My Speech at the Candlelight Vigil for Bob Chappell and Sue Neill-Fraser on Friday 13 June 2014 on the Lawns of Parliament House, Tasmania, Australia

Posted by Barbara Etter APM on 12 July 2014 | 1 Comments

I thought it would be useful to share my short speech from the recent candlelight vigil on the lawns of Tasmania's Parliament House on Friday 13 June 2014. I chose not to use my prepared speech but to speak from the heart. Hence, everything in the speech may not have been actually voiced on the evening concerned. Indeed, I said more on the night.

I post it as a landmark event and a status report on the case which might be useful in tracking progress and achievements in undoing what I believe to be a gross miscarriage of justice. As Stuart Tipple quoted (from the Bible), following Lindy Chamberlain's exoneration, "The truth shall set you free".

The prepared speech is as set out below:



As Lord Igor Judge, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales stated at the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration Conference in Sydney in September 2011:

The prospect of an innocent person being convicted of a serious crime represents a catastrophic failure of the legal system.

A catastrophic failure …..

If and when we can prove that this is a miscarriage of justice, there will be significant reform required across all aspects of the criminal justice system within Tasmania and possibly elsewhere.

I have been working now on this case for nearly two and a half years. I am more convinced than ever, particularly after 30 years in policing and my involvement over many years in forensic science issues, that there has been a miscarriage of justice in this case.

It is incumbent upon us, as citizens who respect the rule of law, to speak up about injustice and to not turn a blind eye to serious mistakes that may have been made in our criminal justice system.



In addition to demonstrating support for Sue, tonight’s vigil is also being held to honour the memory of Bob Chappell, who disappeared from the yacht Four Winds moored off Sandy Bay on Australia Day 2009, never to be seen again. Bob was the chief radiation physicist at the Royal Hobart Hospital and had been involved in the treatment of innumerable cancer sufferers.

Sue Neill-Fraser was subsequently convicted of his murder on an entirely circumstantial case - no body, no weapon, no direct eyewitnesses, no admissions or confession, no forensic evidence linking Sue to the crime and no plausible motive. Her appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Tasmania failed (other than on sentence) and her application for special leave to appeal to the High Court was refused. Sue has vehemently protested her innocence at every opportunity.

A Commission of Inquiry was sought by the legal team, headed by Robert Richter QC, in 2013. This was also refused.

The Coroner also made a decision in early 2014 not to hold an inquest into the death of Mr Chappell and relied heavily on the court findings.



A range of new and fresh evidence and apparent flaws in the both the police investigation and the forensic evidence have also been identified. There are also issues arising from an analysis of the court transcript from the trial including the theoretical wrench and winching scenarios, and the inaccurate attribution of DNA found on a glove, said to be used in cleaning up after the crime, to Sue. We have also discovered flawed witness accounts.

We all know how powerful forensic science, particularly DNA, is in our courts. Yet, there is the large volume DNA sample found on the deck of the Four Winds yacht (and only matched to an individual months after Sue's arrest) which belonged to a homeless girl who had lied about her whereabouts on the evening and had no alibi for that time. Defence counsel was not afforded the opportunity to further cross-examine the girl, after certain material about her possible involvement and the police investigation was only disclosed mid-trial.

It should be of great public concern that 30 years on from Chamberlain, where presumptive testing was wrongly used to identify so called blood spray under the family car dashboard, similar inappropriate reliance has been placed on presumptive testing of the Four Winds dinghy in Sue's case. A highly prejudicial photo of the dinghy glowing blue in sections, due to treatment (and possible over-treatment) with luminol, was presented to the jury. The impression was created of Bob Chappell's blood having been found in the dinghy (which it was argued was used to dump his body in the deeper depths of the Derwent). Independent expert opinion establishes that there was no confirmed blood from Bob Chappell in the dinghy.

There are other critical forensic issues also being closely examined by independent experts. As I indicated at the rally on these very lawns on Australia Day 2014, forensic science issues could well be the key to unlocking what really occurred on the night of Australia Day 2009. As in Chamberlain, blood and bloodstain pattern analysis will also be important features of the defence team’s case for referral.

Sue has now been in gaol longer than Lindy Chamberlain. She will have served 5 years of her 23 year term in August 2014. Thankfully, she maintains a degree of hope and optimism through the support of her family, friends and growing network of supporters both here and on the mainland.

The legal team, headed by eminent lawyer Robert Richter QC, is now in the process of gathering statements, affidavits and independent expert reports and analysing/deconstructing key aspects of the Crown case to support a petition for mercy, under section 419 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code, to have the matter referred back to the courts.

The decision regarding referral will be a purely political decision which is not judicially reviewable (a situation which has come under strong criticism and which has led to the introduction of further right to appeal legislation in SA last year).

As Stuart Tipple, Lindy Chamberlain's lawyer, pointed out in his recent public lecture at UTAS, "people power" will be critical in drawing attention to this miscarriage of justice and convincing Government to take necessary action.

A program of activities and events has been developed by the growing Sue Neill-Fraser Support Group (details of which you can find on Facebook) to support the legal efforts in the matter. For example, there will be screenings of the international award winning documentary Shadow of Doubt by Eve Ash in Deloraine on the evening of 28 June 2014 and at the State Theatre in North Hobart at 6 pm on Monday 30 June 2014.

A range of other "cultural" and "left of field" initiatives are also underway, with a draft stage play commissioned by concerned lawyers on the mainland already completed by a professional playwright. There is even talk (amongst those with connections) of a Hollywood movie. You will also see tonight an initiative developed by Eve Ash called “Postcards for Sue”. One postcard shows a shot of Risdon Prison with the caption “Wish you weren’t here”. The idea is to use and circulate the postcards and to even send one to Sue to show your personal support and to let her share in your own lives.



We do not want a repeat of the resistance and intransigence from Government and its representatives that was evident in the long fight for justice in Chamberlain. Surely we have learned lessons from that tragic miscarriage of justice.

Thank you for your attendance tonight. I hope that history soon shows the importance of events (such as tonight’s vigil) in drawing attention to the absolute need for strong community confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of the Tasmanian criminal justice system.

We can and will make a difference. Sue is so very grateful for your support.




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  • Hello Barbara, I attended one of your lectures at Edith Cowan University in 2014, and which I am currently a student at. I was curious about the Sue Neill-Fraser case as you had mentioned it at the lecture. Your work in this case is remarkable, unfortunately current laws in Australia (apart from SA which still holds issues) do not permit an opportunity to prove innocence. Thus, I wanted to thank you deeply into your insights on miscarriages of justice, for it gave me further insight into the report I am writing at the moment on issues regarding current legislation in SA and miscarriages of justice. Kind Regards JK

    Posted by Juliana Kovacki, 06/05/2015 1:29am (3 years ago)

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