Thursday, November 06, 2014

Australia: Action recommended on murders of 3 young Aborigines

On an incredible day of bipartisanship and emotion, the NSW Parliament vowed to deliver justice to the families of three Aboriginal children murdered in the early 1990s. Amy McQuire reports.

Members of all sides of the NSW upper house shed tears today as they put politics behind them to table the findings of a long-awaited inquiry into the murders of three Aboriginal children on the NSW mid-north coast.

Colleen Craig Walker, 16, Evelyn Greenup, 4, and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, 16, were murdered on Bowraville mission within months of each other during 1990 and 1991.

Despite two trials and a coronial inquest, the only man accused of the crimes – a non-Indigenous man who hung around the mission at the time – has never been convicted due to a bungled original police investigation which was severely undermined by the racism that clung to the mission.

Today, the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice handed down its report into the family response to the murders. The inquiry was announced last year following the NSW Attorney General Greg Smith’s decision not to refer "fresh and compelling" evidence in the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

The evidence, which could have been admitted under changes to the double jeopardy laws, a potential world-first, was refused by Mr Smith on the grounds that if it was referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal it would be unlikely to secure a conviction.

There were doubts that the evidence, whilst "compelling", might not have been "fresh".

The parliamentary inquiry was seen as the last avenue to get the man accused of these crimes before court.

Today, the NSW Parliament opened its doors to nearly 50 members of the families, which stretch from Bowraville to Sawtell to Tenterfield, who packed the public gallery of the Legislative Council.

The committee handed down 15 recommendations which were all unanimously supported, with two recommendations designed to remove the roadblocks that have prevented the accused man from being re-charged with the murders of the three children.

The inquiry called on the NSW government to review section 102 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 to define the term ‘adduced’ or ‘admitted’ with "the merit of expressly broadening the scope of the provision to enable a retrial where a change in law renders evidence admissible at a later date".

The other recommendation was that the NSW government ensure an independent assessor consider any new application for a retrial submitted to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions or Attorney General.

Chair of the inquiry, Liberal MLC David Clark was at times teary as his colleagues addressed the Legislative Council.

"A killer whose crimes represent evil at its very darkest is still free. Justice demands the killer of these three children, whose lives were brutally cut short before they ever really begun should be brought to account," he told the chamber.

"… we have found that the impact of the families and their community… arising from the last 23 years of dashed hopes and expectations has been one of absolute devastation.

"In simple terms, the key to this elusive justice being obtained is that the hearing of the evidence in all three murders be considered at the same time and in the same court.

"This will… lead directly to the one who is the perpetrator of these terrible crimes… this is the issue that goes to the heart and soul of what this inquiry is really about."

Greens MLC David Shoebridge’s voice broke as he addressed the chamber about Evelyn’s disappearance, and the police who didn’t take the family’s concerns seriously. Her family were questioned by police on whether she had gone walkabout.

"Can you imagine if a four-year-old girl from any other community had gone missing, there would be that dismissive response?"

Labor MLC Sarah Mitchell told the chamber she had been personally affected by the families’ testimony, and that it had been "life-changing".

Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack said every inquiry member had cried when hearing the families’ response to these murders.

All sides of parliament were unanimous in putting forward the recommendations, and there was a rare bipartisanship shown in the chamber, with several Liberal MLCs and Labor MLCs paying tribute to the role of Greens MLC David Shoebridge for pushing the inquiry.

They also paid tribute to the work of Detective inspector Gary Jubelin, who led the second investigation into the murders, Bowraville social worker Barry Toohey, Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt, and Clinton’s sister-in-law Leonie Duroux.

Many spoke of putting politics aside to pursue justice for these three children.

The government will now have to provide a response to the recommendations, which the families are hoping will be delivered at the next sitting of Parliament.

Original report here

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