Technical Competence in the Sue Neill-Fraser Case and Yet Another Possible Lead Not Followed Up

Posted by Barbara Etter APM on 7 July 2013 | 0 Comments

Thanks to psychologist and documentary-maker Eve Ash for suggesting this blog topic on technical terms and competence and to Bill Rowlings OAM of CLA for his valuable "yachtie" input. After having read the transcripts, Police Investigation Log and statements in the Sue Neill-Fraser case, one realises that there is a whole jargon or technical language associated with boats, sailing and the nautical world (especially for a sailing ignoramus like me!). For example, consider these terms that arose in the case: galley, cockpit, wheelhouse, head, forepeak, starboard, port, sheets, well, schooner, painter, tender, mooring, berth, washboard, grate, aft, forard, coaming, Zodiac, mizzen, genoa, self-furling, ribs, IRB, cockle boat, davit, seacock, winch, bow, ketch, "black death", onshore, "up on the hard", slipway, EPIRB, pitch, bosun, lee side, sloop, stern, beamy, bilge, boom, bulkhead, cleat, hull, decommissioned and the list goes on. (Consider that terms such as "coaming" were reported as "combing" in the court transcript (CT p.908) and ketches as "catches" (CT p.920)). There also seems to have been some confusion during questioning in court. For example, see CT p.900.

To further complicate the matter, the jury in the trial did not receive the benefit of an actual "view" to understand the layout of the Four Winds so as to assist in understanding where events allegedly occurred, inside the boat and relevant to key features such as the Marieville Esplanade foreshore, the Rowing Sheds, the Derwent Lane jetty and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. Whilst an aerial map and photos were available, and there was a view from the "land" (CT pp.2-3), there is nothing quite like a physical inspection. How many of us would buy a house, for instance, without checking it out in person first?

More importantly, the jury or Judge were never able to get a 3 dimensional understanding of how difficult it would have been to singlehandedly winch a deadweight from the interior of the yacht, up two flights of stairs, across the deck and into a bobbing dinghy alongside the boat (as alleged by the Crown). (They were also never informed of Sue's medical history and injuries which would have seriously impeded her in such a venture). It would have been useful too if jury members had had the opportunity to sit in the Four Winds dinghy and singlehandedly attempt to dispose of a body (or something similar) in the Derwent River and for them to actually experience the risk and possible fear of capsizing the dinghy in the process.

In any subsequent review of the case, technical expertise and a better familiarisation of the yacht, the dinghy and the relevant surroundings would be most helpful in understanding what actually occurred on the Four Winds on that fateful Australia Day 2009. Even the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Conroy, clearly did not have a good understanding of yachtie terms as indicated in this exchange with Defence Counsel, David Gunson SC, about the boat said to have been seen by Mr Lorraine from the Derwent Lane Jetty on the late afternoon of Australia Day (CT pp.921-922):

There was no other yacht on that mooring?…….No.

And there were no other large yachts in the immediate vicinity of that mooring?…….Large yachts, no.

And more particular, there were no ketches in the vicinity of that mooring?…….No, I’m not familiar with a ketch but there was no other large yachts –

Two – well -…….- I’d consider a yacht.

- one with two masts?…….Right, no.

A big one at the front and -…….No, no –

 a small one at the back?…….No, no.

All right.

In fact, at page 900 of the court transcript Conroy was asked by Gunson SC:

And are you a sailor yourself?……A very amateur one.

The interaction between Conroy and Gunson at court on the Lorraine sighting is very interesting in light of the entry in the Police Investigation Log for 13 February 2009 (at p.24) where at 12.17 pm Conroy is recorded as receiving an email from Mr Klaus Haeussler, a German yachtsman who left Hobart at 9.50 am on 27 January 2009. He said that he could recall the name of the vessel Four Winds but nothing further. The PIL entry says that they were in the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania but I understand that yachties often tie up to spare moorings for longer stays. It seems from research on the Internet that the man and his wife were in a white two-masted yacht or ketch named Ludus Amoris with a striking similarity to the Four Winds. See (including the photos). It seems from the records available to Defence that this line of inquiry may not have been followed up by Police (although we do not have access to the relevant Duty Allocation sheet DA67).

There was also the following interaction between Gunson SC and Conroy in relation to the man seen on the boat by Lorraine (CT pp.919-920):

All right. Now he [Lorraine] gave a pretty fulsome description of the occupant of the boat didn't he? .... He did, yes.

I think he said in his evidence words to the effect -

Had the appearance of an old seafarer, he appeared to be elderly due to his stance, posture and the way he moved.

... Yes

That's what he told you? ... Yes, in - yes.

Thank you. And you concluded that was in all likelihood Mr Chappell didn't you? ... Well it certainly sounded like it could have been Mr Chappell.

And especially if you could determine there were no other yachts of the size or structure of - as Four Winds in the area? ... Yes. I - there were other large vessels in the area.

Two masters? .... No two masters.

No two masters? ... But - yeah.

And no other catches (sic)? [ketches] ... No

Was it the German's yacht, which is so similar to the Four Winds and a two-master, that Mr Lorraine saw in some detail so close to the Derwent Lane jetty around 5 pm on Australia Day? Was it the German man that Lorraine saw, who also seems to fit the description given? (Lorraine also desribed the man that he saw on the back of the boat as "reasonably tall" (CT p.503).

From the aerial photo used at trial, the Four Winds was clearly moored over 300 metres away from the jetty and it would have been difficult for a witness to give such a detailed description of the person on the Four Winds yacht. Lorraine also said in his statement dated 31 January 2009 that the boat he was looking at was only 80 metres from him.

When asked about the distance between the Four Winds and the Derwent Lane Jetty, Conroy stated at court, under cross-examination from Gunson SC:

Right. So you went out to the end of the jetty with him [Lorraine] and you stood on the very end .. We did.

Could you see the Four Winds from the jetty? .... No.

Because, no, of course it had been taken away ... It wasn't there, it wasn't there.

Yes. Could you see the buoy or the - where it normally moored? ... I believed I was looking at the correct buoy, and I now know I was, but yes.

Right. And what distance would you say that buoy was out from the jetty? It's a long way, from that jetty probably a hundred more metres.

Thank you. A hundred or more? .... Yes. Say a hundred, roughly a hundred.

HIS HONOUR: Well you said a hundred more didn't you?

WITNESS: A hundred or more, it's sort of a hundred -

HIS HONOUR: A hundred or more, thank you. (emphasis added)

There is a fairly big difference between 80-100 metres and 300 metres. Lorraine may well have been looking at another yacht moored closer to the jetty.

There are further issues. For example, did the Germans have a dinghy? What colour was it? Was it yellow/white (as originally described by Lorraine) or, even more significantly, grey? (In fact, one of the photos of their boat on the Internet shows that they did have a grey dinghy at some stage). Did the Germans, or either of them, visit the Four Winds on the afternoon of Australia Day? Could the situation outlined above explain why no-one to date has come forward and said that they were in the grey and different dinghy sighted by several people tied to the Four Winds on the afternoon of Australia Day?

Too many unanswered questions - yet again.



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