What else didn't they get quite right? Misleading Information in the Sue Neill-Fraser Case

Posted by Barbara Etter APM on 13 June 2013 | 3 Comments

Many following this blog would have watched the 60 Minutes story "Justice Overboard" on 17 March 2013 (see http://video.au.msn.com/watch/video/justice-overboard/xayemqe?cpkey=99b0ccc8-f5d3-4ec5-8b51-bca85fce10f9%257c%257c%257c%257c). In the 60 Minutes coverage of the case, Inspector Peter Powell, who led the investigation, stated that the day after Bob had gone missing, according to "her" computer records, Sue Neill-Fraser looked up to see when she could have him declared dead or what the legal position was. He commented that "I find that a bit strange". (You will find this at around the 16 min 30 sec mark).

In addition there was huge feature article in the Herald Sun by Andrew Rule on 3 March 2013 (see http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/splatters-of-blood-missing-carpet-tiles-on-a-200000-yacht-and-what-really-happened-to-bob-chappell/story-fnat7jnn-1226589033493) which stated:

She also searched the internet in the first days, wanting to know how long before a missing person could legally be declared dead.

Some thought this a little calculating for a distraught woman hoping her man might turn up. It suggested she was keener on money - and more sure of his death - than she let on.

Such statements would have been highly prejudicial to Sue and portrayed her as being callous and possibly motivated by financial issues (which would have been consistent with the motive at court that Sue was after Bob's money).  In fact a number of people that I spoke to after 60 Minutes said it was very strange that Sue would have done this. I have only just recently been able to access the police report of the computer analysis of the home computer belonging to Sue and Bob. Firstly, it is interesting that this particular evidence relating to the above website was never tendered in court or referred to. It would seem that there is good reason for this.

The computer analysis report by 1/C Constable Whittle found that there were four user accounts on the computer: Sue, Bob, Guest and Guest 2. It also found that all accounts had had their passwords changed on 18 January 2009.  More importantly, the access to the website referred to above occurred at 4.10 pm on 28 January 2009 and it occurred from a guest account, and not from Sue's account.

More importantly, another access on the same guest account at 4.11 pm, one minute later, was on "Helping your Child Deal with Death".

As was the normal practice, the home computer was accessible to family members visiting the house, including Sue's two daughters, who rallied around her and spent time with her at the family home during this very stressful time. When recently shown a printout of the relevant webpages, Sue had no recollection whatsoever of visiting these sites. In fact, when shown the "Helping your Child with Death" page she immediately realised that it must have been one of her daughters that accessed the site because Sue's young grand-daughter was asking questions and getting upset about Bob's absence.

Not only was the access to the "offending" website only for one minute, the site does not deal at all with the issue of how someone could have had Bob Chappell declared dead in the circumstances in which he disappeared. The page also clearly states that the website applies to England and Wales only. The page is www.willsandprobateservice.co.uk which belongs to a registered company in the UK which is available to assist executors and next of kin following bereavement. The company does state that they are a private company that specialises in dealing with the legal and financial procedures that are required after someone dies (a requirement in all deaths!).  It does not deal with how you could have someone declared dead when there is no body or clear evidence of death. Given the emphasis on bereavement and terms such as "condolences" on this website, it could easily have come up in a Google search or similar engine search that led to the page on "Helping your Child Deal with Death" and could explain why the person on the computer spent only a minute looking at it.

It is concerning to see how such information can be utilised by police publicly to support Sue's conviction, particularly when they don't appear to have read the relevant webpage properly or analysed the exact circumstances of its retrieval and use. I am also not aware of them asking Sue's daughters about their use of the home computer on that day. What else didn't they get "quite right" in their investigation of Bob Chappell's death?



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  • Det Peter Powell wondered why Sue Neill_Fraser would lie to police, and assumed it was to hide her guilt. Of course there is a good reason why she lied, and it has been canvassed publicly, i.e. because she was trying to save the Chappell family embarrassment. More on that here; http://pursuedemocracy.com/2014/02/sue-neill-fraser-manufacturing-a-murder/
    But the most disturbing aspect is that police do jump to conclusions like this, on assumptions and speculation and guesswork. And then they defend those assumptions, understandably. They are human and don't want to look amateurish or foolish. As for their inept, slapdash assumptions about online searching for information (about telling a child of a death) as evidence of guilt, it also diminishes our confidence in effective law enforcement. And for Andrew Rule's article, it may well have been a press release from a police unit that suffered from that awful condition known as tunnel vision. It has done a great disservice to professional journalism.

    Posted by Andrew L Urban, 22/02/2014 12:51pm (3 years ago)

  • Peter, thank you for your very insightful and valid comments. I think there will be many lessons to be learned post SNF and I would relish the opportunity to assist in education and reform, particularly within policing, whose professional practice, is so important to us all.

    Posted by Barbara, 23/06/2013 11:13am (3 years ago)

  • It's important for police to understand the difference between a lie and a mistake. Recalling inaccurately is not lying - lying is when it is deliberate. Inaccurate recall frequently occurs in stressed people. Recent books by American scientists such as Lilienfeld give more info on this topic.

    Peter Powell was not lying when he stated the info above that has been proved to be untrue - he simply made a mistake. Human beings make mistakes.

    In http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2010/10/17/179821_scalesofjustice.html,

    Peter Powell says:
    " "She told police lies and gave police information that was later proven to be untrue -- why would an innocent person do that?" Hobart CIB Inspector Peter Powell said."

    Powell's equating of ,<providing inaccurate info> with <guilt> in the above comment, and his mixing-up of <lies> and <inaccurate recall under stress> are basic analytical errors that many police make.

    I look forward to the day when Barbara Etter's time is not taken up so much with the SNF case, so that Barbara has time to take part in a process which re-educates police nationwide on how to think logically and clearly in such areas.

    It's not the police's fault that they have developed faulty thinking processes that are illogical. It surely can in the long term be rectified.

    Posted by Peter, 22/06/2013 7:52pm (3 years ago)

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