The Doorknocking Issue in the Sue Neill-Fraser Case

Posted by Barbara Etter APM on 8 December 2013 | 1 Comments

I have resurrected the below blog posting after a comment recently by "Sherlock" on the Tasmanian Times website trivialising the previous raising of the doorknocking issue in the Sue Neill-Fraser case. Please read the following information carefully. The court relies on a thorough and ethical investigation having been undertaken by police. The issue of doorknocking is just one example, in my opinion, of clear deficiencies in this investigation. Moreover, the court was led to believe that there had been a thorough canvassing of the relevant area for information and witnesses. Research and analysis using Right to Information legislation of the records maintained indicates otherwise. The process undertaken also falls well short of "best practice" as documented in the UK.  Such comment is provided in the public interest.

There appear to be, in my honest opinion, some examples of inadequate record-keeping and investigation in the Sue Neill-Fraser case. For example, I applied under the Right to Information (RTI) legislation on 25 June 2012 for the following:

Copies of all information collected by police conducting doorknocks in the vicinity of Marieville Esplanade following the incident on 27 January 2009 …;

Doorknocking would have been an important strategy in this case given the open nature of the location and the view of the water available to many properties in the near vicinity. In their response dated 25 July 2012, Tasmania Police released 11 pages of notes. The information appears to relate primarily to door knocks of Napoleon Street in Battery Point and not Marieville Esplanade. There is an interesting note on Duty Allocation Sheet D6 Sheet ID 59 dated 2 February 2009 which states:

Further checks need to be done on houses where there was no answer [in capital letters].

There is then a list of 8 houses in Napoleon Street to which this comment appears to apply.

Consider this comment made in relation to one residence in Napoleon Street (number supplied):

Not Home – Worth talking too (sic) as observant re water activities [in capital letters].

There is no information about the outcome of any follow-up. In a response to my letter to the Commissioner of Police seeking an internal review of the RTI response provided to me on this particular issue, a letter from Police dated 23 August 2012 stated:

There is no record of a follow up visit to [the particular address in]… Napoleon Street, as such no record to disclose.

The same letter, in response to my request for an internal review on the issue of doorknocks (amongst other things), further stated:

There are no additional notes available of door knock results other than those provided on 25 July 2012 and on the PIL [Police Investigation Log]. It would appear that some of these follow up visits were not entered on the log, where no relevant information was forthcoming.

An obvious issue, given the information supplied, is the lack of records for those other police officers reported on the Police Investigation Log (PIL) as having undertaken door knocks.  For example, page 10 of the PIL states that four other officers were tasked to assist. It appears records were not made of their interactions with residents and that such material was not centrally collated.

In light of the above, the following statement of the Detective in charge of the investigation at the trial is surprising (Court Transcript p.925):

We canvassed all the residents that we could find at home over a number of days, and we – I’m satisfied that we got residents at every house that was occupied in Marieville Esplanade and Battery Point. I’d estimate out of the numbers there there’s over two hundred people.  (emphasis added)

An analysis of the records provided under RTI shows that only around 15 persons (assuming one person per premises) in the vicinity of Marieville Esplanade and Napoleon Street were spoken to as a result of doorknocking. Only three or four of the names of people spoken to appear to be recorded on the documents provided.

20 houses were checked in Napoleon Street, with nine homes being unattended or empty at the time, with “Not Home” recorded against eight of them (and “empty” against one). There is no record of these houses being followed up, despite a notation in early February 2009 acknowledging the importance of doing so.

Four businesses in the vicinity of Napoleon Street were also checked with “No one there” recorded against three of them. Once again, there is no indication of any follow up.

Moreover, there is only two or three records of people having been spoken to who lived on Marieville Esplanade in the doorknocking records provided. Importantly, one woman heard a “mature male voice distressed” between 11.00 pm and 1.30 am on 26/27 January 2009, but no statement was ever taken from her.

PIL entries for 31 January and 1 February 2009 indicate that doorknocking also occurred in Sayer Crescent, Marine Terrace, Clarke Avenue and Trumpeter Street in Battery Point. However, there appear to be no records kept of this aspect of the investigation (as they were not provided under RTI in relation to the initial request nor the request for an internal review on this aspect).

From the documents provided by police under RTI, it would appear that Tasmania Police managed to speak to around 15 people as a result of the doorknocking process. Most of those people are not even identified by name in the records.

There is no indication on the records as to the types of questions that were asked of the residents.

Such practices contrast sharply with the documented procedures for doorknocking or “House-to-House” enquiries in the UK.

The UK Murder Investigation Manual (MIM) (Centrex 2006) dedicates a whole chapter (pp.187-196) on House-to-House (HtoH) Enquiries. The MIM states (at p.188):

Whether undertaken on a small or large scale, HtoH must be conducted thoroughly and recorded accurately. If not carried out properly, HtoH may miss that a particular individual lives or works in the location and so their potential as a suspect or witness cannot be assessed … The success of HtoH depends on investigators taking an organised and methodical approach.

In the UK, a standard questionnaire has even been developed for investigators which can be modified to incorporate the circumstances of a particular offence (p.189). The MIM also acknowledges the need for “Fast-Track House-to-House Enquiries” (at p.193):

Where fast-track HtoH is carried out, officers may simply call at each house and ask if anyone has seen or heard anything, without seeking to fully establish the identities of all those who occupy the premises. Investigators should ensure that all initial enquiries and witness accounts are recorded on the HtoH Initial Enquiries and Witness Account Form, see Appendix 2 of ACPO (2006) Practice Advice on House-to-House Enquiries. This should assist the HtoH coordinator (when one has been formally allocated) to obtain a clear picture of what has and has not been done.

Accurate records must be made of all properties visited and persons seen, including details of properties where there was no reply and of persons who say they have no information to give.


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  • Hi Barbara, the person best placed to help with the search for Bob Chappell is Sue herself. As she chose not to give evidence in her own trial she must have an unspoken story to tell. As a trusted advocate and clearly a committed supporter you are well placed to speak to her. She may confide matters in you that she did not/would not raise in evidence or with the Chappell family. The strongest chance of acquittal/retrial lies with new evidence around the events of his disappearance. New evidence ultimately made a difference i the Chamberlain case. All the best.

    Posted by John Taylor, 03/01/2014 1:23am (4 years ago)

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