Sue on 27 January 2009. Similarly, Ann Sanchez, Bob's sister, in a supplementary statement dated 23 March 2009, stated that she couldn’t recall Sue mentioning any injury and hadn’t noticed one.
The idea of a “cut thumb” was highlighted it would seem as Sue didn’t appear to have a bandaid on when Ann Sanchez, Bob’s sister, took photos of her at the RYCT on Australia Day 2009. Sue admits that it is possible that she might have had a scratch from the cat, or something similar.
The most worrying aspects about the supposed thumb injury and the police investigation are:
- A response to a request under Right to Information legislation dated 20 August 2012 by Tasmania Police could not provide any phone record of the 9.30 pm mobile phone call on 27 January by S to C (which one assumes would have been at least received on an official mobile phone).
- No mention of the cut thumb in Constable S’s statement of 27 January 2009 yet almost 2 months later in a statement he said he asked to view the cut under the bandaid, and said it was 1-2cm (a sizable cut for a woman’s thumb) and fresh, within 24 hours, and appeared to have been made by a knife. If he was only at that stage investigating a missing person, why would he ask to look under a bandaid? And if he thought it was a recent injury, resulting from a knife, why not record it, and the reason Sue supposedly gave as to how the cut occurred. He also agreed in court that Sue was not alone, there were family around but he could not remember who. Sarah, Sue’s daughter, does remember the interview but does not recall a bandaid, injury or Sue being asked to reveal what was under the bandaid.
- No observed injury on Sue’s hand by C during the 30-40 minute detailed inspection of Four Winds on 27 January at 4.30pm at Constitution Dock.
- The memory card from the digital camera of Ann Sanchez was only seized by C on 28 January 2009. Any comparison of photos for 26 and 27 January 2009 would only have occurred after that time.
- Why wasn’t the 1-2cm cut photographed by any of the police officers? (Police in the Baden-Clay case certainly photographed the relevant injury)
- Why were there no notes taken of Sue’s explanation of the reason for the cut?
- That the memory of events by S as to what occurred on 27 January 2009 at the West Hobart home appeared to have improved with the passage of time (CT p.263).
- Why S only stated at the trial that Sue had stated that the injury was “recent”, but he had made no mention of this at any earlier opportunity in his notebook, his two earlier statements and in evidence at the preliminary hearing).
- When C visited Sue Neill-Fraser the very next morning on 28 January, why didn’t he check her hands, especially after being alerted to the injury he had “missed” the night before at 9.30pm by S and having "grave concerns for the life of Robert Chappell"? This is particularly so given that he went to the trouble of obtaining a buccal swab from her at that time for DNA testing purposes (see Police Investigation Log p.8).
- Why was Sue Neill-Fraser not asked about the cut finger in her first Record of Interview on 4 March 2009?
- Why were the two statements of S unsigned? (They had to be signed at the start of the preliminary hearing in July 2010).
- There is no visible scar on Sue's thumb and she is more than willing to have it forensically examined by an independent expert to prove that there has not been a 1-2 cm cut to the finger.
Once again, questions are raised about the thoroughness and objectivity of the Tasmania Police investigation and whether Sue, as a result, received a fair trial. The guilty outcome in the Queensland Baden-Clay case (announced 15 July 2014) would seem to indicate that such unexplained injuries in a circumstantial case can be important factors taken into account by a jury in determining guilt.